How to Choose the Ideal MTB Saddle Position

While you might think that your mountain bike saddle is only there to offer comfort as you ride, the truth is it also influences your overall efficiency while cycling. Therefore, to boost your performance and avoid injuries choosing the ideal MTB saddle position is key. 

To choose the ideal mountain bike saddle position, sit on the MTB, then place the heels on the pedals. Now pedal backward to the 6 o'clock position and if the knee is not directly above the pedal, adjust the mountain bike seat until the leg is straight and the knee is no longer bent.

Although it may sound a bit tricky to adjust the MTB saddle position, you can easily complete the task by following a few simple steps. In this article, you will learn more about why mountain bike seat position matters. You will also find a detailed step-by-step guide to determining and adjusting your MTB saddle height, angle, and setback. This video tutorial by AdventureSportU shows great ways to set your MTB seat to the correct height.

If you're looking for more information on how to improve mountain bike saddle comfort or how to prevent and manage mountain bike saddle numbness, be sure to read our related articles.

Your ideal MTB saddle position will allow your legs to pedal with optimal efficiency without sustaining injuries or strains.
If your bike saddle is positioned either too low or too high, it will decrease your pedaling efficiency and increase the chances of getting injured. Image Source: YouTube

Reasons Why Mountain Bike Seat Height Matters

Adjusting your MTB seat height, fore/aft position, and tilt are three of the most crucial bike fitting tasks. Comfort is not the only factor affected by a mountain bike saddle position. In fact, the height of an MTB seat matters for a couple of reasons. Ideally, a mountain bike seat should be positioned neither too high nor too low. 

Setting the correct MTB seat height makes the cyclist push more power to the pedals. Setting the mountain bike saddle too high can cause back and knee pain due to knee strain while setting it too low can cause front knee pain.

Riding a bike with an adjusted seat height will improve the overall cycling experience and help you avoid mild to severe injuries. As this article from Prcedia Engineering, bicycle seat height influences the effectiveness of pedaling and improves control when riding. Below are a few reasons why MTB saddle height actually matters.

  1. Increase Pedaling Efficiency

Although setting your bike saddle position might sound like a simple task, the slightest incorrect adjustment can make a huge difference in pedaling efficiency. When your MTB seat is positioned correctly, you no longer have to apply too much pressure to the pedals to generate power. Therefore, choosing the best saddle position enhances the overall power output without wasting your energy. 

  1. Reduce Knee Pain

According to this International SportsMed Journal article, knee pain is common for mountain bikers and is typically caused by bike setup issues. Oftentimes, when the saddle is too low, the knees bend in a way that leads to mild to severe pain. Positioning your mountain bike seat’s height correctly, will prevent your knees from leaning inward or outward, which will significantly reduce knee pain. 

  1. Reduce Burning Feeling in Thighs

Setting your MTB saddle height too low might lead to a burning feeling in your thighs. Although you may not experience any pain, it will still cause some discomfort. Raising the saddle height will keep your legs parallel to the bike frame as you ride, preventing your thighs from feeling the burn. Our mountain bike sizing chart also has a helpful tips to keep in mind when purchasing the right size bike. 

  1. Reduce Lower Back Pain

The British Journal of Sports Medicine explains in this article that lower back pain is also widespread among mountain bikers. While several factors might cause discomfort in your lower back, saddle height is among the most common reasons. If your bike seat is positioned too high, your hips may move sideways or you may have to stretch to reach the pedals. This is why choosing the right saddle height is key to reducing lower back pain. 

  1. Minimize the Risks of Getting Injured

As mentioned in this research article by the National Library of Medicine, incorrect bike saddle positioning can not only decrease cycling performance but also lead to severe injuries. The improper bike seat height may put a strain on your joints that can cause painful spasms or even joint damage. While it may take weeks for your body to heal, you can easily prevent something like this from happening by simply adjusting your mountain bike saddle position and angle. 

A saddle that is positioned at the correct height and angle will improve pedaling efficiency. Image Source: Amazon.

