Tuesday, August 20, 2013

High Heels and Saddle Height

Cork!
A belated Monday Mailbox post, on account of my wifi having conked out yesterday. Here is a variation of a question I've gotten from several readers this summer:
...I'd like to wear high heeled shoes on my bike, but find it's hard to get the saddle height right. If I adjust the saddle for my heels it is too high when I wear flats, and vice versa. What do you recommend?
The problem here is not so much with the high heels themselves as it is with platform soles. Over the past year platform and wedge style shoes with substantial stack heights have become popular again. And alternating between shoes that are flat, and shoes with a 3cm rise in the sole will make a noticeable difference in leg extension on the bike.

For short distances, this might not matter so much. Some women will adjust their saddle height for flats and then simply ride with it too low when wearing heels and platforms. Others (myself included) find this uncomfortable even for short stretches. And of course for longer distances riding with your saddle too low is simply a bad idea - not only uncomfortable, but bad for the knees.

Xtracycle Radish
Aside from the obvious but unhelpful suggestion of picking a heel height and sticking with it, one thing to consider is converting your seatpost to quick release. This should be easy to do on most bikes: You simply purchase a quick release skewer, and install that in place of the seat clamp bolt. I now have QR seatposts on my everyday city bike and on my cargo bike, and they have changed my life. Well, not really. But they have liberated me to wear crazy heels again without worrying about leg extension. In mere seconds I can adjust the saddle to whatever height I want before a ride; problem solved.

Granted, the downside to quick release seatposts is the increased possibility of saddle theft - which means either sticking with an inexpensive saddle on your QR bike, taking the seatpost and saddle with you every time you leave the bike locked up, or using an extra lock to secure the saddle to the bike. The last two are a bother, but still could be worth it for the versatility of footwear the setup affords.

Another possibility is adjusting your saddle height on the go without a QR seatpost. Just carry the appropriate tool with you. Of course this assumes the ability to do it on your own, and a willingness to constantly mess with your saddle height "the hard way." Personally, I kind of enjoy this. But still the quick release is an easier and more reasonable solution.

After several years of wearing mostly flat shoes, I've been getting back to heels and platforms lately and it's been great fun. And being able to adjust my saddle height on the go means my leg extension is always just the way I like it.

42 comments:

  1. We have a similar situation at home where several people share the same bicycle. The quick release seat-post is most handy - but my son also carefully marked the seat-post (etched very lightly) so that I can instantly set the seat to my "correct" height, as can my son and my spouse. Fortunately we are close to the same height / leg length but having the seat set perfectly really helps.

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  2. Always willing to take the line of least resistance, I would wear some light, flat shoes to ride (I have a neat pair of Merrells that zip on), carry the "pretty" pair, and put them on when I reached my destination. It beats having to wrestle with a wrench every day. Finding room for the extra pair may pose a problem, or, if they are seen dangling from the handlebar, would look plain silly, but considering what we do for the sake of fashion, another bit of silliness doesn't matter much.

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  3. An age old question, especially for anyone with one bike and more than one pair of shoes. Most adjust their bike for the shoes they plan to use for the majority of their riding and simply make do on the occasion when that changes. Usually the distance is not that great and if one has a multi geared bike and knee issues, just ride in a low gear....Of course if one has knee issues changing shoes constantly could also aggravate the problem...And then some carry the shoes they plan on wearing after reaching their destination. It seems to me that it's a matter of determining the least hassle.

    Quick releases are tricky and I would never put one on a everyday bike, especially if it's parked or stored outside for long stretches. If I had to carry an extra lock to secure the post and saddle for each time I had to lock up I probably quit cycling. They can also slip and some have a problem working the lever. An allen wrench is much easier and less likely to invite theft. Also, raising saddle height on some bikes can change the pressure on hands, neck and shoulders so if one is sensitive to minor changes this could result in discomfort.

    Distance dictates for me....If it's my long commute, I carry shoes. If it's a simple errand or event under ten miles from my home I make do with whatever shoes I want to wear.

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    1. The Ubiquitous Anonymous said: "An age old question, especially for anyone with one bike and more than one pair of shoes. Most adjust their bike for the shoes they plan to use for the majority of their riding and simply make do on the occasion when that changes. "

      I have four bikes (manfully resisting buying others -- but but but!), of which three have accept-no-substitute Shimano SPDs of various sorts. I have five pairs of SPD shoes. (The other bike has Looks and old Sidis.) I find that even among my SPD shoes, sole thickness is enough to compromise exact fit, so that I tend to use certain shoes with certain bikes/pedals only. I suppose that's what I get for being a shoe queen -- err, king. No stilletos, though I do have several pairs of cowboy boots, and I've oft thought of installing cleats on a pair of Florsheim Imperials or Bass Weejuns.

