Bike Saddle Position: Does One Degree Make a Difference?


Does One Degree in Bike Saddle Position Make a Difference?

Often when we are out for a ride or at biking events, we have people ask us how to make their bike fit better.  One rider in particular, who had been previously fit on his bike, was complaining of feeling a bit cramped and having a fair amount of shoulder pain.  After seeing him pedal his bike on a trainer, we were able to make a few adjustments to his saddle of only one or two degrees to fix these problems.  He recently wrote us and told us how well his bike fit and how pleased he was with it.  So to answer the question, ‘Does one degree make a difference?’  The answer is, yes.  Here are a few simple steps you can do yourself to make your bike fit better than before, and they won’t cost you a penny.

Bike Saddle Tilt

The tilt of your saddle is a very crucial adjustment that, frankly, the average cyclist doesn’t fully understand.  Most saddles are installed nose down.  Did you know that this will actually cause more of your weight to be resting on your hands and arms which can cause muscle tension?  To achieve a neutral weight balance between your saddle and hands, your saddle should be installed anywhere from level to 1-2 degrees nose up.  This gets you sitting on the wider rear-part of the saddle and puts your upper body weight on your butt and not on your arms and shoulders.  With the weight off your shoulders the tension and cramped feeling is lessened, and with a neutral weight balance you have more control of your bike.  After adjusting the saddle tilt, be sure to adjust the saddle.

Nose Up

1-2 Degrees Nose Up

1-2 Degree Nose Up

Nose Down

Nose Down

Saddle Rotation

No two butts are alike.  Did you know that riding with your saddle in direct alignment with your top tube could be causing some of the discomfort you are experiencing?  Everyone’s soft tissues are different and by rotating your seat post one or two degrees to the left or right you can relieve some of the pressure you may be feeling.  To do this loosen your seat clamp and tap the nose of your saddle to the left one or two degrees and then tighten your seat clamp.  If having the saddle to the left is uncomfortable try moving it to the right.  You will have to experiment what works best for you on the saddle rotation, but try it, it does make a difference.  For this to be effective you need to be sure you are sitting on your saddle properly.

Left Rotation


Right Rotation

Sit Position

Sitting on your bike saddle is not the same as sitting on a chair.  When sitting on your saddle you need to roll your hips back so you are sitting on the flatter portion of your sit bones on the wider rear part of the saddle.  This will create a larger contact area with the saddle on the sit bones allowing your weight to be dispersed better and relieving some of the pressure points.  A good pair of riding shorts can help with this positioning and offer more comfort.

Bike Saddle Height

The most common mistake made on bicycle fit is improper saddle height.  Did you know you can ride with your saddle higher than you may think?  Most people ride with their saddle too low.  If your saddle is too low you will fatigue your quad muscle around your knee and tire quickly.  By raising your saddle to achieve full leg extension on your pedal stroke you will be more efficient because you are using all the muscles in your legs and not just one concentrated muscle group.  Ideally you want about a 3 degree bend in your knee while your foot is at the bottom of your pedal stroke (6 o’clock).  If your saddle is too tall you will get a rocking sensation as you pedal that you’ll want to avoid.

Handle Bar Tilt
The handle bars are the second most vital contact point on your bike after your saddle.  The rotation of your bars can affect pressure on your hands, arms, shoulders, neck and even your back.  If your bars are tilted too far down or up you can pinch the nerves running through your hands and create numbness in your arms and shoulders.  You want to have the top portion of your bars and shifter hoods level or slightly angled up.  Double check this before your next ride and see the difference it makes.

Down Angle

Down Angle

Up Angle


Stand Up
Don’t be afraid to stand up on your pedals.  In fact it is a good idea to get off your saddle every now and again to get the blood flowing.  Be sure to get out of the saddle before things go numb.

Ease Up
Ease off of your saddle when hitting unavoidable bumps like railroad tracks, dips, speed bumps, etc.  This will take a lot of the shock off your body and it is easier on your bike too.

Now that you have made these positioning adjustments to your bike go ride it and answer the question for yourself: does one degree make a difference?  Ride on!

