So you have all the things you want for the perfect bike ride, but is your actual bike set up to be perfect for you?
Knee pain is one of the most common cycling injuries, and in most cases it’s preventable for cyclists. This includes bike seat adjustment and knowing how to adjust your bike seat to the correct height.
In general, there are common causes of knee pain among cyclists:
- Riding too much too soon
- Consistently riding in the big gear at a low rpm
- Muscle imbalance or weakness in some of your muscles
- Not having a proper bike fit
Let’s focus on the last point.
Problem: Not having a proper bike fit
Correct bike fit is so important. Having a bike that is adjusted specifically to you and your body measurements can prevent a number of common cycling injuries. As related specifically to knee pain among cyclists, the culprit can many times be found with the bike seat not adjusted to the proper height. The best way to ensure your bike is adjusted well to you and your riding style is to see a professional who specializes in performing bike fits. The best place to find such a person is your local bike store, and if they don’t have a designated person, they will likely know someone who does do bike fits!
For DIY bike fit techniques, read on for how to adjust your bike seat to the right height. Keep in mind, there are many aspects to a bike fit, and adjusting your seat height is just one, which is where the focus will be here.
If you are brand new to biking and you just got a brand new bike, specifically how you raise and lower your bike seat can vary. There may be a way to adjust it without any extra tools. If you do need extra tools, having a travel size bike tool set like this one can be helpful. Actually, it’s a good idea to have no matter what as a part of your bike tool kit!
Okay, so back to that knee pain…
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Already have knee pain from biking? Try this!
Here’s the quick version…
If you are experiencing one of the most common cycling injuries of knee pain, as general guidance, try the following to see if it makes a difference.
The problem and the cause
If it’s the front of the knee that’s the issue, your seat height may be too low.
If it’s the back of the knee that’s the issue, your seat height may be too high.
Adjust your bike seat height by a fraction up, or adjust your bike seat a fraction down accordingly!
Now for the extended version of adjusting your seat height…
How to adjust bike seat height to prevent knee pain
Technique #1: On the bike
It would be helpful if you have a bike trainer. If you don’t, you can experiment as you ride around on your bike, or have a friend act as the bike trainer by holding the bike in place as you get on it in a stationary position.
- Get on the bike and place your heel on the pedal. This means that it is different from normal riding position
- With the pedal as low as it gets, if you have your seat at a good height, your leg should be nearly completely stretched out
- If your knee is bent quite a bit, your saddle is too low. If you feel as though you’re stretching hard to get your heel to touch the pedal even ever so slightly, your saddle is too high
- Adjust your bike seat accordingly in both cases, until your leg is stretched out with your heel on the pedal
After making these adjustments, pedal as you normally would. You should experience a slight bend in the knee at the bottom of a normal pedal stroke.
Visual demonstration of this is below from Cycling Weekly.
Technique #2: Measure your inseam and bike
This technique is a bit more technical.
When it comes to adjusting your seat height using this technique, it’s about determining the length of your leg. So first, measure your inseam. There are a few different ways to do this. It might be helpful to have a partner, but you can do it solo too. It might sound awkward, but all in the name of a good bike fit! And, if you’re thinking you already know your inseam length from the jeans or pants you wear, that doesn’t count! That can vary. Use this technique or similar for highest accuracy.
- Ideally you’ll want to wear your cycling shorts to mimic the thickness of the fabric and padding as it would be when you’re out for a bike ride
- Have a longish straight edge handy, maybe something like a box or book with a narrow width, or maybe a level tool you use for your home improvement projects
- Stand with legs straight against a wall
- Put the book or equipment of your choice between your legs and apply pressure similar to as you would feel against your bike seat when riding on your bike. The extra length can make a difference!
- If you have a partner, your partner can use a tape measure to calculate the amount of distance from the ground to the top of the straight edge. If you are solo, hold out the edge, and then mark the wall with a pencil to measure
The key here is to make sure you keep straight and firm whatever equipment you’re using. Along those lines, make sure the tape measure is straight up and down too! It’s easy for it to slant which won’t give you an accurate measurement for your inseam. You want to be as accurate as possible so you can have the proper seat height for your bike!
See a visual partner demonstration in the video below by SpeedX Cycling.
Next steps once you’ve got your inseam length:
- Take the length of your inseam and multiply it by 0.887. This is a generally accepted number.
- Use that number to measure the distance along the seat tube between your bike’s bottom bracket and the top of the bike saddle. The dotted line in the image below demonstrates where on your bike to take this measurement
- Adjust your bike seat accordingly!
Now that you have the correct saddle height, this will allow you to ride more efficiently for powerful downstrokes. And most importantly, it puts you in a much better position for being able to avoid common cycling injuries!
Remember, your bike saddle height is just one portion of adjusting your bike for proper bike fit. By adjusting your bike seat height using one of the techniques above, you’ve gotten yourself in a solid range. If you want to continue to work on different parts of adjusting your bike for adequate fit, check out the Competitive Cyclist Bike Fit Calculator! It’s pretty thorough and takes into consideration specifications that make a difference in determining proper bike fit. You’ll start off by inputting whether you’re male or female, and then what type of bike you want to be fitted for – road bike, mountain bike, or triathlon bike. And then get ready to measure your entire body!
Other ways to prevent knee pain when biking
Your entire body works as a kinetic chain. What this means is the weakness (or strength) of one muscle or one group of muscles can negatively (or positively) affect how other muscles work. Your upper body, core, and lower body can all work together to provide maximum efficiency! And cycling efficiently can also mean cycling in a way that will help to prevent injuries. So try to include strength training as a part of your cycling as well.
Foam rolling is essentially a type of massage for your muscles. Foam rollers like these can help to loosen up muscles so they aren’t so tight, which can in turn help your leg muscles work in an improved and more efficient way when you’re cycling.
It’s important here to make sure you are foam rolling correctly though, because just like an improper bike fit can cause problems over time, improper form or technique with foam rolling may be problematic as well! (Actually the book referenced above has suggested foam rolling exercises as well!)
There are different types of foam rollers, ranging from thinner stick-like items to thicker items. The level of pressure also varies among foam rollers. If you’ve never foam rolled before, you’ll probably want to start out with foam rollers and foam rolling exercises that are easier on the pressure.
You may want to try the different types of foam rollers, and for that, you can get a pack like one of these which can target different areas.
Just spending 10-15 minutes a day on foam rolling can make a difference, and this is something you can do while you’re watching TV!
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