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Editorial | Review

Specialized Body Geometry & Finding the Right Saddle

Words AJ Barlas
Photos AJ Barlas
Date Mar 24, 2019


Fit systems are nothing new in the cycling world, especially if you come from a road background. I’ve never ridden a road bike. I was, however, subject to the strict nature of some bike fitters while working my first shop gig some 19 years ago. Despite being force-fed the process early in my involvement with bikes, I never acted on it. Not many kids riding dirt jumps and downhill bikes do!

But now it’s different. Bikes are more capable than ever and thanks to Enduro, we have long-legged weapons that can comfortably pedal all day. Like many, I’ve welcomed these wonderful new bikes with open arms but there’s been another learning process involved. Fit and specifically here, seat comfort, have required attention. Out are the days of shopping for the sleekest, least padded seat for the downhill bike and in are the ones where function far outweighs fashion.

And I’ve been through all phases of the process. Seats with colours that match the bike. Rider-endorsed hogwash. Options that have a thicker cushion and those that don’t. Recently I discovered my approximate sit-bone width and followed online prompts for a seat that I thought would be sweet. Unfortunately, that was one of the shorter-lived seats I’ve had. It turns out there’s more involved than knowing your measurement. Riding position plays a large role—whether aggressively leaned forward or more upright—but even then that perfect saddle may not work out on the trails.

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I remember when saddles with a cut-away were considered "women's specific", or at least I thought they were. This is the Phenom and it wasn't designed with a focus on women.

Specialized has been trying to put an end to this with their Body Geometry System. In 2012 they purchased Retül and have invested lots in fit. They've got a selection of well-designed stock footbeds, full-fledged custom moulded options, grips, and seats. I’ve spent the better part of twelve months on a couple of their saddles; the Phenom and Power. During this time I've noticed the differences in feel between them despite their measurements each "fitting" me.

Highlights

  • Patented Body Geometry design is lab tested to assure blood flow to sensitive arteries.
  • Carbon-reinforced shells.
  • Lightweight and supportive PU padding for comfort and support on longer rides.
  • Lightweight, durable, and hollow titanium rails.
  • Tough, lightweight, and water-resistant cover.
  • Level 2 padding: Medium density foam for bike feel with additional cushioning.
  • SWAT™-compatible mounts moulded into the saddle base allow for sleek and integrated storage solutions.
  • Size 143mm / Weight 233g (Power), 248g (Phenom)
  • Size 155mm / Weight 235g (Power), 254g (Phenom)
  • Size 168mm / Weight 238g (Power Only)
  • Phenom MSRP: 120–300 USD / 125–350 CAD
  • Power MSRP: 120–325 USD / 125–350 CAD

My seat size is 143mm and I’ve had good, though not perfect experiences on seats at this size. What I’ve learnt is that in addition to measurement, there are heaps of other variables that make it tricky to find optimal fit. Discussing this with Specialized Body Geometry Product Manager, Garrett Getter, I was made aware of a number of these. Things like the cutout size, curvature of the saddle, the transition from the nose to the wide point and foam. To some these may be obvious but I didn’t realize how drastically the often subtle variations can affect comfort.

In the past, I’ve spent time on a 143mm Henge. This was before knowing my measurements and I found it quite comfortable at the time. I enjoyed the shape of the seat and to me, a wider and shorter nose. Before jumping on a bike with a longer rear-centre and steeper seat tube angle, I would aggressively shift my weight up the nose when climbing. That wider nose worked well with such techniques.

This time I opted to try the Phenom saddle. Early last year I spent some time on a seat with a cutout in the centre. It felt alright but the shape didn’t work for me. The Phenom in 143mm features a nose that’s on the longer side and a groove to a cutout in the centre. It's been an excellent saddle, good enough for me to ditch my chamois. But during long days riding it would cause some mild discomfort. I enjoyed the length when descending, with the seat letting me know where I was positioned on the bike.

Then I tried the Power saddle at the recommendation of Specialized staff. Initially, I thought the saddle looked like a strange women’s specific model. It turns out it is, or at least it was… during development, the seat was being designed for female road riders. I share Andrew Major's experiences with 'women’s' saddles so I wasn’t afraid to try it. I also care less for looks and favour function, so I gave it a go.

Had I paid attention and read the features I may not have gone through with it. The Power saddle has a “stiff, carbon-reinforced shell for longevity and all-day efficiency.” Stiff and all-day efficiency aren’t elements I typically seek. Comfort is king for me but there’s obviously more to it. Its shorter length would have caused some worry too but in practice, it hasn't. I don't need to shift about on my seat as I once did so the length wasn't missed there. After a couple of rides, I adjusted to the saddle's whereabouts when descending as well.