MTB Tools Needed When Setting MTB Seat Position

MTB Tool Uses Product Example From Amazon Price
Allen Keys To loosen or tighten bolts Amazon Basics Hex Key Set ~ $15
Multi-Tool To loosen or tighten bolts and screws using a single tool Topeak Alien II Multi Tool ~ $50
Bike Trainer To put your bike on when positioning the saddle height Unisky Bike Trainer Stand ~ $75
Goniometer To measure the angle when using the Holmes method for adjusting the saddle height Ever Ready Plastic Goniometer ~ $10
Measuring Tape To measure the saddle height from the center of the bottom bracket to the top of the saddle Amazon Basics Self-Locking Tape Measure ~ $15
Spirit Level To measure the saddle tilt and adjust its angle Craftsman Torpedo Level ~ $20
Plumb Bob Level To adjust the saddle fore/aft position using the KOPS method.  Swanson Tool Co Brass Plumb Bob with String ~ $15

How to Position a Mountain Bike Saddle Correctly

Positioning a mountain bike saddle is not as challenging as it may seem at first glance. As long as you know how to determine the correct bike seat position for you, it is pretty quick and easy to set up.

To position the mountain bike saddle correctly, first set the right seat height by releasing the seat post clamp, then adjust the seat post height according to the heel rule. Then, loosen the seat to adjust it to the correct angle.

Positioning your mountain bike seat means adjusting its height, fore/aft position, and angle. So, along with determining how high or low you want your bike saddle to be, you should also think of how far or close the seat should be in relation to the bike handlebars. This research article from The Physician and Sportsmedicine Journal explains how to position the saddle height correctly. Tilting your MTB saddle at the right angle is just as important as adjusting its height. These three factors will not only boost the efficiency of pedaling but also help you avoid severe joint, knee, hip, and lower back injuries. 

This research article from the “British Journal of Sports Medicine” explains how creating an anterior inclining angle when positioning your bike saddle reduces tensile forces that may cause hyperextension of the pelvic and spine angles.  

As a matter of fact, there are a few different methods mountain bikers use to adjust the saddle position. While individual techniques allow you to get closer to the right saddle adjustment for you, the more methods you use the more ideal the saddle position gets. Our article about calculating mountain bike reach also has in-depth explanations of how to determine your ideal reach to ensure comfort and safety. 

How to Position a Mountain Bike’s Saddle Height Using the Heel Rule

There are a few methods you can refer to when positioning a mountain bike saddle height. The heel rule (also known as the heel-to-pedal method) is one of the most common ways to adjust the height of the bike seat. 

To set the mountain bike saddle height using the heel rule, sit on the bike seat with the heel on the pedal while leaning on a stand or wall, then adjust the saddle until the heel partially loses contact with the pedal. 

While the heel rule is a basic method of adjusting the saddle height, it is enough to make an approximation. However, you will need to use other methods discussed in this article to make the adjustments more precise. This video by the Road Cycling Academy demonstrates how to use the heel rule to adjust the height of your mountain bike. Below is a step-by-step guide to using the heel-to-pedal technique of setting an MTB seat height. 

Step 1. Sit on Your Bike While Leaning Against a Wall 

The first step is to sit on your bike and balance yourself. This can be done by simply leaning the bike against a wall or holding on to a table. Alternatively, you can place your bike on a stationary trainer like this, but there is no need to purchase one as the tricks mentioned earlier will work just fine. 

You can rest your mountain bike on a stationary trainer to set your ideal saddle position.
Using a bike trainer stand will allow you to easily adjust the saddle height without having trouble balancing yourself when sitting on the bike. Image Source: Amazon.

Step 2. Put Your Heel on the Pedal and Rotate to the 6 O’clock Position

The next step is to put your heel on the pedal and rotate the pedals until one foot reaches the 6 o’clock position. If your bike saddle height has already been adjusted, then your knee should be straight. If not, you should continue with the next two steps. 

If your mountain bike seat is at the ideal height and in position for you, your leg should be straight when your foot is in the 6 o’clock position.
When placing your heel on the pedal in a 6 o’clock position, your knee should be straight. Image Source: YouTube.

Step 3. Determine the Right Saddle Height 

To determine the right saddle height for you, check your knee when your heel is placed on the pedal. If your knee is bent, you should increase the seat height. If your heel loses contact with the pedal, then you should lower your bike saddle. 

Adjust your MTB seat so that your leg is straight when your foot is  resting on the pedal.
If your knee is bent or your heel cannot reach the pedal properly, you should adjust the mountain bike saddle height. Image Source: BraceAbility.

Step 4. Set the Mountain Bike Saddle Height Accordingly

The last step is to adjust the saddle height based on how bent or straight your knee is. To do so, you should take an Allen wrench from a set like this and loosen the bolt securing the seat post clamp. On some bikes, you may find a quick-release lever holding the seat post in place. 

