Short track and saddle height

Lee, Dude your clinics rock! I’m ridding so much better then I ever have and thinking about the sick skills you teach every time I’m ripping singletrack…Attack Position! I’ve got a question regarding Short Track and Saddle Height.

I’ve had a bike fit and the shop set the saddle height (and body position) for correct comfort as well to rock cross country racing and for optimal power output (at least that’s what i thought it was for).

When I raced Short Track I lowered my saddle because I was concerned about the cornering. I wanted to be able to rip the corners faster then the other racers and also absorb all the little kickers. It worked pretty good as I passed several racers in the corners and when I wasn’t behind someone I was able to rock the corners and absorb the kickers fast (thanks to applying your mad mtb clinic skills).

Anyways, my question is am I sacrificing efficient power output by lowering my saddle during a $hort Track race?

Thanks dude, looking fwd to clinic #3. Happy Trails

The more you click, the more I can post. Lee Likes Groceries dot com!


Yeah Farid!

I really enjoyed teaching you and your crew. Great to know you’re out rocking the new style.

This is such a great question. I used to pound road miles with my seat as high as possible, but my saddles have been getting lower over the years. I now pedal from farther back on the seat, and I try to use my hips more than my quads. I feel just as strong as in my road geek days, but my knees are healthier, and my bikes handle better.

XC superstar Gunn-Rita Dahle has won the Olympics and countless World Cups. When I was writing Mastering Mountain Bike Skills, she modeled her pedal stroke for me — super cool. She has quite a bit of knee bend.

Quick answer

I bet your seat is too high. Most of the meatballs who fit bikes are working off old/traditional ideas. The biggest is that everyone should have a 10-15 degree bend in their knees.

– Try a 30-degree bend in your knee. Jon Watt is a pro racer and a biomechanical engineer who used to do bike fits at the Boulder Center for Sports Medicine. Jon says a 30-degree bend typically gives the best balance of power and knee health.

– A slightly lower saddle is faster overall because of the corners and bumps. You can ride more athletically.

– Here’s a test: I bet you have a HRM. Maintain a consistent effort. Do some laps at Height A and Height B. Switch back and forth in random order. Don’t think about your seat. Just ride. Compare times. More important: Compare how it feels.

Anecdotal evidence

The other day I met my friend Jason Emmanuel for an XC ride. He’s a rep for Specialized, and he’s been riding road and mountain bikes forever. He’s an experienced, strong fellow; a former road racer and now a solid all-around rider. When Jason got his new road bike, he followed the classic rule: Set your seat so your heel barely touches pedal at the bottom of the stroke, then ride.

The bike felt fine, but Jason recently went to Andy Pruit here in Boulder for a scientific bike fit. Andy took a quick look at Jason’s bike and said, “Dude, you’re not that tall.” While Jason spun on a trainer at 125 watts (a mellow pace), Andy took some measurements then lowered Jason’s saddle by 1.5cm — that’s a lot! And get this:

With the saddle 1.5cm lower than it’s been for years, at the same heart rate, Jason made 150 watts! That’s a 20% increase! That is huge. Not only does the lower height yield more power, it noticeably improves handling.

BTW: Jason did the heel test with his street shoes. He says the thick soles made that 1.5cm difference.

Play with it

You are not a hamster on a wheel — you’re an athlete! Go out and experiment. Try different setups. Test. Measure. Play!

13 replies
  1. Curtis says:

    the speedball would work better if it had more than a 3″ drop. for tall dudes that like to rip steep downhills, 3″ doesn’t cut it.

  2. leelikesbikes says:

    For a little man like me, 3″ is plenty for most situations. But I hear you. Maybe Maverick will do a Freako Tall Guy Version …

    Actually, a 4″ Speedball with a detent at 1″ would be ideal.

  3. brettfoncannon says:

    for short track XC though, who is going to want to mess with a seatpost adjustment? Even if it is bar mounted, I’m not going to mess with that just to get through the corners. Maybe if there was a techy descent section (or just a nice descent in general), I’d drop the seat…

  4. leelikesbikes says:

    Fact: Lowering the seat for a single turn is possible and lets you rip the h— out of said turn.

    Fact: When you’re fully pinned race-style, you won’t have time.

    My official Super D height is 5.8″ off my full XC height. It lets me pedal just fine — and rock the sweet style.

  5. leelikesbikes says:

    Fact: Lowering the seat for a single turn is possible and lets you rip the h— out of said turn.

    Fact: When you’re fully pinned race-style, you won’t have time.

    My official Super D height is 5/8″ off my full XC height. It lets me pedal just fine — and rock the sweet style.

  6. m-dub says:

    “Actually, a 4″ Speedball with a detent at 1″ would be ideal.”

    Ya its perfict and made by Gravity dropper 🙂

  7. Mika says:

    if xc racers are currently racing with higher seat height and used to it once they lower there seat to acheive 35 degree bend in leg surely they would corner faster / go faster without need for gravity dropper seat posts.

  8. Rich says:

    When my seat post slipped 2cm down from it’s usual extra high position in an endurance race, I found that I got cramp in my quads after 25km instead of the 40km of my practise rides.
    Since then I’ve had the same experience whenever I’ve lowered my seat.
    Now I’m not sure if I should set it lower and train to get used to it, or just go with what I know works. The idea of free extra power is tempting!

  9. jason says:

    yo Rich, Keep in mind when Andy Pruitt fitted me at the Boulder Center i did have some other fit issues (windswept, odd ankling pattern) and my saddle was too high. I happened to be flexible and did not have any biomechanical issues due to excessive height, but i made more power at a lower saddle height, but the results were specific to me, not a generalization that lower height equals more output. Proper hip, knee, ankle alignment does equal more output. Speaking with our team captain, Ned Overend, he always places emphasis on economy of effort to making a rider faster. its not one thing, but analyzes every little detail to reduce physiologic output which frees up energy for more rpm’s and power output.

  10. leelikesbikes says:

    Nice, Jason.

    Speaking of economy, I find that the leaner I am, the less my thighs rub the saddle. I swear that makes a big difference — at least in comfort.

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