Last updated: January 9th, 2023
Generally, you should be able to sit on your bike’s saddle and touch at least the front of one foot to the ground.
But is something wrong if you can’t at all? Conversely, what if you can firmly plant both feet?
The answer depends on your bike, your pedal choice, and your riding style.
However, touching the ground too little or too much may indicate a bigger problem—one that’s sapping power with every pedal stroke.
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Here’s whether your feet should touch the ground
When sitting on virtually any bicycle, you should be able to touch your forefoot to the ground on one side. Touching tiptoes on both sides is also reasonable, but not always possible.
Fully planting both feet may be acceptable on a cruiser or city bike, but it generally means the saddle is too low. We’ll come back to that point later.
As a rule, the more upright/relaxed your riding posture is, the more of you foot (even both feet) will be able to touch the ground. Conversely, with more forward-leaning or “aggressive” riding posture, you generally shouldn’t be able to touch more than one foot at a time.
What affects whether your feet touch the ground?
On one bike, it might be acceptable (even expected) to firmly plant both feet. On another, a proper fit might only let you touch a toe.
It depends on three factors, two of which are more or less built into the bike.
- Saddle height, or the distance from the saddle to the pedals. This, of course, is within your control.
- Crank length and bottom bracket height, which determine the distance from the pedals to the ground. We’ll treat these as fixed, although you can technically change them by replacing the cranks or by installing tires of a different width.
- Seat tube angle, or rearward vs. upward component of saddle height. It’s literally built into the bike, although seat post setback gives you some leeway.
There’s more to it than saddle height
With proper saddle height, your knees are almost straight at the bottom of each pedal stroke.
Later, I’ll share a simple way to find this. For now, just realize that there’s a fixed distance from saddle to pedals at their lowest point. Your leg length doesn’t change from bike to bike, so neither does this distance.
Let’s also assume you have two bikes. One is a beach cruiser with a low bottom bracket and an extremely relaxed seat tube angle. The other is a cyclocross race bike with has a high bottom bracket and a fairly steep seat tube angle.
Both fit properly. Both have the same seat-to-pedals distance and leg extension. Yet when you pull up to a stoplight, you can plant both feet from the cruiser, yet only touch a toe from the CX racer.
It all comes back to that fixed segment from saddle to pedals.
Think of it like a yardstick or dowel. Whether its bottom rests on the ground or ten feet up in the air, it’s still the same length from that point.
So, raising the bottom bracket also raises that whole saddle–pedals segment. It gets easier to clear obstacles but harder to touch the ground.
Likewise, lowering the bottom bracket also lowers that whole segment. It gets easier to reach the ground from the saddle, but harder to clear obstacles.
The best choice depends on where and how you’re riding. Cyclocross racers don’t come to stop—not if they can help it—so they value the clearance to pedal through sharp corners and over obstacles. But when I’m rolling down a bike path, with groceries and my laptop aboard, I’ll take stability any day.
Bike designers usually go with the lowest bottom bracket height that won’t cause clearance problems for the bike’s intended use. That makes handling as stable as possible without causing other problems.
Normally, stability is the main reason for a low bottom bracket, and ease of putting a foot down is just a bonus (which newer riders particularly appreciate).
But for one brand—and scores of imitators—the ease of touching down is its own selling point.
What us Electra’s Flat Foot Technology®?
This isn’t so much technology as a simple geometry difference. It places the bottom bracket forward to create a slacker virtual seat tube angle, which helps you touch the ground without sacrificing leg extension. This is known as a crank-forward design, and it’s common on cruiser bicycles.
As a beginner, it’s confidence-inspiring to put both feet flat on the ground. Many brands use this design to help newer leisure cyclists feel at ease. The classic Electra Townie is the best known-example, but many cruisers in particular use crank-forward geometry.
What exactly is going on here?
The bottom bracket—that’s what the crank arms attach to—is normally in line with the lower end of the seat tube. But by moving it forward, the frame gets a slack “virtual” seat tube angle, which allows for the same saddle-to-pedals distance yet lower saddle-to-ground distance.
It’s possible to take this much farther than Electra or other cruisers do. In the extreme, you end with up with a recumbent bike!
But why don’t all bikes use this? Simple: it’s not always advantageous to have such a slack seat tube angle. It does suit a very upright bicycle, like a cruiser and even some traditional city bikes. Unfortunately, it’s also one of the reasons that cruisers are difficult to ride outside of smooth, flat, leisurely scenarios.
Other types of bikes need to feel more nimble. That requires leaning forward—at least slightly—to put some more weight over the handlebars. And that, in turn, requires a steeper seat tube angle which defeats the purpose of a crank-forward design.
I’ve written a separate bike geometry guide that covers these terms and several others in more detail, and with plenty of helpful diagrams. It’s useful stuff for any cyclist to know, so check it out if this all Greek to you!
Is It a Problem If Your Feet Can’t Touch the Ground?
If you cannot touch the ground at all while on the saddle and holding the handlebars, then your saddle is probably too high.
That’s a quick fix. Unless you can’t lower the saddle any farther, then it’s not a real problem per se.
However, being able to touch the ground is just a result of proper saddle height. It is not a criterion for saddle height in most cases.
So, what is? Glad you asked…
How Do You Choose the Right Saddle Height?
The short answer is to pick a saddle height where your knee is fully extended while your heel is at the center of the pedal, at the most distant part of the pedal stroke.
In proper riding position, with the ball of your foot over the center of the pedal, you’ll have just a slight knee bend—and that’s exactly what we’re aiming for.
There’s some more nuance to it, so check out this saddle height guide for a deeper dive.