The simplest ways to find your perfect seat height and cleat position. – By Bill Strickland
You could spend a century’s worth of riding time calculating your seat height with all the formulas out there. Five-time Tour de France winner Bernard Hinault swore by his method of multiplying his inseam by 0.885, while fellow five-timer Miguel Indurain aimed for a 90-degree bend in his leg at the top of the pedal stroke.
The truth is that most height-finding techniques are right, imperfectly. Measurements get you safely within the range where, at the bottom of the stroke, your knee is slightly bent yet your hips don’t rock, ensuring full power and extension with little risk of injury. From there, you should adjust your saddle as you ride (only about 2mm up or down during each tweak) until you feel most comfortable and powerful.
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These two fit formulas are our favourite starting points, because you can do them on your own and they are proven performers that have been around for years. Each assumes that you already have a neutral fore-aft position: When the pedals are horizontal, a plumb line dropped from the front of the kneecap of your forward leg bisects the pedal axle.
Heels Brush Pedals
Part of cycling’s unattributable lore, this method is easiest to do. With your bike mounted in a trainer, pedal for 5 minutes to settle onto the bike in your natural position. (Or ride for 5 minutes, then ask a friend to hold your bike as you sit on it.) Then unclip, put your heels on the pedals and spin the cranks backward. Set the saddle height so your heels just brush the pedal as you spin. This results in a relatively low saddle height by today’s standards, so expect to fine-tune upward.
This method was developed for three-time Tour de France champion Greg LeMond by his coach, Cyrille Guimard, using wind-tunnel testing and power-output measurements. Wearing riding shorts and socks, stand with your back against a wall. Snug a ruler into your crotch, with one edge flush against the wall. Then step away as you hold the ruler in place. Mark the top of the ruler, then measure the distance in centimeters from the floor to the mark. Multiply the number by 0.883, then subtract 4 mm (to account for clipless pedals, which weren’t in use when the formula was developed). Set your seat height at that number, measuring from the center of the bottom bracket to the top of the saddle. This results in a saddle about half a centimetre higher than the Heels Brush Pedals method.
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When it comes to cleat position, there are two simple goals:
Align the Angle
Your stance on the bike should mimic what feels natural off the bike: If your toes point straight ahead, or in or out as you walk and stand casually, they should do the same as you pedal. If you’re not already aware of how you orient your feet (and it’s nearly impossible to let them fall naturally once you’re conscious of trying to do so), wet your feet then walk across your driveway, or walk through wet sand and look at the patterns, then adjust your cleats to match: If you’re duck-footed, angle your cleat toward the inside of your shoe. If you’re pigeon-toed, angle your cleat toward the outside of your shoe. Take note of both feet: Some of us end up pedaling with each foot aligned differently.
Adjust Fore and Aft
Align the fore-and-aft position so the widest part of your foot is over the pedal axle. If you have trouble dialing this in: Put your shoes on, feel for the ball of your foot and mark it with a vertical line from a marker. Set your cleats so the line bisects the axle.