Let us know if this was helpful by posting a comment below.

    • Front and back seat location is dependent upon the length of your bicycle top top and bottom bracket distance to head tube as well as your hip alignment as it compares to the crank centerline. In other words, this is something a bike shop that specializes in proper body measurement for bicycle fit can help you with. But it is often another “feel” item like seat nose angle (up/down and right/left) where you just need to play around with settings until it feels right to you. Remember to always recheck your seat nose angles (both axis) after you adjust front and back seat position because the seat rails are sometimes angled and the post clamp can get out of alignment simply by loosening it.

    • The height of your seat depends greatly on the terrain you are riding on and the geometry of the bicycle. If you are riding downhill, you will want your seat lower which will allow you to more easily shift your weight backwards to counter the pitch angle of the bicycle and/or terrain. If you are climbing, you will want the seat higher to counter the backward pitch angle and to give yourself an easier platform to rest from stand-up pedaling or sitting granny-gear pedaling. For cross country or trail riding where the terrain varies, a compromise is sometimes necessary. Either that, or you can invest in a telescoping seat post that allows you to adjust the seat height from a frame or bar-mounted level.

  1. Steve,
    The for-aft position of the saddle is more of a fit adjustment, but in general you want the tip of your knee to be over the axle of the pedal when your pedals are level to the ground (3 and 9 o’clock).

    These adjustments are the same for mountain biking as well. A tall saddle that allows full leg extensions will give you the best pedal efficiency.

    Your right foot could be going numb for a few reasons. Try rotating the saddle to the left a degree or two. This could relieve some of the pressure that could be cutting off blood flow. It is possible your legs are different lengths and you are reaching for the pedals on the right side. Option three is that it could be your shoes. If your shoes are too narrow it could be pinching nerves in your feet.

    Good suggestion. It is a good idea to make the saddle adjustments first, and then if those aren’t helping try a new saddle.

    Hope you are getting on the bike.

  2. I second the Selle SMP. I love my Stratos and will buy one again when mine needs replacing.

    A lot of riders are surprised at how much different a few millimeters makes.

  3. I’ve been riding a bit lately, and I’ve noticed that my left achilles tendon has been extremely tight, stiff, sensitive, and sore post riding (and sometimes during). Could saddle height, tilt, or rotation be a cause of this?

  4. Saddle tilt also has a lot to do with pelvic rotation and there is no on size fits all solution by suggesting that saddles should always be level or slightly up. Simply does not work for some people even with a properly supportive saddle.

  5. I have a really sore left IT band down to the outside of my knee. I’ve been fitted by a reputable guy and still have these issues. I have a bone on bone hip on the left but am still mobile so am not a candidate for an art hip … any ideas to help this pain?.

  6. I am training for my first 70.3 IM. I’d been having some pain around knee area when riding and got some fitting adjustments done a few days ago at the local bike shop. He said my seat had been too low and made a few other minor adjustments, and when finished he said (after using a measuring tool) that I had about 30 degrees bend when feet were at 6 and 12 on clock, I saw in your article that it says about 3 degrees is right… do you think 30 will cause me problems? With that, I can barely touch ground with toes and I have bad balance. Also, I’m short and lean / runner build. 5’4″, 120, F

    • A 30 degree bend is ok. There was a typo in the article. It should have read 30 degrees. Some people even run a 20 degree bend in there knee. I hope this helps

      • The article stated 3 degrees when your foot is at 6 oclock, the bottom of the stroke, which is correct. I assume you are talking 20-30 degrees with foot at 12 oclock, top of stroke??

  7. Remember when Schwinn had the comitment to see that each customer got the right size frame, the adjustment of seat and handelbars. Thanks for the refresher course.

  8. There is also an adjustment that is possible for the fore and aft position of the saddle to its contact possition to the seat post. This must be for achieving the fine adjustment of body positon so that maximum force can be obtained in the power stroke of the foot on pedal. What is this angle or vector (of the thigh/shin) that is desired for power?

  9. left hip muscle is sore: in fact painful. Will implement y’r above advice, incl horizontal seat rotation.

