Why Are Mountain Bike Seats So High?

If you’re a keen observer, you know that the average mountain bike saddle is higher than the saddle in most other bicycles. And with mountain bikers further increasing their seat height from time to time, you’re probably wondering why mountain bike seats are so high.

Because manufacturers design mountain bikes to ride rough terrains, pedaling efficiency is important. Mountain bikes are already stronger and more efficient than most other bicycles, but increasing the mountain bike seat height adds an extra element to this.

With a high seat, the rider doesn’t need to use as much power to pedal the bike. This means the rider will preserve energy which can then be used to maneuver through the hills. 

As much as there are advantages to having a higher seat, there are also some disadvantages to having a lower saddle.

Benefits of Having a Higher Saddle

Though pedal power and efficiency are the main benefits of having a higher seat position, there are other pros to raising your mountain bike saddle.

1. You Get Less Tired

If you’ve ever hopped on a child’s bike for fun, you’ll know how difficult it is to pedal when you don’t have enough legroom. Lifting the seat higher up provides more room to stretch your legs, reducing the probability of you getting tired too fast.

The trails are already demanding enough, you don’t want to make it even harder by making it difficult to pedal. 

When your knees are only slightly bent on a mountain bike with a high seat, they are aligned to the pedal spindle. This makes for an effortless downward pedal stroke, even at the lowest point. 

You’re not only able to rest your legs on downhill trails without obstacles, but you’ll also strengthen your muscles on long rides. The effects of a higher saddle also extend to your overall health because if it’s too low, it can cause long-term damage to your joints and leg muscles.

2. Better Concentration

Because less effort is needed in the pedals, you don’t use as much energy. This enables you to concentrate more on what’s ahead of you and maintain full control of your mountain bike.

This is especially so when weight shifting. Cruising through technical terrains requires you to shift your body in multiple ways to successfully take sharp corners and increase speed.

Though leaning forward is an effective way to increase speed, you are bound to fall behind when it comes to synchronizing bike control with your desired speed. The steep seat tube angle on a cross-country bike further enhances this.

The pedal position offered by a higher mountain bike seat helps you effectively increase speed by leaning back toward the rear wheel. This ensures you have more control by enabling you to turn the mountain bike at a lower angle while still moving at a high speed.

3. Increased Strokes

When your legs are all curled up on a bike with a lower saddle, even a downward pedal stroke on a normal street is more difficult than it should be. 

With (almost) fully-extended legs, you don’t get tired too quickly. This means you’ll have more flexibility to use more/less force when you ride your bike.

With a higher seat post comes room for more rotations, meaning you can increase your pedal strokes with little to no inhibition. This is why climbing those steep hills is easier on mountain bikes than on road bikes.

Aside from maximum power, the ability to increase your pedal strokes also enables quicker acceleration, which allows you to get to your full speed faster.

What Happens When You Lower Your Seat?

If you lower the seat height while mountain biking through rough terrain, you’ll almost always be faced with the following:

1. Dead Weight

Though keeping seats lower adds more comfort, it also adds dead weight when you pedal your bike, inhibiting the efficiency it was made for.

With a lower center of gravity, a low seat adds too much extra weight when mountain biking. The extra weight imposed on the bike reduces the efficiency of your pedals causing you to move slower than intended. 

2. Muscle Pain

Because your legs won’t be as stretched out as before, riding a mountain bike with a lower seat post causes some muscle pain along the way. This is because the lack of space to stretch out your legs causes you to exert unnecessary pressure on your muscles.

The effects of lower seat heights also extend to your knees. Keeping the seat lower means your knees are retracted, causing slower blood flow through the legs.

The inability to fully extend your legs means you’ll have to make several stops along the way. Quick breaks don’t help much either as the more you keep on riding the bike, the more the muscle pain increases. 

A better solution is to cut your trail ride short, and go home and tend to your thigh muscles before the problem worsens.

3. Reduced Control

With a lower mountain bike saddle, most of your energy will go towards pedaling. This leaves you with little energy and concentration left to control your bike through technical trails, let alone shift your weight to the back wheel on corners.

This is especially so when riding uphill. It’s already hard enough to ride up a steep trail, but doing so with a lower seat makes it way harder to focus on what’s in front of you because you’re too busy fidgeting with the pedals.

4. Ineffective Weight Shifting

Weight shifting is a necessity when mountain biking as it helps you control the bike. With all the twists and turns on a trail, you need to know how to shift your body weight in different ways to allow you to turn quicker.

A lower riding position provides a more comfortable, inert position –one that is good when riding on level streets, but not so great on uneven terrain.

This comfort inhibits the freedom to wiggle around and shift your body due to a lower center of gravity. If you find that you need more speed on the trails and you have a lower seat, you’ll have to think of a more innovative way to accelerate.

Keep in mind that a lower center of gravity does not negatively affect the bike’s balance, it improves it. This is why a lower seat height works better on asphalt (and other surfaces suited to a road bike) than on trails.

Determining the Correct Seat Height 

Higher mountain bike seats have their advantages, but what if for whatever reason (lack of skills, a shorter/longer seat post, etc.) it’s disadvantageous for you? If you’re in such a situation, do the following:

Stand Next to Your Bike

This is an easy but effective way to find out which seat height suits you best. By standing next to your mountain bike, you can see how your hips line up with the seat and make the appropriate adjustments right away.

Make sure to take the bike for a test run after this.

Measure Your Inseam Length

Your inseam length is the distance between your crotch and the bottom of your leg. If you’re not aware of your measurements, take a measuring tape and measure the distance between the bottom bracket and the top of the saddle. 

Once you know the height measurement, multiply that number by 0.883 (some mountain bikers round it off to a full 0.9 or a little more than that). The result will give you your required seat height. 

Adjust your saddle to the right position and test the bike out.

A Few More Mountain Biking Hacks

If you’re riding on a path with lots of turns, it’s advisable to increase the seat height on your bike. You won’t exert as much weight on your mountain bike, giving you more grip and control to move the rear wheel of the bike. 

Keep pushing through your back wheel until you complete the turn.

If you’re taking a more flat turn, like on a roundabout, extend your leg to shift your body weight toward the desired direction. Hence, if you’re turning left, extend your left leg  and shift your body weight in the same direction.

If you’re riding downhill, lifting your seat up high isn’t a better position to have it in as it will affect your balance. 

Since stability is more important, consider decreasing your mountain bike seat height an inch lower than the actual height. Because you’ll be closer to the ground, you can use your feet as shock absorbers, ensuring you don’t fall off when speeding down a steep slope.

Conclusion

From BMX riders to road bike cyclists, most bicycle enthusiasts have different hacks to help them get the most out of their bicycles. The same is true for mountain bikers, and setting your saddle at a higher sitting position is a great hack.

If you’re new to the sport, this is not something you should do right away (unless your first ride was very uncomfortable). It’s always best to first ride the bike with the original bike setup before contemplating raising the seat height.

Remember that a higher mountain bike seat compromises stability. So if you can’t yet operate the bike well, first sharpen up your skills before you raise the seat high.

In conclusion, mountain bike seats are raised high to give the mountain biker more space to extend his/her legs and to preserve energy that would normally be used for pedaling.