After loosening the bolt, increase or decrease the height of your bike saddle in small increments until your knee is straight or slightly bent when placing your heel on the pedal. Finish up by tightening the bolt and you are ready to go. Make sure to check out our article to know more about the ultimate list of tools for mountain bike maintenance so that you can easily perform these minor tweaks without taking your bike to a bike shop every time.  

Adjust the saddle position so that it is the ideal height for you.
You should increase or decrease the saddle height in small increments to ensure that you position the seat correctly. Image Source: YouTube.

Step 5. Test the Adjusted Saddle Height

After adjusting the saddle height, consider going on a 20 to 30-minute ride to check if your saddle has been positioned properly. It is also recommended to mark the seat post so that you won’t have to re-adjust your mountain bike saddle height over and over again. 

For more details, be sure to take a look at how to adjust a mountain bike seat angle. Also, if you're interested in learning more about how to fit a mountain bike saddle, be sure to read our related article for more information.

How to Adjust the Mountain Bike Saddle Height Using the Holmes Method

Another way to set the mountain bike saddle height is using the Holmes method. According to this research paper from the Journal of Exercise Physiology Online on methods for setting saddle height, the Holmes method of using a goniometer is the best way to ensure that the knee angle falls between 25 and 35 degrees. 

To set a mountain bike seat height using the Holmes method, sit on the MTB, start pedaling, and stop when the 6 o’clock position is reached. Adjust the saddle height so that the goniometer angle is between 25 ad 35 degrees. 

Below are 4 easy steps to use the Holmes method and a goniometer to adjust your mountain bike saddle height. 

Step 1. Sit on Your Mountain Bike

Just as you did for the heel-to-pedal method, you should sit on your mountain bike and lean against the wall. If you own a stationary trainer like this, you can use that as well. 

Step 2. Start Pedaling and Stop in the 6 O’clock Position

The next step is to place your feet on the pedals and start pedaling like normal. Stop when you reach the 6 o’clock position. If you are leaning against the wall, make sure the foot is on the opposite side. If you are using a bike trainer, then any of the feet would work. 

Step 3. Have Someone Measure the Angle Using a Goniometer

Ideally, you should have someone measure the angle using a goniometer like this. After stopping in the 6 o’clock position, mark three points with tape—the top of the femur, the bottom of the femur, and the ankle bone. Then, use a goniometer and align it with the marked spots to measure the angle. This video by Clint Gibbs demonstrates how to use a goniometer to position a bike saddle using the Holmes method. 

If your bike seat height is adjusted correctly, the reading should be between 25 and 35 degrees. If not, then aim for 30 degrees or whatever feels comfortable for you.

Mark the position of the top and bottom of the femur and the ankle bone to calculate the correct angle.
To easily measure the angle, mark the top of the femur, the bottom of the femur, and the ankle bone before using a goniometer. Image Source: YouTube.

Step 4. Make Saddle Height Adjustments as Needed

If the measured angle is not between 25 and 35 degrees, you should adjust the saddle height. If you need to increase the angle, you should lower the saddle height. On the other hand, if the angle needs to be decreased, you should make the saddle higher. 

The easiest way to adjust your mountain bike saddle height is to link degrees to millimeters. So, if you want to increase the angle by 3 degrees, you should lower the saddle height by approximately 3 millimeters. The same applies to decreasing the angle and increasing the saddle height. 

How to Use a Mountain Bike Saddle Height Calculator

Although the Holmes method is the most accurate technique to determine the right saddle height for you, you still need to have a starting point to make the adjustments less overwhelming. While you can use the heel-to-pedal rule to get started, you can also use a mountain bike saddle height calculator to identify the approximate saddle height that suits you. 

To use a mountain bike saddle height calculator, measure height and inseam while standing barefoot on the ground. Then, enter the measurements into the calculator to get the approximate saddle height. 

Here are the steps you should follow to use an MTB saddle height calculator. 

Step 1. Measure Your Height and Inseam

The first step is to measure your height and leg length (inseam) while standing barefoot on the ground. Some calculators, like this one by Bike Faff, only use your inseam to calculate the optimal saddle height. Others, like this one by eBicycles, also take into account your height to give you more accurate results. 

You will need to measure the length from the top of your inner-thigh to the floor - also known as the inseam, while standing barefeet.
To measure your leg length or inseam, measure the distance from the ground to your crotch while standing barefoot. Image Source: Bike Faff.

