The height of your saddle depends on a number of factors: how experienced you are, how old you are, and your riding style
For youngsters and the less experienced it is safest to have the saddle low enough to allow the rider to place the soles of both feet firmly on the ground while sat on the saddle. This allows the rider to be as stable as possible when the bike is coming to a stop.
But, a low saddle will not allow the riders legs to extend fully to get the most power from pedalling – it’s like walking with your legs bent all the time. Hard work, not very efficient, and likely to cause damage to your knees if you keep it up for long periods.
At the other end of the scale, experienced riders don’t need to be able to touch the ground when seated. They can simply step forward while braking and land one foot on the ground while coming to a halt. This technique allows the saddle to be set much higher so the rider can extend their legs to deliver more power – much better to make your leg straight while the other starts taking over the workload.
A saddle that is too high will cause the hips to wobble and over stretch the legs, thus feeling uncomfortable. A basic rule is: when your heel is placed on the pedal at the bottom of the stroke while you are seated your leg should be straight. Therefore your leg will be comfortably bent when you ride with the ball of your foot on the pedal and you really get the most power from each stroke.
As a rider develops experience they can gradually raise the saddle height from the lowest height to the optimum height.
Spend a bit of time on a bike and you’ll soon find out if you have a comfy saddle or not. If you are new to cycling then it may just be a case of having to get used to ‘saddle time’, but there are a few things you can do to help.
Mens or Womens
A new bike may come with a generic unisex saddle and a bike designed for ladies should come with a saddle shaped for the female form. Ladies saddles are wider and shorter. If you have a generic saddle then you may want to try a gender specific variant.
Saddles come in varous shapes and sizes, and finding one that best suits you can take a while. The ‘sit bones’ can vary in width between people, so you need to get a saddle that is the correct width.
Saddles can be pivoted so that they point up or down. A good starting point is to make the majorty of the saddle look horizontal to the ground.
Adding more padding can help. A gel cover for your saddle (or get someone to knit a cover for that retro look) or special cycle shorts with a padded insert can make your ride more comfortable on longer journeys. But (get it?), you should first try to start off with a saddle of the correct shape before adding padding.
If you can try other people’s bikes then this is the best chance of finding that perfect bike seat. Look out for club rides and demo events for the best chance of trying lots of saddles.
If you develop sores then check out our article on how to prevent them: http://cycleseahaven.org.uk/chamois/