Tips to Measure a Mountain Bike Saddle Correctly – Step by Step
Finding the right bike saddle for your body and riding needs is key to having a pleasant riding experience. Riding on the wrong saddle might not be much of a problem in the short term. However, riding on the wrong fit could lead to pain and musculoskeletal injuries in the long term. Some are drastic enough to affect your overall health and hamper your riding ability. With the numerous bike seat options available, finding the right one tailored to your needs might be a hassle. In the article, we outline all the steps to measure a mountain bike saddle correctly.
To measure a mountain bike saddle, first measure the width of the sit bones by sitting on an aluminum foil and measuring the distance between the deepest depressions. The width of the mountain bike saddle should be 25-30mm wider than the sit bone width.
The ischial tuberosities, commonly called the sit bones, are the pelvic bones in your gluteal area. These bones are the primary point of contact between you and your saddle and are responsible for bearing the weight of your body while cycling. Therefore, it is of the utmost importance that you keep this area comfortable and adequately supported during rides. You can primarily do this by having the right saddle for your mountain bike and ensuring it’s correctly set to enhance your riding performance. Check out our article on how to fit a mountain bike saddle, and adjust angle and height for a tailored guide on how to go about changing your bike seat appropriately. The aluminum foil method is excellent for determining your sit bone width.
First, place a sheet of aluminum foil on an even surface, preferably a carpeted floor, chair, or step. Sit on the foiled surface and assume the position you usually would while riding. For a more accurate measurement, it’s best to wear the clothing you typically wear during rides. Next, lift your legs to ensure your weight is adequately transferred to the ischial tuberosities in your sitting area. Mark the two indentations left on the aluminum foil and measure the distance between them. The measured distance is your sit bone width. Men have an average seat width of 110-140mm, and women, due to naturally wider pelvises, have a seat width range of 110-150mm.
Common Mountain Bike Saddle Measurements
Although you’re now aware of your sit bone and saddle width, there are several other factors that you should consider before choosing a bike saddle. Different saddle dimensions like the saddle width, height, and angle could equally impact your comfort, health, and overall riding experience.
When sizing MTB seats, common mountain bike saddle measurements to use are saddle width, MTB saddle length, bike seat height, and seat weight. Typically mountain bike saddles are 260 mm long. Saddle width ranges from 110-150 mm and depends on your sit bone width. The height of the MTB saddle should be approximately 109% of the inseam length. Saddles can weigh between 10-25 lbs.
This article on saddle ergonomics by SQ Lab Sports Ergonomics indicates that even saddle depth (how hard or soft your bike saddle is) could impact your riding health equally. The study states that softer bike saddles increase the rider’s risk of having perineal discomfort and developing saddle sores due to inadequately-distributed pressure.
In addition to the above-stated dimensions, a factor like a bike seat angle tilt could also impact your comfort while riding. So much so that a seat adjusted at an inappropriate angle could lead to long-term musculoskeletal injuries. Our article on how to adjust your mountain bike seat angle will provide helpful information in this regard.
How Are MTB Saddles Measured?
As mentioned earlier, all the dimensions of a saddle contribute to your riding satisfaction. Improper measurement or ill adjustment of any of these factors could lead to discomfort and, if left unresolved, result in musculoskeletal injuries in the long term. Now that you’re aware of the essential dimensions to note when choosing a bike saddle, it’s imperative to know how to measure them when making your choice.
The mountain bike saddle width is measured from one side of the seat’s widest point to the other. The mountain bike saddle length is measured from the tip of the back along the saddle top to the end of the saddle nose. To weigh the saddle, use a weighing machine. The mountain bike seat height is measured from the saddle rails to the top of the seat.
You should note that a proper, ergonomically suitable riding position should be assumed while carrying out your saddle measurements. An incorrect posture could lead to several measurement errors, leading to choosing an inappropriate saddle. To avoid this, ensure you assume an ergonomically suitable position when measuring your body’s dimensions, or better yet, get yourself professionally measured at your local bike shop for the best results.
