Why Are Bike Seats So High?

If you are new to cycling or even just a casual bike rider, you might look at bikes and wonder, “why are bikes seats so high?”. These seats are so high up, you might be wondering riders even get on in the first place. Well, there’s actually a very good reason why some of these seats look so high, and the answer is efficiency and injury prevention.

When you are pedaling, your leg should be almost fully extended at the bottom of the stoke. There have been studies showing that your legs produce the most power when they are extended at a 30-25 degree angle. If you’ve ever ridden a kid’s bike as an adult, you know first hand how important leg extension is. To be able to extend your legs almost fully like this, you need to be sitting high up. And of course, to sit high up, you need a high bike seat.

And having a high seat post isn’t just for optimal power. Having a seat that is too low can also lead to knee issues down the road. So if you are experiencing knee pain during your rides, consider putting the seat higher up.

As a general guide, your seat should be high enough that your feet can barely touch the ground. This may seem dangerous to newer riders, but with proper techniques and practice, it will make a lot more sense.

Stopping and Starting on Your Bike

Now that you understand why bike seats are so high, you might be wondering how you to stop and start on your bike, or even how to get on in the first place. It’s definitely hard to keep balance when your feet can’t touch the ground, so how is it done?

To start, what you don’t want to do is get on your bike seat when your bike is stationary. Your bike should always have some forward momentum when getting on the bike.

Here’s a short video that shows how to stop and start on your bicycle:

The main lessons here are:

  • When starting, make sure you are over the top bar with your foot placed on the pedal. When you are ready, push off with your other foot and start pedaling. If you can’t stand over the top bar, it probably means your bike is too large for you
  • Getting in the habit of getting the pedal in position for your start will help you move quickly when in traffic
  • When stopping, stop pedaling while one foot is in the downward stroke position. When you stop, slide off the seat and place the foot on the ground. You should now be standing over the top bar.

Is a High Bike Seat Always Better?

A high bike seat isn’t doesn’t make sense for everybody. For one, even with the seat adjusted for optimal power, chances are it will be set a little lower. The main reason is that not everyone has the hamstring flexibility to extend to the optimal range. For most people, while a 30-25 degree angle is optional, 40-35 degrees is more realistic. It’s important to take into account the rider’s flexibility.

The other reason for a lower bike seat is the type of bike you are using. Mountain bikes and BMX bikes in particular will have the seat set lower.

For mountain bikes, a lower bike seat allows you to be more aggressive and give you more room to maneuver. If your seat is set too high, it can high your thigh when leaning into turns and can hit your bottom when going off jumps.

And for BMX bikes, while some have the seat set high, a lower seat is beneficial for performing various tricks.

Another reason to have a lower bike seat is to make it easy to hop on and off. If you are commuting or cycling for exercise, you’re most likely not hopping on and off your bike a lot. But if you are constantly getting off and on your bike, having your seat lower can help. This isn’t recommended for long rides though, as cycling with lower seat can result in knee pain over time.

Can a Bike Seat Be Too High?

Yes, you can actually have your bike seat too high. When your seat is too high, your hips will tend to rock back and forth. This also causes inefficiencies and lead to injury over time.

Knee pain is associated with seats that are too low, but when a seat is too high, you may experience pain behind the knee instead. You might even experience hamstring pain from rocking back and forth as well.

If you suspect your hips do rock back and forth, you can get somebody to watch you or record yourself on a bicycle trainer.