    Right leg is half inch shorter, as so am considering built-up. Running 170 cranks on my 450Trek daily commuter.

    good article.

  10. In the Tour de France this year (2011) the officials are enforcing a “level seat tilt” rule. I believe it was Cavensish who got dinked for it and posted on FaceBook or tweeted.

  11. I totally agree that a slight saddle change can make a big difference, but I disagree with your saddle tilt conclusions. My saddle was nearly level when I got my bike. I constantly had pain, and after a 60 mile ride, I ended up with nearly complete numbness of the …um… male parts for almost a full month afterwards. By tilting my seat nose down (almost identical to the picture you show) I have completely eliminated the numbness and am much more comfortable on long rides.

    • Tilting your saddle down is a poor solution to that problem. With the nose tilted down, you struggle to keep from sliding forward, putting added strain on your leg muscles, knees, arms, shoulders and back. All that strain makes you uncomfortable and bleeds away energy that’s better spent on putting power to the pedals. And when you inevitably tire and slide forward too far, the pressure is right back on the perineum. A better response is to select a saddle that distributes pressure appropriately when level, i.e. to your sit bones and nowhere else. Specialized has many excellent, laboratory-tested options. A sloping saddle is an identifier of triathletes and other inexperienced riders on par with putting your helmet on backwards. I’ve been a courier for about 6 years, often riding long distances with heavy loads pushing my butt into the saddle, and I haven’t had a single instance of numbness or even discomfort in my groin.

    • Tilting the seat down parallels the idea of eliminating the nose to make the male anatomy more comfortable and prevent damage to THE NERVE. This is totally ineffective and decreases the control you have on your bike. Back pain is more than just a function of seat position but the frame (top tube) size and handlebar adjustment as well as crank and pedals.This is just one seat out of hundreds to choose from and everyone is built differently. Try before you buy. And don’t buy the advertising until you think it through and try a few.

  12. I must have really set my saddle wrong, as I finally gave up riding completely sometime around 2004. I had ridden year-round (mostly road, but also off-road) for about 8 years when I started to have a debilitating cramping in the right side of my low back at about mile 10 of every ride. I’d get off and stretch, then resume, but it was hard to continue. It took me six years to figure out that it was actually originating at the muscles and nerves near my sitbones, not in my back. I went to 3 orthopedic docs, 2 neurologists, and 5 chiropractors, all of whom shrugged their shoulders and offered pills to mask the pain (I never accepted said offers). One even told me to be glad I can still walk.
    I continued to ride for 6 more years, trying gel covers, gel shorts, and a suspension seat post. I quit running several times as that elicited the most direct pain afterwards, and left me unable to walk correctly for two days after. I also tried staying off the bike for two weeks at a time. My rides got shorter and the pain came on quicker in each ride, so I finally quit. To this day, it’s uncomfortable to sit in most chairs. :(

    • Numbness in your arms and shoulders could be a combination of a few things. It could be due to your body weight too far forward and you carrying too much weight on your arms and shoulders. If this is the case, your weight can be more balanced by tilting your saddle nose up as mentioned in the article. You may also want to adjust the handle bar rotation on your bike. If the bars are tilted too far up or down it and pinch nerves in your hands. Does this help?

    • There are a number of factors that cause this, the most common is too much weight resting on your arms and hands this is usually caused by reaching too far to the handle bars. I see this everyday on every kind of bike. I believe alot of the reason is most people are recreational riders who have an image burned in their brain of a professional rider in an extreme areo position from television coverage and magazine pictures. What they don’t relize is these riders are in super fit shape and don’t ride an entire race like that. A proper fit bike is key also you may benifit from a shorter stem angled up more for awhile. Your core needs some work also to support more of the weight. Most riders tend to tilt from the waist rather then rotate from the hips and arch the back slightly. Arms should have a bend in a more relaxing position. relax on the bike and take away the tension. Tension is death in any sport you can cause this inadvertally by fear, not being sure of yourself or not trusting the bike. The seat position is a feel thing lighter more flexiable riders with stronger core and legs tend to like a nose down while heaveir less flexiable rider will tend to benifit from a level to 1 degree tilt back position. The first person to offer his bias self centered opinon on this site made himself look like the typical race junkie who turns group rides into 26mph testosterone ride look at me ain’t I great. Your saddle position will change as your fitness level changes so don’t be appossed to repositioning it. Also check your saddle some saddles are just not going to work for you. I prefer the ISM road saddle but I have seen it not work for other riders its a feel thing. your LBS should have a selection of saddels they can fit to you and the bike in house for u to try make sure to wear what you ride in. If you use padded tights wear them if you just wear regular shorts or pants the fit won’t be right a millimeter can make a huge difference on the road.

