Specialized Atlas Pro Review
Cons: Poorly executed waistband adjustment
Our Analysis and Test Results
The Atlas Pro shorts offer exceptional aesthetics and excellent on-trail performance. They tick most of the boxes for what you are looking for in a trail short. Our biggest complaint is the awkward waist adjustment system. Beyond that, we feel these are a great option for riders seeking a quality short with a tailored, performance fit.
The Atlas Pro Shorts are exceptionally comfortable. The materials are soft and pleasant on the skin. While some other shorts have a more artificial feel to them, the Specialized shorts feel excellent against the body. There are absolutely no tight points that cause discomfort. As you work through the motion of a pedal stroke, the shorts remain comfortable.
The waistband is soft against the body and doesn't have any abrasion-prone features. The waistband is on the thinner side of the spectrum. It can roll and twist a little bit if you are wearing a hip pack. When the hip pack strap moves around on top of the short's waistband, it can create a little bunching. We often prefer broader/wider waistbands for this reason.
The Atlas Pro shorts do not come with a chamois. These padded chamois liners are an essential element in determining comfort level. Expect the saddle comfort to rely heavily on your choice of a chamois.
Fit and Pedal Friendliness
Specialized knocked it out of the park with the pedal-friendliness of the Atlas Pro shorts. The lightweight materials create a free range of motion. While some shorts are constructed with materials that feel restrictive, these allow for natural movements.
The 14.5-inch inseam makes it so these shorts sit just about at the knee. This is a critical feature when evaluating a short for its pedal-friendliness. Not having material sitting on top of your knee cap serves a few purposes. First, it promotes airflow going up your short, which helps keep you cool and helps keep you spinning those pedals for longer periods. Second, there is no material to hang up on or bounce around the knee with every pedal stroke. Longer shorts often flap around with each pedal stroke. While this may sound overblown, sometimes it takes wearing a short with less of an inseam to notice the difference.
The trim fit also serves to keep the short materials closer to the leg. This minimizes movement of excess material while not feeling uncomfortably snug or tight. These shorts offer a high-end fit for the daily trail rider. Riders who have bulkier, thicker legs may want to consider other options as we could see these being too tight for some people.
One item regarding the fit that should be touched on is the waist adjustment design. This isn't purely a matter of fit. It is more of a feature issue. That said, this feature has a significant effect on fit. These shorts are hard to adjust to the proper fit. Once you have it dialed, you can leave the waistband alone.
Despite the minimalist look, these shorts do have some with modern features. They have carefully placed ventilation points, interesting pocket placement, and a unique adjustment system. We found these features mostly worked well, but we took issue with the adjustment system.
The Atlas Pro shorts have loads of ventilation points. These laser-cut perforations are intended to generate a bit of airflow when things get sweaty on an extended summer ride. These ventilation points are located on the front of the shorts in below the crotch and towards the inside of the leg. It is difficult to solely attribute the excellent airy qualities of these shorts to these perforations, but these shorts do breathe exceptionally well. Therefore, we can call these ventilation points a useful feature.
The Specialized shorts have well-placed pockets, but some will find them a touch too small. The two main pockets are located on the front of the short on top of the quads. Using these pockets can seem a little awkward and clumsy when standing at the trailhead. That said, when you are riding, your cell phone stays flat against your leg and doesn't flop around constantly. Riders with larger cell phones will definitely have trouble fitting them in these pockets. An iPhone 6 fits in there with little room to spare. Larger iPhones or Samsung Galaxy phones might not fit.
The third pocket is located on the waistband on the rear of the short just under the small of the back. This pocket is marginally larger. Still, bigger cellular telephones will not fit. A bar or a snack may fit in there well with a multi-tool or C02 inflator. The location of this pocket is fine, although it can be difficult to access on the fly. Since you can't see the pocket or the zipper, it can be challenging.