How To Measure Mountain Bike Saddle Width
It is not uncommon for riders to try to ‘eyeball’ saddle width without taking proper measurements. However convenient this might seem, you’re more likely to get the appropriate bike saddle for your body. This study done by the International Journal of Industrial Ergonomics highlighted that predicted values of External Ischial Tuberosity Width (EITW) hardly tallied with the measured values. Hence, it is much more advisable to carry out appropriate measures than to guess.
The width of your Ischial Tuberosities (sit bones) is the most important factor in determining optimal saddle width. Place a piece of corrugated cardboard on a flat chair and take a seat. Sit with your feet up long enough to make a favorable impression, then stand up and indicate the two deepest indentations left by your sit bones with a point. With your measuring tape, measure from one point to the other in millimeters. To calculate your saddle size, add 20-25mm.
Several methods to measure a mountain bike saddle width include the aluminum foil method, as highlighted earlier, the eraser method, the playdough method, and the damp spot method. This video tutorial by Road Bike Bros shows some tips to measure your sit bone width.
Regardless of the method you choose, know they all follow the same principles and we suggest that you follow these steps when measuring for bike seats:
Step 1. Get Properly Suited
Before measuring your seat width, you must ensure you’re appropriately dressed for the fitting. Clothing that is too bulky or loose could affect your seat width measurement and invariably affect your ultimate decision negatively. A pair of close-fitting shorts like this should do the trick. Advisably, the ones you often wear while riding as this would lead to more accurate measurements for a bike saddle that fits your specific body.
Step 2. Prepare the Necessary Tools
No matter the process you decide, know the ultimate aim of each is to get the principal surface indented with your ischial tuberosities. After which, such indentations should be adequately marked and measured for the final result.
Step 3. Assume a Proper Riding Position
The importance of proper bike riding ergonomics can not be overemphasized. Your riding posture often plays a more significant role in your comfort, performance, and musculoskeletal health than the bike features. To measure a mountain bike saddle width, it is vital to assume the correct position, no matter the measurement method you use. After preparing the tools and equipment, incline your legs with your knees bent at a 30 angle. This position transfers your body weight to your sit bones more appropriately. It indents the ischial tuberosity spots on your measuring surface, which invariably gives you a more precise and accurate result.
Step 4. Measure Necessary Areas
After doing the above, you should notice some indentations on your sitting surface. These depressions are where your ischial tuberosities carry your body weight when sitting on your bike saddle. With a bright marker like these, mark the center of each point and measure the distance between them with a ruler like this.
Add about 20mm to your measured bone width for your saddle measurement. Note that this indicates the minimum saddle width you should consider and is not an all-or-nothing value. For example, a rider with a sit bone width of 110mm might have a calculated saddle width of 130mm, but he might still consider saddles with widths of 135mm, 140mm, or even 145mm. Most important is the rider’s comfort and whether the selected option provides the necessary comfort while riding.
Step 5. Cross Check With Alternative Methods
Now that you’ve got the generally accepted principles of measuring out of the way, you may choose to cross-check your values by trying out a different measurement technique. While this might not always be necessary, it might give you a more accurate idea of your saddle width range. Here are a few ways to measure your bike seat width, step-by-step:
How to Measure Mountain Bike Saddle Width With The Cardboard Method
For this procedure, the needed tools include a Cardboard, a marker, a flat and even surface, and a ruler.
Place a wide cardboard sheet like this on an even, sitting surface, most preferably, a sturdy chair. After that, sit on the cardboard and assume your normal riding position. Mark the indentations made on the cardboard. And finally, measure the distance between the two points with a ruler.
How to Measure Mountain Bike Saddle Width With The Damp Spot Method
The tools needed for this method include a flat, even surface, two paper towels like these (one wet and the other dry), a marker, and a ruler.
