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Hands-on Gear Review
Specialized Phenom Expert Review
Bottom line: The Phenom Expert delivers on all levels; the synthesis of performance and comfort will never leave you asking for more.
The Specialized Phenom is the winner of our Editors' Choice Award. It received our highest comfort rating, while maintaining a competitive weight of 245g, but it can be difficult to find. Your local shop or the Specialized website are the best place to look for this awesome saddle. If you're looking for a bike saddle immediately, consider our Top Pick, the Fabric Scoop Flat Pro, which outscored the Phenom in the weight category.
Designed as a high performance XC race saddle, it does not disappoint. It provides excellent power transfer, and a multitude of possible positions allow the rider to get into a good position no matter the demands of the trail or road. Despite the design intent, the Phenom is one of those rare saddles that works equally well for both road and mountain bike use. Universally liked by all of our testers, we could not find a type of bike that did not benefit from an upgrade to the Phenom.
With all the praise that the Phenom received from our testers, it also saw a huge amount of use and abuse. Despite countless crashes and lots of riding in the most abusive conditions, the Phenom came out of testing virtually unscathed. This contender will cost you almost three times as much as our Best Buy winner, the WTB Speed Comp, but it outperforms the Speed in every category. The Phenom is likely to stay firmly clamped on our testers rigs for some time to come.
RELATED: Our complete review of bike saddles
Analysis and Hands-on Test Findings
The Phenom is relatively flat from nose to tail, with a very slight rise at the tail. Generous padding, a stiff shell, and a full anatomical cutout make this a very comfortable saddle. The padding is not nearly as plush as what you will find on saddles such as the WTB Speed Comp, but for a performance-oriented race saddle, it is thicker than expected. At 142mm in width, it is identical in width to the Top Pick Fabric Scoop Flat Pro and falls within the 140mm-145mm range that was well liked by the majority of our testers.
Specialized incorporates what they call Adaptive Edge technology. If it sounds like marketing hyperbole, rest assured it is not. The edges of the saddle are designed to flex and conform to the rider. We found the flex to be noticeable and a comfort enhancement compared to the previous version of the Phenom that was very rigid across the full width of the saddle.
The full anatomical cutout is well positioned and offers relief to those who complain of pressure and numbness on long rides. Beyond the anatomical cut out, you will still find a narrow partial cutout channel to relieve pressure during those hard seated efforts when weight shifts forward on the saddle. Specialized goes to great lengths to ensure that its saddles do not compromise blood flow or put pressure on nerves. The nose is well padded and offers good support when down in the drops during hard efforts. The padding is not nearly as substantial as some other saddles in our test group, such as the Selle SMP Extra Saddle and the Best Buy WTB Speed, but the shape and well placed padding combined get our highest overall rating for comfort.
Specialized designed the Phenom for racing. Power transfer is excellent, and the flat shape and smooth cover allow for easy position changes. The shell is stiff and there is no loss of power during hard seated efforts. Despite the firm shell, the Adaptive Edge base does flex at the edges of the saddle. This flex essential moves the edge out of the way for unimpeded pedal strokes. In addition to the flex, ultra slippery panels are found on the edges of the saddle that aids in preventing friction between the inside of the thigh while pedaling.
We found the Phenom to be an excellent choice for riders who like an aggressive position as well as those who prefer to be more upright. Fabric Scoop offers a similar level of power transfer and performance, but it is designed to be used in a more aggressive low position. While some saddles designed for a more forward reaching aggressive position can leave the upright rider without adequate support, we did not have this issue with the Phenom. This award winner is comfortable, but gives nothing up when it comes to performance.
While we would stop short at calling the Phenom indestructible,l it is one tough saddle. Despite lots of hard use and multiple crashes on the mountain bike, we have been unable to even scuff this saddle. The tail of the saddle is protected from abrasion by an extension of the hard plastic shell beyond the cover material. The Fizik Monte is another high scoring saddle for durability, but we prefer the plastic scuff edging on the Phenom to the Cordura scuff guards used on the Monte. While Cordura is tough, it is still prone to abrasion where the plastic scuff guards on the Phenom can withstand more repeated abuse.
A carbon fiber reinforced plastic shell prevents sagging even after extended use, and the hollow titanium rails are as tough as they are light. The cover material is synthetic, and has no seams or raised areas that would be prone to abrasion from pedaling effort. The cover is similar to the synthetic cover found on the Fabric Scoop, but feels more substantial and almost rubber like in comparison. Our only complaint is the micro perforations in the cover; they are designed to enhance ventilation, but we found that they easily get filled with mud and dirt, and are difficult to clean out.
The Phenom was designed for XC mountain bike racing. It excels at its intended purpose, but we found it to be equally good for cyclocross, and road use. It scores higher than the Fabric Scoop, thanks to its ability to function well across a range of cycling disciplines. It does have a full cutout, which we would prefer not to see in a cyclocross saddle, due to mud and water issues. Other than the cutout, we have no complaints and cannot think of a use we would not recommend the Phenom for. Very few saddles can truly perform without compromise for multiple disciplines of riding, but the Phenom is the best saddle we have tested when it comes to versatility. It also includes threaded SWAT compatible mounts on the bottom of the saddle. These mounts can be used with Specialized SWAT products for carrying tools or flat repair kits.
Not the lightest saddle in the test group at 241g, but still light enough to satisfy the gram counters. The Top Pick Fabric Scoop Pro weighs just 176g, but lacks some of the features of the Phenom, such as the rubber scuff guards. In exchange for a bit more weight, you get enhanced durability and comfort. The SWAT mounting inserts also increase weight, but enhance versatility.
The Phenom is truly at home on a XC race bike. If you are looking for a no compromise saddle for XC training and racing, this one is for you. That said, the Phenom is capable and well suited to road and cyclocross as well. Its high marks in comfort also make it well suited to trail riding, and we even like it for touring and commuting. While comfort and durability make it a jack-of-all-trades, high performance makes it a winner for the competitive racer as well.
Well constructed and durable, this bike saddle should provide many trouble free miles of use. With a price tag of $130, it is a great buy. You get a high performance saddle at a competitive weight, and it can be used on virtually any type of bike you have.
The Specialized Phenom Expert is the winner of our Editors' Choice Award for its amazing performance characteristics, and a level of versatility that is unmatched. It is rare to find a saddle that can do it all, and even more unheard of to find one that does it all without compromise. The Phenom strikes the balance of pro level performance with all day comfort, and while not cheap, it is far from the most expensive saddle we tested.
Specialized Power Expert
— Curtis Smith
OutdoorGearLab Member Reviews
Most recent review: February 9, 2017
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