rookie cyclist: raise the seat, stupid

My bike education continues apace: today, we learn about seat height! So, I’m really short. Five feet plus one inch in my bare feet, so I always tell everyone I’m 5’2″. When the lovely chaps at Fulton Cycles built up my Trek Allant in all its diminutive 15-inch frame glory, I guess they put the seat almost as low as it could possibly go in the seat tube*. This seemed fine to me! When I test rode, I could come to a quick stop and plant my foot down firmly on the pavement, which makes me feel safe. I’ve been riding regularly, what, two months now? It’s taken me this long to realize that I shouldn’t really be experiencing knee pain at the end of each bike commute. Although I’m sure the frozen blueberries and peaches in my freezer appreciate getting taken out and slapped on my knees!

When I mentioned it to a veteran rider, he immediately said, “your seat is too low”. So on my way home yesterday, plagued with another afternoon of creaky knees, I stopped at Bicycle Habitat (which is fast becoming my favorite bike store even though it has an ever-so-slightly macho vibe) and the gentleman working there said, yep, if your knees hurt, the seat is too low. He explained that my leg should be straight but not locked at the bottom of my pedal rotation. Ooops. I was placing too much value on being able to plant a flat foot on the road when I come to a stop, I told him.

“Just come off your seat when you stop,” he told me.

Now, between you and me, I hate coming off my seat. It means I have to hoist my whole body back onto the seat when I’m ready to start rolling again, and that’s ungainly and ungraceful. But we negotiated a good new height on the seat (you guys, it was like three inches too low), so I can still plant the arched ball of my foot on the road, which I still prefer to dismounting. And he’s right – I could already feel the difference in my knees, and the last mile home (which is mostly a gentle uphill) felt a little easier. I’m doing less work with my legs to rotate the pedals! Rookie lesson learned. Peaches and blueberries can stand down.

*I keep this bike-parts image in my bookmarks because otherwise, I would describe everything like “that bit over there, under the thingy”.

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