26 Oct Trail Talk: Seat Height and Pedal Position
TOMTC Safety & Maintenance Director
There are three very common things that many recreational cyclists should learn to do correctly. Two are mechanical bike care issues – proper tire inflation and chain lubrication. The third is proper seat height and foot/pedal position.
Today I want to talk about an all too common biomechanical problem: bicyclists riding with an improper seat height and foot/pedal position.
A good general seat height for a recreational cyclist can be determined quite easily. Put the left side crank arm at the bottom of the pedal stroke. Align the crank arm with the seat tube of the bicycle frame (the tube that holds the seat post). For support, lean your right arm for against a wall. Place your left foot heel on the pedal. Adjust the seat height by loosening the seat tube bolt or quick release lever to raise or lower the seat so that the position gives you a straight leg, left heel on pedal.
You shouldn’t be leaning to the left but comfortably sitting on the seat. You don’t pedal with your heels, but with the ball of your foot. Place the ball of your foot over the pedal axle. You will now have a slight bend in your leg. This will give you a great starting point for efficient pedaling seat height. You may move it up or down but just go a quarter inch at a time.
Ride each time you move the height and see if it is more or less comfortable. With this correct seat height you will not be able to sit on the seat and put your feet flat on the ground. When you start, you must stand over the bike frame and with your left foot on the pedal at the bottom of the pedal stroke, push off with your right foot and then rise up and sit on the seat.
When you stop, use your brakes to come to a speed close to stopping and left foot on the pedal at the bottom of the stroke and step back down with your right foot. This may be different than what you’re used to, but your knees will thank you for getting out of that low seat, crouched leg position.
Pedaling with the balls of your feet allows you to utilize your calf muscles and your quadriceps. Pedaling with your arch really only uses quadriceps and is far less efficient. Pedaling with your seat height properly adjusted allows your knees to avoid pressured, scrunched knee pain issues.
The seat should appear level. A slight nose up or nose down is more comfortable for some. The seat tilt adjustment bolt holds the seat rails allowing you to tilt the seat. Be sure to align the seat with the top tube of the bike so you’re not pedaling off center. Also, be sure to adequately tighten any bolts you loosen to make adjustments.
Nothing is worse than a seat that comes loose while riding. So get bolts good and tight.