Step 2. Enter the Measurements into the Calculator 

After taking accurate measurements, enter your information for the calculator to give you the optimal saddle height. If you use the mountain bike saddle height calculator by eBicycles, you will need to enter your gender, height, and leg length. Then, simply press the button “Calculate” and wait for the results. 

Use this saddle height calculator to calculate the ideal height and position for your mountain bike saddle.
To use a mountain bike saddle height calculator, you should provide your gender, height, and inseam length. Image Source: eBicycles.

Step 3. Adjust the Saddle Height Accordingly

The calculator will give you the optimal bike saddle height based on your gender, height, and leg length. The resulting number will be the saddle height from the center of the bottom bracket to the top of the saddle. Use an Allen wrench from a set like this to loosen the seat post and use a measuring tape like this to adjust the saddle height. 

How to Adjust a Trek Bike Saddle Angle as Well as Other Brands

Adjusting your mountain bike saddle angle is just as important as setting up its height. Whether you ride a Trek bike or an MTB from other brands, keeping your saddle horizontal or tilting its nose down a few degrees is recommended if you want to optimize your riding comfort. 

To adjust a Trek bike saddle angle, consider the type of trails typically ridden and use a spirit level to be as precise as possible. Tilt the seat to a nose-down position if the trails are mountainous. If trails are flat, set the seat angle to a flatter position.

Our guide to help you decide what mountain bike you should buy will help you understand the most important elements to consider when buying a new mountain bike that fits your body and riding style.

This video by Cam Nicholls discusses the best way to approach saddle angle or tilt when positioning a mountain bike saddle. For detailed instructions on how to adjust a Trek bike saddle angle, check the steps below. 

Step 1. Think of the Type of Trails You Typically Ride On

Before you adjust your Trek bike saddle angle, you should take into account the type and roughness of the terrain you typically ride your mountain bike on. Whether you ride on flat surfaces or prefer climbing mountains on your bike will influence the optimal saddle angle for your MTB. 

Your mountain bike saddle position, including the tilt, will have to be suitable for your body and for the type of terrain that you prefer to ride on.
Considering the type of trail you typically ride on is key to adjusting your mountain bike saddle angle correctly. Image Source: Unsplash.

Step 2. Use a Spirit Level to Adjust the Trek Bike Saddle Angle

As a general rule, you should keep your saddle horizontal if the trails are flat and smooth. On the other hand, when climbing hills on a mountain bike, you should consider dropping the nose of the saddle just a few degrees to ensure optimal control and comfort on strenuous rides.

While tilting the saddle can be an easy task, making it flat can be tricky, especially if your seat has contours. To make the measurements accurate, place something thin and flat on the saddle and place a spirit level like this right on top of it. 

Unscrew the screw under the bike saddle and adjust the angle so that it is either flat or tilted toward the front of the bike. When you feel like the bike saddle angle has been adjusted, tighten the screw and check if the resulting saddle tilt works for you. 

To make sure that your mountain bike seat has the correct tilt place a flat object on top of the seat and then place something to measure the degree of tilt ontop of that.
To make the Trek bike saddle tilt as precise as possible, put a flat piece of cardboard on the seat and place a gadget that can measure the level on top of it. Image Source: ParkTool.

When to Adjust MTB Saddle Position Forward or Back

On some occasions, adjusting the saddle height and angle is not enough for the mountain biker to feel comfortable during the ride. If this is the case, you should consider adjusting the saddle position by moving it either forward or back. How far or close the seat is to the handlebars is also referred to as the saddle fore/aft position or the saddle setback. 

Adjust the MTB saddle position forward to put less stress on the hamstrings and glutes, prevent feet from going numb, reduce pain in both knees, gain easy access to handlebars, and make high-speed tricks less dangerous and difficult to complete. Adjust the mountain bike saddle position back to increase pedaling efficiency, increase comfort, and avoid straining the hands.

Below are tips you should consider when adjusting the mountain bike saddle either forward or back, in other words, setting up the saddle fore/aft position. 

Tip 1. Adjust the MTB Saddle Position Forward to Put Less Stress on Your Hamstrings and Glutes

When a mountain bike saddle is too far from the handlebars, you put more stress on your hamstrings and glutes than you are supposed to. As a result, you may feel pain in your upper hamstrings and glutes since you need to pedal so aggressively. This article from the Journal of Electromyography and Kinesiology explains how seat position affects muscle discomfort and pressure distribution when pedaling. To avoid something like this from happening, you should simply move the saddle forward. 