  13. thank you i will try this suggestion my shoulders are sore after about 20 -30 miles and now i know it is a couple of simple adjustments to comfort…

  14. I have benefited from a slight upward tilt on my seat. It works. John Cobb is another one who recommends this, and he’s fit famous riders all over the world including Lance Armstrong. John is a big proponent of seat adjustment as described in this article and has made my riding much more comfortable.

  15. I agree with the top comments. I’ve always ridden nose-slightly-down for the same reason. I’d also point out, I ride with the saddle pushed more “foreward” than most, and find a 130mm width to give me necessary support under my hip-bones. Anything even close to “level” creates sharp pains in my nether-regions, and lasting numbness after longer rides. The TYPE of saddle probably has a lot to do with the perceived comfort level too. The Specialized Toupe is my weapon of choice for the past few years. (I’ve been racing since 1983, I’m now 44). The center “cut-out” is mandatory, in my book, for the nerve deadening reasons.

  16. Good article, but I would add a few points. Too high a saddle position should be avoided at ALL COST! This can cause damage. The fore/aft positioning of the saddle is crucial. I see too many riders with the seat too far back. This leads to all kinds of stupid solutions to the inevitable back, neck and shoulder pain such as dorky spacers in the stem, ect. Racing bikes are built for an aero position, and keeping the saddle forward is part of a racing-style position. Also riding styles differ greatly-especially among recreational riders, and proper fit takes onto account the personal style of the rider.

    • ur right I agree… i had lower back pain on TT/road bike daily commuter and moved seat foreward then had a slight knee pain ….go figure…. lol

  17. This article has some good ideas, but the truth is that proper bicycle fit for the individual cyclist cannot be completely conveyed through any single publication. Proper bike fitting should be done by a professional with years of successful experience. Whenever pain or injury is concerned, a fit should be performed by a professional with extensive medical and biomechanical training, such as a physical therapist with post-graduate sports or orthopedic training. Also, apart from an initial fitting when getting onto a road bike for the first time, bike fit should be revisited occasionally, such as whenever purchasing a new bike, drastically changing training habits, acquiring new injuries or pains, or every year or two as your riding style evolves.

    • I believe these people can be very helpfull with riding position … But with the degree of training you are at local daily rides of two to three miles do not warrent traing professionals yeah 20 to 50 even 100miles in a day will benefit in lack of doctors bills by being proactive with their seating arrangements ….lol get a Pro it helps alot

  18. The positions shown are a good place to start. Everyone is built a little different though. I like my saddle dead level, but know other riders that disagree. If you ride much go to a good shop and do a fit kit…

  19. Some input please! I ride a WSD Trek 72fx…Hybrid with mountain bike not road bike handlebars. I constantly have numbness in my hands…gloves don’t help, in fact I think they make it worse because I have small hands and the padding seems to make it harder to get my hands completely around the bike grips. Any suggestions? Could this be relieved by tilting the seat up?

    • the reach is too far. I have this bike in a man’s version and the stem was too long I put a shorter stem on it brought the seat forward a little and problem solved. also you shouldn’t be having to get your hands all the way around the grip. Your chocking off the blood circulation in your hands, they need to be relaxed and the gloves do help if you don’t put a death grip on the bar.