First, lightly wet the central part of a paper towel and place it on your sitting surface, after which, cover the wet paper with a dry one. Sit on the paper surface with your legs raised at a 30-degree angle for about 30 seconds. Next, take off the dry towel and quickly mark the indentations on the wet one below it. Measure the distance between the two points and add 20mm to get your saddle width.
How to Measure Mountain Bike Saddle Width With The Playdough Method
The tools needed for this method include playdough, plastic foil, a flat, even surface, and a ruler.
Sandwich some playdough like this between two films of plastic foil. The “sandwich” should be enough to cover your sitting area.
Place the plastic-playdough sandwich on a seat or bench and sit on it. Raise your legs to mimic your riding posture with just enough pressure to leave imprints on the mold below. Take note of the indentations on the playdough and measure the distance between them for your sit width.
How to Measure Mountain Bike Saddle Width With The Eraser Method
The tools needed include erasers, a flat, even surface, and a ruler.
Get two small erasers and place them on your sitting surface. Sit on the erasers and move them till you feel they are
comfortably aligned to your sit bones. Once you’ve got the distance that best aligns with your sit bones, measure the distance between them with a ruler.
How to Measure Mountain Bike Saddle Width With By Testing Various Saddle Options
Even with the appropriate measurements, it’s still a good idea to try out different options before making your final pick. This is why it’s most advisable to visit physical bike saddle stores, as you have more range in test running various options and can make a more informed choice.
How to Measure Mountain Bike Saddle Length
Another critical dimension to note when choosing a bike seat is the saddle length. The bike seat length represents the distance between the back end of the saddle (the wide, broad part) and the front part of the saddle (the narrow, pointy tip). Usually, long-distance riders opt for more extended bike seats as these options do a much better job distributing weight and relieving perineal pressure.
To measure a mountain bike saddle length, place your saddle on an even surface, draw a connecting
line from both ends of the seat, and measure the distance.
As highlighted earlier, choosing a bike saddle that provides the necessary features for your riding style and comfort is of utmost importance and these steps will help you to that:
Step 1. Place the Saddle on an Even Surface
It is important to place the saddle of your choice on an even surface to avoid unnecessary mistakes. It is preferable to set a wide sheet of paper over the surface or in a manner that allows you to adequately take note of the two ends of the saddle when drawing your connecting line, this leads us to the next step.
Step 2. Rule a Line From Each End
With a ruler and marker, rule out a line from each end of the saddle. The first line should extend from the broad back end and the other from the narrow front end. Connect the two lines. This indicates your saddle length.
Step 3. Measure the Line
Measure the connecting line between the two points. This represents your saddle length. Ideally, MTB saddle lengths are around 260mm.
How to Measure Mountain Bike Saddle Height
A saddle fitted at an appropriate height not only improves bike reach but also enhances riding comfort and performance. Your body anthropometry essentially dictates saddle height, the precise length of your legs, how flexible you are, and the angle that your foot constantly assumes while riding. If you have a bike seat that’s set too low; you have to expend more energy on pedaling, which would tire you out during rides. Conversely, if your saddle is set too high, you might have a hard time reaching the pedals and are at a much greater risk of getting injured or having an accident during rides.
To measure a mountain bike saddle height, first, adjust other bike saddle factors, next, choose a saddle-height-measurement method and set the bike seat accordingly.
Following these steps will ensure that your mountain bike seat is set at the correct height:
Step 1. Set Other Factors
Before altering your saddle height, other adjustments must be made for the best result. The first is ensuring you have one wide enough to accommodate your sit bones, as highlighted above when discussing seat width. The next aspect of adjusting your saddle is correctly setting the fore-aft position - how far forward or backward your saddle is set. Setting the fore-aft position would make it a lot easier to balance on your saddle while pedaling, even without having to hold your bike handlebars.
The bike seat angle tilt is the last factor to note before adjusting your saddle height. Your bike seat should be perfectly horizontal without leaning too far forward or backward. However, some riders prefer having their saddles with a slight forward tilt. Whatever degree you set is dependent on your personal preference. Check out our article on adjusting your mountain bike seat angle for a step-by-step guide on making the necessary adjustments.
