The new Specialized Phenom Pro is highly comfortable, supportive, lightweight and without short snagging potential. For this tester, it has become the go-to choice.
Saddle selection can be such a fickle thing. So many people ride whatever came with the bike and are none the wiser. Others struggle for comfort, forever seeking that Holy Grail.
Personally, I used to fit into the first camp – and at some point found myself struggling with overuse injury and have forever been uncomfortably in the second camp. At least until I found the Specialized Phenom – which for me, just works.
The details: versatile styles
The new Phenom Pro
The Phenom was designed ground-up as an off-road saddle. With this, it offers a smooth and catch-free shape for moving around on descents, while also offering scuff guards in case you fail to stay on. Specialized readily admits that plenty of people use their road saddles on mountain bikes, but those can suffer from snagged shorts and risk of tearing from a crash. Likewise, there’s nothing stopping you from using this saddle on the road.
Due to its stub nose and little rear hang-over past where your sit bones belong, the saddle offers a relatively short 265mm length.
Shape wise, there’s a slight kick at the tail, but the length is otherwise mostly flat. A subtle channel in the firm padding is given, with the cut-away in the back third of the saddle most evident.
Peering across the width, the saddle noticeably curves after the point of sit-bone contact for a smooth and uninterrupted pedaling motion. A low friction material is also used to further aid and ease pedaling.
Carbon rails feature an oval shape, just so you know
With lightweight oval (7x9mm) carbon rails, the Phenom Pro may not be compatible with all seatposts. Posts that clamp the saddle rails from the top and bottom of won’t be an issue, but many single-bolt side clamping seatpost models will pose an issue and will need an aftermarket 7x9mm clamp (if available). If this is an issue, the Phenom Expert with its round titanium rails may be a better option.
Those two threaded holes are for SWAT accessories
A great addition to the new Phenom S-Works and Pro saddles is the SWAT compatibility. With this, two thread inserts sit at the back of the saddle to accept Specialized’s add-on storage accessories. The Bandit Velcro wrap is one such example, and is a simple CO2, tyre lever and tube holder that remains out of the way.
Available in either a 143 or 155mm width, the Phenom Pro saddles sit one model below the range-topping S-Works. The key difference is that the Pro loses the carbon shell in favour of a carbon-reinforced version, which comes at a 40g weight increase. Those differences also mean a price difference of $100.
Sitting below the Pro is the Expert, mentioned above. Its titanium rails bump the weight to 248g and the price down to $130 / £TBC / AU$175. Finally, you can get into the Phenom shape for US$100 / £TBC / AU$120 with the steel-railed Comp model.
I weighed our sample 143mm and 155mm Phenom Pro saddles at 195 and 208g respectively.
My story and experience
Having gone into the details of the saddle in question, here’s a little background information and my experience with the Phenom.
My overuse injury sits within my hip and hamstring, which has proven stubborn to healing and general treatment. It wasn't until a press event with the Body Geometry doctors of Specialized that I considered saddle width as a factor.
Dr Roger Minkow, the key figure behind the Body Geometry saddle range and the thinking man of saddle width, pointed out that a few of their athletes had issues with saddles being too narrow, where their sit bones were not being supported evenly and so the body was forced to unevenly overload softer tissue.
Following that conference, I took Stewart Morton, head of Body Geometry fit at Specialized Australia up on an invitation to further investigate my hip pain and undergo a Body Geometry fit, including trialing a few saddles. I’d tried plenty of things, had been fitted before, but the thought of an entire fit with the desired outcome focused on saddle comfort was different (Body Geometry fits don't typically just focus on saddle comfort, they're a whole-bike/whole-body approach).
Proving just how personal saddle choice is, most Specialized models just don’t work for me. I’m miserable when seated on them – especially the widely hailed Romin. And so it’s most important to point out that this review is about my experience, and there’s a good chance yours will be different.
There are two widths available. Surprisingly, Specialized doesn't believe there's a large enough market for something narrower
Having been measured by Specialized’s sit bone tool, I found myself between two sizes – so I’ve been testing both the 143 and 155mm width. There's a perceptible difference between the two when riding technical trails, and the 143mm is better suited to that task. That said, the general round profile and slippery cover still means it’s easy and safe to get your body behind the 155mm version in technical terrain – and it's surprisingly still better than many popular skinny saddles on the market.
Where saddles often suffer from being too firm or overly soft, the Phenom seems to have found the Goldilocks medium. The padding does enough to soak up minor vibrations and conform to the body, but it's firm enough to hold its shape and maintain support.
The carbon-reinforced shell is also a big part of this and months of use have shown it to be durable. I've experienced many other saddles that start off well, but eventually lead to sagging and sinking that places unexpected load on soft and more sensitive parts.
The short 265mm length shouldn't be mistaken for forcing a set riding position. I found no problem in scooting to the nose of the saddle for steep climbs, and there's enough width for it to be comfortable for short periods of time too.
No matter how much I praise this saddle, it's crucial to repeat that we're all different – what's worked for me won't necessarily do so for you. However, I can attest that the new Phenom is a very well designed perch and I now look at Specialized saddles with interest, as opposed to the 'marketing' cynicism of past.
The shape clearlyworks for me (although my injury has not completely disappeared, yet) and the 155mm version is something that I’ll be purchasing for all my bikes – road included.
Since writing this, the Specialized Phenom has been selected for a 2015 BikeRadar Editor's Pick Award - see more here.