The rear pocket also houses the waist adjustment system. Inside this pocket, you will find two tabs that you can pull to tighten the shorts. This adjustment system is somewhat challenging to use. While most shorts have some external tabs, this system requires you to remove anything in your back pocket and then fiddle with two tabs inside of a small pocket. It seems like Specialized was so fixated on a clean and simple look, they ended up with an over-complicated and non-user-friendly system. It doesn't make sense to have an adjustment system located where you can't see it, let alone hiding within a pocket that is very hard to reach.
Riders who tend to use their pockets quite a bit may find these shorts don't have sufficient amounts of space. Also, the pockets are on the smaller side. If you carry a cell phone, a multi-tool, and some keys, you are just about maxed out. That said, most riders still use some sort of bag or hip pack that house such things.
Durability is a key consideration when purchasing a pair of shorts. Riding apparel can get spendy in a hurry, and the Atlas Pro shorts aren't cheap. We found them to hold up well throughout our testing period, and we have no major concerns with them withstanding the test of time.
The area of your shorts that are in contact with your saddle is always an area of concern when evaluating durability. This is the zone that experiences the most friction and movement against the saddle. The Specialized shorts don't show any substantial wear. There is some very minor fraying around a horizontal seam on the upper rear of the short. It is difficult to tell whether this is the seam deteriorating or just a little wear on the fabric surrounding the seam. We lean towards the latter.
Zippers and the snap closure system are always an area worth some attention. The zippers functioned effectively, and we have seen no evidence that they will fail. The junction of the short-material and the zippers appears to be flawlessly executed. None of the zipper teeth appear damaged or worn.
Specialized nailed it with the styling of these shorts. They did a bang-up job delivering a clean-looking and simple short. The term minimalist comes to mind when you look at the Atlas Pro shorts. The strategically placed pockets fly under the radar. Upon first glance, the pockets blend in quite well.
The trim fit and slightly shorter legs are a matter of preference, but testers to found them to be stylish on top of their functional nature. Manufacturers have come out with dozens of more slender shorts that bridge the gap between full-on baggy shorts and tight, road-inspired, lycra shorts. If you ask us, this clean and trim look is flattering, and not having a bunch of extra material hanging in the wind is a nice look.
There are no tacky designs or huge logos on the Atlas Pro shorts. We appreciate this aesthetic. The lack of text or funky multi-colored designs makes these shorts stand out and keeps your eyes fixated on the killer fit and clean styling.
Protective features are typically found on more enduro-oriented shorts. This may include attachments for hip-pads, materials that won't cut in the event of a crash, and extended coverage. The Atlas Pro shorts were designed for daily trail riding and have none of these protective features. Specialized set out to design a lightweight trail short, and that is exactly what they delivered. We can't fault them for the lack of protective features.
The lightweight VapoRize fabric is soft and light. We didn't crash in these shorts, but we don't have much confidence in this fabric surviving a high-speed crash. Again, these are intended to be trail shorts for long XC rides and are not built to get super rowdy.
Specialized states that the "14.5 inseam with tapered leg fit (size 34" waist) falls just above the knees, leaving room for pads without interfering on climbs." While the leg is tapered and there is ample space in the leg opening to fit a kneepad, they are on the shorter side. Use with knee pads could lead to a substantial gap between the shorts and the pads.
We feel that the Atlas Pro Shorts are an average value. They do not come with a chamois or padded liner. Some people may be irritated at the lack of chamois at this price. Still, the Specialized shorts are well-designed and standout as an excellent choice for pedaling heavy trail riders. You can certainly find less expensive mountain bike shorts, but few of those shorts would share the same design qualities.
The Specialized Atlas Pro Shorts deliver exceptional comfort in a pedal friendly package. The shorter and more trim fit might be somewhat of a polarizing topic in terms of the style. That said, this design delivers superb on-trail pedaling performance. The features of these shorts appear to be thoughtfully and tastefully designed, but the waistband adjustment system is not particularly user-friendly. All-in-all, these are a solid option for pure trail riding that the minimalists will love.
— Pat Donahue