Step 2. Choose a Measurement Method
After making sure all the above-stated factors are in order, there are two well-known ways to measure your bike seat height: the heel-to-pedal method and the Lemond method.
Read on to learn about both methods.
How to Measure Mountain Bike Saddle Height With the Heel-To-Pedal Method
Set your bike upright against a sturdy wall. Sit on your bike saddle with your heel on the pedal. Rotate the crank arm to the lowest point (about 6 o’clock).
If your saddle height is set correctly, your leg should be in line with your foot, i.e., your leg should be locked out with your heel still on the pedal. You need to increase your saddle height if your knee is slightly bent. On the other hand, if your heel loses contact with the pedal, or you’re rotating your pelvis to touch the pedal, you need to lower your saddle.
How to Measure Mountain Bike Saddle Height With the Lemond Method
Named after the legendary US racer, Greg Lemond, this method is a far more accurate way of getting your bike saddle
height. You will need a relatively large book, measuring tape, and a pencil.
First, stand in front of a wall and place the book between your legs so that the edge of the book is pointing upwards toward you. Note: Ensure you wear appropriate clothing, specifically riding shorts, to avoid possible errors. Mark the point where the edge comes in contact with the wall’s surface. Measure the space between that point and the floor with a tape measure like this. This value represents your inseam measurement. Multiply that value by 0.883 to get your bike seat height.
How to Measure Mountain Bike Saddle Weight
Your saddle weight and style will be a significant determining factor in how well you perform as a rider. A bike saddle's weight usually results from the type of materials used in production, and although your level of comfort is the most important factor when choosing a saddle, the weight of your saddle should also be considered.
To measure a mountain bike saddle weight first strip it of unnecessary load, then place it on a weighing scale, and note the weight indicated.
It’s vital to make sure you’re not piling extra load on your bike as this could hamper your riding performance. A weighing scale like this is the primary tool you’d need to get correct saddle weight values.
Once you’ve got a scale, here’s how to weigh your saddle:
Step 1. Strip the Saddle of Unnecessary Weight
To get the correct weight value of your bike saddle, the first step is to free it of the added load from accessories like seat cushions and sleeves.
Step 2. Place the Saddle on a Scale
After freeing your bike seat of added accessories, place it on the weighing scale, and wait for a few seconds till the digits stay on a stable value. Note, it’s essential to set the scale and saddle on an even surface to avoid errors due to parallax.
As mentioned above, saddle weight primarily depends on the type of materials used and can range between 10-60lbs. Western saddles weigh between 25-60lbs, while English seats are much lighter and weigh between 10-25lbs.
Tips to Choose the Right MTB Seat Size for Your Needs
Being one of the major contact points between you and your bike, your bike seat should be adequately suited to your biomechanical qualities and satisfy your riding needs. Additionally, it's vital to take into consideration what kinds of rides you do, the types of trails you ride on, and how long you spend on each ride on average. When choosing a bike seat, there are a host of factors to consider, and it's pretty easy to get mixed up and confused with the vast array of options available, which is why we've done the digging for you.
When choosing the right MTB saddle, consider the breadth, length, material, and ergonomics.
Here are the top tips to consider when choosing the right MTB seat:
Tip 1. Choose a Saddle 25-30mm Wider Than the Sit Bone Width
When considering bike seat width, it's essential to understand that there is no one-size-fits-all solution. And the most vital thing to consider when choosing a saddle based on seat width is how well the saddle can accommodate your sit bones and provide support while riding.
Tip 2. Select One With an Appropriate Length
A saddle with an inappropriate length can lead to improper weight distribution, leading to musculoskeletal injuries in the long term so before selecting a bike saddle, look at the length. Consider your riding style and anthropometric qualities before settling on an option like this. Thought.co explains everything you need to know about anthropometry in this informative article.