This strange looking thing is the most comfortable I've ridden so far. I’m not sure whether it’s the more aggressive transition from the nose to the wide point, the larger cut-away, or the curvature. Perhaps the stiffer base is the solution? It would make sense that on longer days the softer base could begin to offer less support. Whatever it is, it works well for me. Specialized informed me of the Power Arc as well, but when they mentioned it works well with thick thighed individuals, I knew it wasn’t for me. I’ve never heard my chicken legs described as thick, or my hamstrings as large.

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The Power saddle has a larger cutaway that runs right up the nose and a flatter top. Is this why I found it more comfortable than the same size Phenom?

After almost twelve months I’m still happily switching back and forth between the two. The Phenom only falls short on longer rides and tends to take place on review bikes now while the Power lives on my personal bike. Even the short length hasn’t been a concern, though it may be worth considering your bike’s geometry and riding habits before diving into something like the Power saddle.

Options for mountain bike fit have come a long way and continue to change. Knowing your measurements or getting professionally fitted at a dealer isn’t enough, though. Time on the saddle, on your own bike, is a must for the best fit. Some bike shops and Specialized dealers offer help with this, providing customers with the choice to test saddles on their bike. Unfortunately, at this point the availability of demo saddles depends largely on the dealer. It’s something that Specialized mentioned they’re working on but at this point don’t assume any store selling Specialized seats will allow you to demo them on the trails. Ask shop staff, whether a Specialized dealer or not, about their options for seats.

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The Power saddle doing it's best to disguise itself as a regular looking seat.

Finding the correct seat can be a long journey. It’s taken me almost two decades to find that primo fit. Ditching the gooch-pad was the pinnacle and I’m so thankful. While the Specialized site still titles their choices traditionally (road, mountain, man, woman, etc), Garrett noted that they’ve found there to be no real split between disciplines or sex. If a road saddle works for someone on a mountain bike, they should use it. Disregard labels and descriptions, if I hadn't I'd still be searching. Look at the 'road', 'women’s', heck, dog saddles if they exist. Try and find a store that will allow you to test multiple versions, after finding what your measurements are. Hunt high and low. There is a saddle out there that will fit you. Specialized are one option and they certainly have a lot of choices, which makes them an excellent starting point.

More information on the Specialized Body Geometry System and saddles is available on their website.

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Comments

Vikb
+2 AJ Barlas Metacomet
Vik Banerjee  - March 24, 2019, 8:51 p.m.

For 20yrs my bike weak spot was my butt to saddle interface. I tried a lot of saddles and a lot of bike diapers without great success. My day 3 of a week long road trip I'd be uncomfortable all ride and I might need to take a day or two off to rest.

Then I stumbled on a saddle that worked for me and I threw away the bike diapers....greatest thing I ever did and have been able to ride basically as much as I want without any saddle/butt issues at all. I've since branched out and have 3 different brands/models that work for me. That's been 10yrs of bike bliss.

It's definitely worth hunting down a great saddle as it makes all the other comfort solutions unnecessary. I can get some idea of how a saddle will work based on dimensions and shape, but really it comes down to buying it and trying it out for a few days. That can get expensive so now that I have 3 good options I pretty much just stick with those and figure if they ever stop making them I'll have a few spares so I can find another option to replace the defunct saddle model.

Reply

JBV
+2 AJ Barlas Kevin26
James Vasilyev  - March 24, 2019, 9:55 p.m.

cool review. these Spesh saddles get a lot of pixels spilled by road reviewers and i think it's one area that the big S hype machine is on point. i love 155 width saddles and have had a Phenom for over a year and just replaced a well love WTB Pure with a Power Arc. jury is out on which i like better, great saddles, perfect width for me. i've noticed Mr Hill feels the same way on his Mega. same S Power on every bike.

Reply

JVP
+1 Bogey
JVP  - March 25, 2019, 9:10 a.m.

Spesh makes great saddles. Almost. Those stupid hard, sharp sides need to go! I loved the comfort while sitting on the Phenom, but had to ditch it because of bruising on the inner thigh from where the saddle hit my legs on DH sections of trail.

So close, but unusable if you ride out of the saddle a lot with the seat lowered. Specialized, please makes the sides more rounded, I'd like to try your saddles again.

I'll also never buy a saddle with ti rails. They've always bent or broken too soon for me. Chromoly, please.

I'm now happily on SQ labs.

Reply

JBV
+1 JVP
James Vasilyev  - March 25, 2019, 9:56 a.m.

couldn't agree more. had a number of bruises on inside of thigh and wondered why. realized it was from Phenom saddle hitting leg on descents. the Power arc saddle has more rounded off edges, hence, the 'arc'. i think it should make a difference.