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  4. Saddle-theft deterrents fpr q/r seatpost-clamp ppl...
    http://www.bmorebikes.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/Seat-Lock.jpg
    or, depending on rail design:
    http://api.ning.com/files/wV0YHI3ZwRHZ8Y1K42-A4YEfbxyQNrpEF0YfcCE7GPI86GIVQ1tT6WvNwnj7itD8Bh7br4-vlbl97tHka4tQsVjr7vqPMTmL/locktekniq.JPG

    And, there are pitlock seatpost clamps for the ultra-paranoid, bolt-on seatpost clamp ppl. too.

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    1. Ha! Those photos juxtaposed next to the ones on this post suggest two different cycling worlds. One a war zone and the other a carefree and pleasant place :)

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    2. Ya think so? the one pic involved lugs, and the other had a Brooks. Regardless, these are theft deterrents and, truth is, bike thieves are everywhere-- war zones or areas that seem carefree and pleasant...

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    3. Yep, I think so -- just my take :) Photography sets a mood, conveys a message. One set suggests one is babysitting their bike and the other set suggests the bike owner has armed the bike for survival in the world, heels or no heels. I also agree that thieves are everywhere and thinking that the folks owning the bikes in the photos you shared may have had something stolen from them before.

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  5. I notice you've got a Brooks saddle, does this mean you carry it in or lock it up?

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  6. The problem isn't solely (sic) platforms.

    Ball of fooy vs. Mid foot pedaling irrespective of shoe could mean a couple of cm height did.

    Surprised you didn't know that.

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    1. BTW it's called stack height - anyone out there know it's app?

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  7. Oh and you brake lever is set open on the 7.

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    1. Internet slow as molases. I see the picture you mean. Thanks for pointing something like that out. It is not currently open, I was just fiddling with it.

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  8. I have a 15-20 minute commute, and very few platforms relative to the number of regular shoes, so I usually just make do. I can feel the difference as I'm peddling, though.

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  9. How about having the saddle permanently secured to the frame with a short cable and a small lock? This would prevent theft (unless someone is prepared and has bolt cutters) and still would let you use the QR?

    Other option - take lightweight flat shoes with you for bike riding and put those high heels in the front basket.

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    1. Good suggestion. I've seen lots of variations of this, including one of the above photos. If it's a pro, they're gonna get whatever they want no matter what you do but for piece of mind, and preventing the casual prankster or vandal, it's a good idea.

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  10. awesomely girly post!

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  11. Believe it or not men have similar issues, at least this man. My work boots have a much thicker sole than my regular shoes so when riding with them (which sometimes may be 50% of the time) my leg extension is less than optimal. I'm picky about things but this I can live with because I'm not a competitive cyclist and put very little stress on the pedals.

    When I watch women walk in high heels I mostly scratch my head, anyway. Seems if they can manage the adjustment from flats to heels they can adapt to most anything--impressive:)

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  12. Not really sure about this but getting a quick release for the seat post may be problematic depending on your bike and bike set-up. Sounds simple but most things, these days, are not so easy without modifications.

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  13. What is the knee injury that occurs with a low saddle? I've read that often and never seen it in half a century of steady riding. In any event knee injuries are overuse injuries and not likely for someone riding a city bike in platforms.
    Lower saddle enhances stability, manoevrability, and control. Lack of any of those can lead to injuries in traffic. Which is a far worse outcome than knee strain.

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    1. If you habitually climbed stairs in a slight squat without ever straitening your leg completely, you would soon understand the issue with riding a bike with the seat too low. Some people can tolerate more of that sort of abuse than others but I don't think anyone is going to make claims for it's long term knee benefits.

      Spindizzy

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    2. Gee Spin I always look forward to your contributions here. I will retain utmost respect as I disagree. I used to run stairs a lot in the winter. One of my favorite spots was the 28 floors of University Hall and I did that one often enough with a 40 pound backpack. Usually three to six repeats. Did not straighten the leg completely. For hundreds of thousands of miles to get a fully straight leg on the bike I have to drop my heel until my foot is almost vertical. No problems. Sometimes a little clicking plica if I've been climbing a lot but no pain, ever.

      At this linky

      http://velonews.competitor.com/2013/08/bikes-and-tech/technical-faq/technical-faq-analyzing-bike-fits-of-the-professionals_297968

      you could read two fitters who do six pro teams between them talk about knee angles of 30 to 40 degrees at bottom dead center. The only time I see that kind of knee bend on the roads around here is when I look at someone who has no idea what their saddle height is and doesn't care. Some of those riders sit even lower. The low saddle guys complain of their knees at about the same rate as anyone else for the same reasons: sprinting, climbing, big gears. My feeling is they probably complain a bit less. I do know they fall off the bike a whole lot less than the guys with the high saddles.

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    3. http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Correlation_does_not_imply_causation

      Also anecdata can not be extrapolated to a general principle.

      All kinds of things cause knee pain - mine are a bit tender right now, has nothing to do with seat height.

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  14. So, does your custom mixte, pictured above, have a quick release bolt? If so it must be a new addition, if not was the photo staged or do you also just adapt when wearing platforms?