Tip 3. Consider the Seat Material
You need to ensure your seat is comfortable enough to make your riding experience enjoyable and firm enough to support your weight and encourage proper ergonomics while riding. Several materials like these can offer the best of both worlds. For more on seat materials, check out our tips to choose the right mountain bike saddle materials for your needs. Ultimately, it depends on what you believe is the best fit for you. Whatever option you settle on, remember to consider longevity and maintenance in your decision-making process.
Tip 4. Choose a Saddle With Ergonomic Benefits
When choosing a bike saddle that is suitable for you, to get the best bang for your buck, it's in your best interest to consider options with extra perks, preferably ones that promote musculoskeletal health. For instance, according to this study done by Applied Ergonomics, medium-width saddles with cutouts reduced perineal discomfort and adequately relieved saddle pressure. Additionally, saddles with a longer nose minimize pressure in the nether regions and are particularly beneficial for male cyclists.
Is a Wider Saddle Better?
Depending on a rider's body anthropometry, a wider bike seat might improve comfort and performance. For instance, owing to a naturally wider pelvis and wider spaced sit bones, female cyclists would benefit more from a wider saddle than their male counterparts.
A wider mountain bike saddle can support the ischial tuberosities (sit bones). However, it may also increase friction and chafing.
Additionally, wider saddles like these enhance weight distribution and support since there's a broader support base. This feature makes them a preferable option for riders who prioritize comfort while cycling. If you'd like a few tips on getting a seat tailored to your anthropometric attributes, check out our tips on how to fix a mountain bike seat that’s too hard.
However, despite the notable pro of improved support, if inappropriately sized, a bike seat that's too wide could lead to chafing and another discomfort in the long run, which is why getting a bike saddle that's sized appropriately for you is vital.
Pros of a Wider MTB Saddle
Choosing a wider mountain bike saddle certainly does have its advantages.
The advantages of a wider mountain bike saddle include an upright seating position, a greater support foundation, and increased comfort.
Here is why a wider saddle could be better:
1. A Wider MTB Saddle Provides a Comfortable Upright Riding Position
According to this article by SQLab, back pain is one of the common musculoskeletal conditions experienced by riders. This occurrence can be attributed to the constant need to assume a forward bending hunchback position to improve cycling aerodynamics which is encouraged by narrow bike saddles. However, since there is more support, wider saddles like this can better accommodate your buttock area. This promotes an ergonomic upright position while sitting, reducing the risk of developing back-related musculoskeletal injuries.
2. A Wider MTB Seat Provides a Better Support Base
Owing to the larger surface area and ergonomic quality, wider bike seats provide a much better support base than narrow ones. Wider bike seats place cyclists in an upright riding position which puts most of the body weight on the broader, more stable part of the sit bones.
3. A Wider MTB Saddle Provides More Comfort
As a result of the much larger surface area, wider seats often include more padding, particularly memory foam or gel. The added padding makes a wide bike seat like this a lot more comfortable than narrower options and makes them more preferred by leisure cyclists.
Cons of a Wider MTB Saddle
You may assume that because a mountain bike saddle is wider it is automatically better but this is not always true.
The disadvantages of a larger mountain bike saddle include reduced aerodynamics and the possibility of chafing.
Here is why a wider saddle won’t be better:
1. A wider MTB saddle enables an upright riding position, which reduces aerodynamic benefits.
As discussed earlier, from an ergonomic perspective, wider bike seats are a great option for improved back health as they encourage you to assume an upright posture. However, this quality also makes them an unpopular choice for cyclists who value riding performance. An upright riding posture isn't the best for anyone who values speed because this posture makes it more challenging to break through headwinds and causes drag.
2. An MTB Saddle Wider Than Sit Bone Width Causes Chafing
Due to the much greater width, wider bike seats tend to spread your thighs out more. This isn't such a bad thing unless the constant contact between your inner thighs and the saddle's edge causes uncomfortable rubbing and chafing. If left unmanaged for extended periods this could develop into sores and become infected. If you do a lot of long-distance riding for extended periods, it might be best to consider a narrow saddle to avoid this kind of discomfort.