Tip 2. Move the MTB Saddle Forward to Reduce Pain in the Knees

While pain in a single knee means that you need to adjust the saddle height, pain in both knees indicates incorrect saddle fore/aft position. If you ever experience severe knee pain (in both knees), consider adjusting your MTB saddle forward by a few degrees.  

Tip 3. Position the MTB Saddle Forward to Easily Reach the Handlebars

Another reason you may want to position your MTB saddle forward is to have easy access to the handlebars. When riding your mountain bike, you should not have to stretch your arms to reach the handlebars. Our article about whether you can install drop bars on a mountain bike explains how having a drop bar provides the cyclist with multiple hand position options that can reduce over-stretching and discomfort on long rides. 

Tip 4. Keep the MTB Saddle in a Forward Position to Safely Complete Tricks on the Trail

If your mountain bike saddle is too far back, you may feel like cornering and other maneuvers get a bit challenging or even dangerous. To make your mountain biking trip safer and more enjoyable, consider moving the saddle forward until you no longer face issues when riding your MTB at high speeds. 

Tip 5. Move the MTB Saddle Back to Increase Pedaling Efficiency 

Ideally, your MTB saddle should be positioned as far back as possible to increase pedaling efficiency and avoid straining different parts of the body. To determine the optimal fore-aft saddle position, you should use the Knee Over Pedal Spindle method (KOPS method). 

You should simply sit on the bike and place your feet on the pedals so that they are in the 3 and 9 o’clock positions. Then, hold a plumb bob level like this right below the kneecap and ensure that it intersects the pedal spindle. For detailed instructions, check this YouTube video tutorial by Art’s Cyclery. 

Tip 6. Adjust the MTB Saddle Back to Put Less Pressure on Your Hands

If your mountain bike saddle is positioned too far forward, you will put excess pressure on your hands. As this will make your overall riding experience less enjoyable, it is recommended to move the saddle back so that you do not strain your arms. Excess hand strain can cause hand and wrist injuries as well as numb hands when riding. Our article about choosing handgrips to reduce numbness when riding has helpful tips to reduce this pesky problem. 

Tip 7. Consider the Type of Pedals Installed

When positioning your MTB saddle, always consider the type of pedals installed on the bike. Oftentimes, knee pain comes from incorrectly selected pedals, and adjusting the saddle position won’t help. So, check if you have the right pedals before you set the saddle position up. Make sure to also check out our article to help you choose mountain bike pedals for grip maximization so that you can improve your pedaling power. 

Tip 8. Adjust Your Saddle And Test It On the Trail, then Readjust

The type and steepness of trails should also be considered when determining the optimal saddle height, angle, and fore-aft position. Ideally, you should test your saddle position after adjusting it to ensure that it works for the type of trail you typically ride on. 

Tip 9. Think of the Type of MTB Shoes to be Worn

Although it may sound strange, the type of MTB shoes a biker wears also influences the saddle positioning. If your shoes are not compatible with the pedals, you may encounter problems that are not caused by the saddle positioning but by the shoes themselves. Therefore, you should always wear a pair of MTB shoes that go well with the pedals installed on your mountain bike. Our article about whether pedal strap are good explains what type of shoes mountain bikers typically wear, and our article that discusses the benefits of clipless pedals on a mountain bike explains how shoes like these with cleats installed on their soles are attached to clips on the pedals to improve pedaling efficiency. 

Tip 10. Consider the Type of MTB Handlebars

Last but not least, consider the type of your handlebars when adjusting the saddle fore/aft position. While you may need to move your saddle forward when riding a bike with drop handlebars, the seat should be adjusted far back if your MTB has flat or bullhorn handlebars like this. Check out our article to learn more about what mountain bike drop bars are and why you need them.  

Adding drop bars to your mountain bike will provide more hand positions to relieve aching muscles on long rides.
Adding drop bars to a mountian bike can improve riding position and control. Image Source: Amazon.

Should I Move the Mountain Bike Saddle Forward?

There is no specific answer to whether you should move your MTB saddle forward. It all depends on the current fore/aft position of the seat. If you feel like your mountain bike saddle is too far back, then you should adjust it by moving the seat closer to the handlebars. 

Move the mountain bike saddle forward until the knee is over the pedal spindle when one of the pedals is in the 3 o’clock position and the other one is in the 9 o’clock position. 

If you have decided to adjust the mountain bike saddle forward, make sure you do not move it too close to the handlebars. The best way to avoid this is by using the KOPS method and a plumb bob level as shown in this video tutorial by Global Cycling Network. 

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