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  15. Love the photo. How often do you cycle in high heels???

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  16. "or using an extra lock to secure the saddle to the bike."

    I bought a new Brooks B67 a couple of years ago, and I leave a light coiled cable threaded through a saddle spring which end loops I stretch to my single U-lock engaged to my front wheel and frame. The saddle is so bright and my Superbe so rusty that I feel it is vulnerable in Boston; perhaps I'm being paranoid.

    "Another possibility is adjusting your saddle height on the go without a QR seatpost. Just carry the appropriate tool with you. Of course this assumes the ability to do it on your own..."

    The appropriate tool is called a wrench and, truly, anyone who can manipulate a quick release can take the leap to sizing and attaching a wrench. I wouldn't assume wearers of heels cannot do this.

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  17. Time to bring back the Hite-Rite.

    Marvelous things.

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  18. I've been riding my cargo bike (Yuba Boda Boda) with the seat a little low for "optimal" leg extension even in flat heels, because it's more stable at a stop with weight (wiggly kids) on the deck to be able to put my weight on the ball of my foot (not just a toe down). I pedal with the middle of my foot. I've gotten used to it. Better would be if Yuba had built the bike with a lower bottom bracket so that I could put the ball of my foot on the ground at a stop (like my vintage Raleigh allows me to do) while keeping full leg extension.

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  19. If you have a rear rack, you can loop a piece of bicycle chain between the saddle rails and the rear rack to help prevent saddle theft. Just make it long enough to accommodate the highest seat position you need. My bike shop did this for me for like $5.

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  20. Not again! why do women continue to insist on this? Are men going hey, heels look so much fun, I want to wear them too, especially on my bike! It's well known what heels do to feet, legs and spines. Yes I love shoes as much as any girl, but I cannot abide heels. I hate that despite the pain and damage, they are still marketed to women, high stilettos come back into fashion and women try yet again to conquer them. Yes we have the right to choose what to wear but.. Many jobs with dress codes still enforce heels for women, often jobs where they have to stand for hours. And women police officers or CIA agents on TV and film run in stiletto heels? I can tolerate a low wedge, but even then with my little platypus feet....I still can barely walk in them, my feet hurt. Even some heeled shoes that I can wear biking, I cannot wear walking so what is the point exactly? Just carry your desired shoes with you to your destination.
    The last time I wore some wedgies I forgot to adjust the saddle and ouch it was horrible, not good for the knees, and I was going too far to justify it. Now, even with my flat boots and shoes, there is a huge difference in sole thickness which can lead to discomfort if the seatpost is just adjusted. It is very easy, carry the allan key with you!

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    1. In the right context (ie not for running) I like the way I look and feel (not all heels are uncomfortable or painful) in heels, which is why I choose to sometimes wear them. Why others wear them or don't wear them is their own affair.

      (An allan key will work for some bikes, but for others (roadster/ 3-speed types) you might need a big-ass spanner.)

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    2. Or you can just replace the seat post bolt with one which uses an allen wrench.

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    3. Men wear cowboy boots with "Cuban" heels. Well, at least I do, this being New Mexico and boots being conventional casual dress wear. Not as comfortable as Bass Weejuns, but they are stylish especially with thick woolen socks (in winter).

      Il faut souffrir pour etre beau/belle.

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  21. I always wear my bike shoes whilst commuting and pack whatever shoes I planned on wearing that day. My bike shoes (Quoc Pham Tourer) are relatively comfortable, though, so, sometimes I just wear them.

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  22. Have any of you who ride in heels had problems with knee pain as a result of doing so? That is, knee pain issues that were caused by riding in heels and went away when you rode in flat shoes? Heather's comment above hinted at this. My girlfriend, who often rides in heels, has been having growing knee problems. I do think that her tendency to push big gears contributes to it, but I strongly suspect the heels as well.

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  23. You missed an important piece of advice...mark your seat post at its correct height before moving it up or down.

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    1. Mark it to what? The whole point is that in this scenario you're wearing different shoes all the time.

      I don't know about you all, but on a city bike I've gotten pretty good at eyeballing saddle height in relation to my hipbones. Works just as well as a marker, but factors in different heel heights.

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    2. Heh, have a mark on your seat post for every pair of shoes in your closet, with a little coded label so you know which one is which :)

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    3. Hm, seat height relative to hip bones doesn't make much sense, but heel height doesn't matter, where your foot is on the pedal does.

      See above stack height reference.

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    4. I don't get the need to adjust the saddle height for every variation of shoe but if you must, beware. The more things are used the more often they are prone to break or wear out. Seat post clamps can snap, or threads can strip, so make sure they're always greased.

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  24. A lovely, enjoyably post as aways. One minor, though important point which is often lost on people who have lived in Britain: Ireland is not a British isle. The term is a nostalgic bit of ignorance, a 18th and 19th century relic (as in referring to "the colonies").

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