  20. This article answered the question for me and i havent gotten on my bike yet. I always feel like Im sliding forward on the saddle…

  21. Do these suggestions apply to mountain bikes as well? This will be a very general question, so I expect a very general answer. For an average man who is 5’9″ tall and and has an average torso length, what size frame would you suggest for a mountain bike? Thanks in advance.

  22. Agree, for the most part, but seat fit is a very individual thing, so try different settings fore and aft, up and down, and tilt, in addition to flipping and/or shorter/longer stems to achieve the fit and feel you individually desire. Also, for those seasonal riders, you may find that you start the season each year with the seat a smidge lower and flatter and move it more nose down and higher as the season progresses to reach that perfect fit as your strength and endurance advance. Lastly, seat too low = tendency toward back pain, seat too high = tendency toward knee pain, seat a lot too high = both plus saddle sores from rocking; find your own balance based on your physique and physical ailments. If you cannot get a good fit without hurting somewhere excessively, either you are on the wrong bike size, or like me you just have too many ailing and failing parts of your body—-either get used to it, strengthen what you can to compensate best you can, or take up flyfishing.

  23. (also a Bob). Nope, you are wrong. I have the nose of my saddle tilted up a degree or two on all my bikes. Down-turned? Can’t imagine it.
    Look at the relationship to the sit bones to the pubis. There is some room there for an upturned saddle.

  24. every one is different been riding for twenty yrs and raced rode and mt bike my hands fall a sleep easily i like mine tilted up takes a little pressure off my hands

  25. Personally, I prefer the nose of my saddle down slightly. As for seat height, I can say that I notice FAR too many people with their seats too low, knees swinging out to the sides on their upstroke. I like a nice high seat position to stretch out my legs and use all of the length on my pedal-strokes

  26. Sorry Bob, nothing wrong with a slightly uptilted saddle. We’re talking 1 to 2 degrees. Over a 265mm long saddle you’re talking the front being 2mm to 4mm higher than the back. I doubt most people can accurately measure the tilt of their saddle to that precision anyway. And it’s especially hard with curved surface saddles such as the Fizik Aliante.

    Saddle fit is far more art than science. It has take into account many, many variables and setting hard and fast rules will work for almost no one.

    And the author is correct that down tilted saddle will put significant pressure on your arms.

  27. Bought a new saddle (Specialized Alias) and notice after riding i always have lower back pain on my right side. Is this the saddle itself or the positioning of the saddle?

  28. I’ve yet to try any of these fitment techniques. I raced my bicycle for eleven years and, for the past six or so years, I’ve been unable to ride for more than five minutes without my hands and genitals going numb. Frankly, it never occurred to me to tilt my seat or handlebar. I’ll try it, I suppose, if only to satisfy my curiosity about this article. However, as much as I miss riding my bike, I’m coming to grips (no pun intended) with the idea that my riding days are past. Again, I may try a bike with a more upright riding position and a wider saddle.

    • “I’m coming to grips (no pun intended) with the idea that my riding days are past.” That sounds like avoiding a problem rather than solving it. I have never heard of someone stopping cycling due to such a problem. I ride with a group of Velo Veterans. Two of us are past 80 and going VERY strong. The Senior Games have age groups up to 90+ for their road and TT race. I doubt if your days are at an end!

  29. I tilt mine up a bit. Everyone is different! Like the article said, you are going to need to experiment. The last bike I built (commuter), I had set up exactly like my touring bike, angle for angle. It didn’t take me but one 20 mile ride to know that what I had dialed in wasn’t going to work. Believe me, the 20 miles home that night was AWFUL! For the next several rides I made sure that I carried the tools I needed to make adjustments along side the road. Took me about a weeks worth of riding before I got to tailored to my body at that time. Be prepared to make adjustments throughout your riding season as you get into better shape, extend your riding distances and time in the saddle, or lose/gain weight, muscle, and/or flexibility, especially if the bike you hop onto is one that you haven’t ridden in a while.

  30. I believe you, as I just bought a antomica selle seat and am very uncomfortable but every time I adjust it,, it works better, and I agree, that the higher seat and somewhat offset is better for me than the lower centered seat. Time will tell. N

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