Beginner's guide: how to set the correct saddle angle on a road bike
Why it's important to get your saddle angle right
When a new cyclist buys a bike they may take the advice of the shop staff when it comes to setting the saddle height, but that’s about it. A couple of hundred miles later and there may be a change of saddle to try and improve comfort, but the angle of the saddle itself can have just as big an impact on comfort as the choice of perch.
In order to get an experts view of how to adjust your saddle angle not only for comfort, but also for maximum efficiency, we spoke to two professional bike fitters: Nigel Macaodha of Bespoke Cycling and Simon Jackson from Cadence Performance.
“The saddle is intended to support the rider to varying degrees and its angle is critical to that," says Jackson. “If the saddle angle is incorrect then it will either be uncomfortable or, in the case of not offering proper support, will adversely distribute the rider’s weight, which can lead to too much weight on the hands or even the feet."
But where to begin when setting up a saddle? The starting point of getting a rider comfortable is to get it dead level, according to Macaodha, but the shape of the saddle itself will determine what constitutes ‘level’.
“A lot can depend upon the shape of the saddle," says Macaodha. “Something like a Fizik Arione with a flat top needs to be set level, and then with something like a Specialized Romin, which is heavily profiled, you need to get the central third of the saddle set level."
According to Macaodha, a level saddle gives the rider the best chance of enjoying a comfortable ride.
“If the nose of the saddle is pointing too far upwards it can cause poor pedaling technique and bad posture," he says. Having a saddle angled up at the nose can close the hip angle, according to Macaodha, which can in turn cause the hip to become tight. Symptoms include lower back pain, while over-reaching for the bars as a result of an incorrect saddle angle can cause shoulder and neck pain.
“One of the first things I look at when doing a bike fit is the ‘golden angle’ – the hip angle closed at the top of the pedal stroke, and the angle between knee, hip, and shoulder," he says.
“Some people might also tip the saddle back to relieve pressure but there are plenty of saddle designs now [with a cut-out] that can do that and allow for correct positioning."
On the other hand, having the rear of the saddle raised and the front tipped forward can place to much weight on your arms, wrists and hands, while also placing more pressure on your delicate parts by sliding forward onto the narrow, unsupportive part of the saddle.
However, both Jackson and Macaodha emphasise that saddle angle is only an individual element in the fit of a bike, and so shouldn’t be viewed in isolation.
“Each component of the fit, such as the saddle angle, relates to most of the other components," says Jackson. “It’s important that they do not adversely affect each other and that each component is as close to optimum as is appropriate according to its influence on the fit as a whole."
Jackson says the ‘correct’ saddle angle is directly related to saddle height and handlebar position, and only once they have been established can saddle angle be fine-tuned. The key from there, he says, is finding a position where the sit bones support the majority of the rider’s weight on the saddle. Any adjustments from the neutral position should, in most cases, only be small and incremental.
“The rider’s sit bones must be properly supported and bearing 80-90 per cent of the overall saddle pressure when the rider’s hands are on the hoods. The remaining pressure, which will be very slight, is supported by the soft tissue immediately forward of the sit bones, on the central, narrower part of the saddle. The saddle angle alters this distribution of pressure."
Of course, the angle of your perch isn’t the only consideration in achieving saddle comfort. Along with the shape of the saddle itself, Jackson says it’s vital to ensure the saddle is straight in order to avoid “asymmetrical pedalling which can cause hip pain or back pain."
The final aspect not to neglect, according to Macaodha is the width of the saddle itself.
“If the saddle is too narrow the rider will drift to one side, as everyone is naturally biased towards one side, usually the dominant side," he says. “With the correct width, the rider gets adequate support to keep in a central position, and that results in a better pedaling style."