Is your Mountain Bike Seat
a Real Pain in the...?
A mountain bike seat that fits you properly and is adjusted correctly makes a huge difference in the comfort of your ride and your pedaling efficiency. Although there may be a little soreness after riding the first few times of the season, this should not be the case after your body adjusts.
If your mountain bike seat is a pain in the butt, you may not have a seat that fits you properly or you may need to make some adjustments with your seat position. Having your seat in the wrong position can also cause pain in other areas of your body while riding, like your knees, back, arms, or hands.
Choosing a Mountain Bike Seat
There are a lot of different mountain bike seats on the market ranging in price from $15 to hundreds of dollars. The most expensive bike seat is not necessarily the best choice. The most important thing to consider is that it fits you properly and is comfortable.
A mountain bike seat should have a raised, padded area that distributes weight evenly across the sit bones, which are the two bones that poke out and make contact with the area you sit on. There should also be a cut-out or softened groove where the soft tissue area between your sit bones comes in contact with the saddle.
Some riders prefer bicycle seats with the cut-out design and some prefer the groove. There are also mountain bike seats with gel cushions rather than regular padding. It's just a matter of preference.
If your mountain bike seat is too narrow, it doesn't support your sit bones which causes the perineum, which is the soft tissue area in between, to have to bear the weight, which causes major pain. Too wide is also uncomfortable because it can cause chafing when pedaling.
I used to wonder why mountain bike seats do not have more padding, but I found out later that a mountain bike seat is not intended to be a cushion. If the padding is too soft, your sit bones are not supported and sink down to the hard part of the seat sort of like if you sit on a hard floor with a really soft pillow.
Women's Bicycle Saddles
In general, women have a wider pelvic structure than men and their sit bones are wider apart; therefore, there are mountain bike seats that are specifically designed for women. These women's bicycle seats are wider and slightly shorter than most men's mountain bike seats. If you are a woman and have narrower hips, a men's bike seat may fit you better.
Adjusting your Mountain Bike Seat
If your mountain bike seat fits your properly, but you are still experiencing pain in other areas of your body, like your knees or back, you most likely need to make some adjustments in the position of your bike saddle. While making adjustments to your mountain bike saddle, wear the shorts and shoes you will be wearing when you ride so your adjustments are accurate.
There are 3 ways to adjust the position of your bicycle saddle: Height, tilt, and fore/aft position.
When I first started mountain biking, I had my bicycle seat adjusted low enough so I could touch both my feet on the ground while sitting on the seat. This gave me some security since I could balance my mountain bike while being stopped and seated; however, there were many disadvantages to having my mountain bike seat adjusted too low. It was much more tiring to pedal, and my knees were hurting because they were having to bend so much while pedaling. Plus, when my knees were bent that much, I was carrying most of my weight on the mountain bike saddle, which was not comfortable.
I have also had my mountain bike seat adjusted too high at times, which I found out later is bad for the hips and knee joints. No wonder I was uncomfortable! Having your seat too high also makes it more difficult to clear technical terrain because your center of gravity is higher. You can tell your bicycle seat is too high if your hips rock while pedaling.
In order to adjust the height of your bicycle seat, a clamp at the top of your seat tube needs to be loosened. Many mountain bikes have quick release levers, but if not, there is a bolt that you can loosen with an allen wrench.
To determine my optimal seat height, I get on my mountain bike while it is being stabilized by a riding buddy or I position myself on my bicycle near a stable object that I hold on to so that my mountain bike is in a totally upright position.
While sitting planted in your saddle, pedal backwards until one pedal is in the down position. When your leg is in this down position, it should be slightly bent, at around a 20-25 degree angle.
The photo on the left shows a good angle for optimal pedaling.
Another way to see whether your seat is adjusted properly is to place your heel on the pedal when the pedal is in the down position. Your leg should be completely extended without having to stretch to rest your heel on the pedal.
Although the 20-25 degree angle is optimal for pedaling, there are instances where you may want to change your seat height. For example, when riding long downhill technical sections, I often drop my seatpost a few inches so I have a lower center of gravity. Having a lower center of gravity also helps with tight cornering for more precise handling.
After adjusting your seat height, make sure you mark the spot on your seatpost that is the optimal height for pedaling. Nail polish or a piece of electrical tape work well for this.
Even better...measure from the center of the bottom bracket to the center of your saddle as shown on the right. This will help you do a quick adjustment if you use another bike.
The tilt of your bicycle saddle refers to how level it is from front to back.
Your seat post should have either 1 or 2 bolts that can be loosened to adjust both the tilt and fore-aft position. If your mountain bike seat post has one bolt in the front and one farther back, loosen the one in the rear and then tighten the one in the front in order to tilt the seat up and vice versa for down.
Start in a neutral position so the mountain bike seat is level with the ground. See how this feels when riding. Make small adjustments to suit your riding style.
Down: Tilting the front of your bike seat down shifts your weight forward. When I first started mountain biking, I made the mistake of tilting my seat too far down, which put a lot of my weight on my hands. I was often sliding forward in my seat and had to push myself back. It can be good to tilt slightly down when doing excessive climbing because it helps concentrate your weight on the back of the saddle.
Up: Tilting the front of your saddle slightly up can be good for steep downhill riding because it levels out the seat when your bike is pointed down a steep slope.
Your bicycle seat can also be moved forward or backward. This adjustment is made with the same bolts that adjust your saddle tilt.
In order to determine how far forward or backward your seat should be, sit on your bicycle and backpedal until one of your pedals is at the 3 o'clock position. Attach a weight, like a washer or nut, to a piece of string and let it hang freely from the bottom of your kneecap so the weight is hanging straight down past the pedals. The string should be lined up with the center of your pedal axle.
If the string is ahead of the pedal axle, move your seat back. If it is behind, move your seat forward until it lines up with the pedal axle.
For more information on adjusting your mountain bike to fit you properly, including adjusting your handlebars, setting up your shocks, and frame size, please visit our page on
Mountain Bike Fit
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