Reply

bogey
0
Bogey  - March 25, 2019, 2:23 p.m.

Agreeeeee! I know the minimalist saddles look cool and all, but bring back some side cushion to all saddles! It helps on the mtb by providing more comfort for moving around on the bike and it helps on the road by reducing friction between shorts and the sharp side edge on so many saddles.

Reply

andy-eunson
0
Andy Eunson  - March 25, 2019, 9:25 a.m.

I tried the Power on my mountain bike but it was too firm. It was absolutely fine on the cross bike though which I took to mean it works better for an aggressive bent over position. The Phenom on the road bike goes unnoticed which I think is perfect. And the Henge sits on both my mountain bikes but I find it needs a little up tilt to feel right. I don’t like to feel like I’m sliding forward. So more experimentation is needed. 

I’d like to see you do an article on mountain bike fit though. The aggressive XC fit is one extreme whereas the super upright freeride fit is the opposite end. Which works best?  I think we have all read that steeper seat tube angles are more efficient but I’ve never read why it is so. Somewhere there is an optimal angle between torso and thigh when pedaling. Bolt upright is not it. Folded over isn’t either. I was fitted to my road bike with the Specialized kit and for me, a 74 seat tube angle but a 25mm rear set post head just gave me the “correct” fit. 75 degree is too steep. So a Pole frame will be ridiculous for me?

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krisrayner
0
Kris Rayner  - March 25, 2019, 12:02 p.m.

For those who stopped using padded shorts, what was the advantage you noticed? What kind of underwear are you using?

Reply

pete@nsmb.com
0
Pete Roggeman  - March 25, 2019, 12:42 p.m.

Hi Kris, people that ditch the chamois realize a few benefits: first, you're not wearing a sweaty pad, so there's less bulk and sometimes less moisture down there. It also means that if you can't change right away after a ride, it's not as big a deal. Not all bike shorts have bibs, but they do stay on better, so if you ditch bibs, it's nice to not have to fiddle with them if you have to yank 'em down for some reason.

As far as type of underwear, the leader, bar none are Saxx/2Undr/MyPkg and the like - they keep your man bits all nice and tucked in, and are super comfortable. They cost a bit more, but it's well worth the money., whether on the bike or off.

Reply

andy-eunson
+1 taprider
Andy Eunson  - March 25, 2019, 4:33 p.m.

Having read a report that ticks are out and a fellow found one on his nutsack, I want tight stuff down there.

Reply

Kevin26
0
Kevin26  - March 27, 2019, 7:59 p.m.

My package didn't work for me, Lululemon athletic does though

Reply

Vikb
+1 AJ Barlas
Vik Banerjee  - March 26, 2019, 6:27 a.m.

I just wear my day to day underwear which are synthetic boxer briefs, but on the looser side. 

Advantages? Not needing to deal with bike diapers. Not buying them or worrying about putting them on before/taking them off after a ride. No lotions or potions to lube the bike diaper, etc... Never forgetting them or running out of clean ones on a trip.

At the end of a typical ride my friends that wear bike diapers can't wait to take them off and then put on regular clothes. I'm in no rush to change.

When it comes to butt/saddle discomfort the folks with the bike diapers are not any happier than those folks I know who don't wear them. Although the reason they have them in the first place is probably because they have butt/saddle pain so I am not blaming the problem on the bike diapers.

I also use flat pedals, 5.10's, baggy shorts and normal looking tops. It's nice to be able to ride in "regular" clothes and do my pre-/post-ride activities without having to change out "bike" gear. Simplifies my day and is especially handy when travelling on bike trips.

I don't miss anything about the many years I wore all the obviously bike specific gear.

Reply

RAHrider
+2 Andy Eunson taprider
Reed Holden  - March 25, 2019, 8:51 p.m.

It sounds like the specialized saddles are finally coming into their own. When I used to work in shops they were heavy and ugly (bad combo's). Specialized only gives good pricing to those dealers that hawk all their crap. I always resented having to fill our shelves with a bunch of specialized branded crap and then not have room for accessories and clothing from companies that "specialize" in what they do. 

I rode Selle italia flite saddles with Ti rails for the better part of two decades. Then they stopped making them. Cromag saddles hurt. Wtb were ok. My resentment towards specialized never subsided to the point where I could give them a go. 

Recently they reissued the flite (now called the 1990 - God am I that old? Yes). I have three of them and an sdg falcon that is a surprisingly great fit. 

Sharp edges on a saddle are lame. 

Not sure what to say about wanting to ditch a chamois so much. $300 bibs are a dream though. If you haven't tried them, don't go bashing chamois shorts. I will agree with you that <$100 chamois suck. But if you haven't tried an expensive Bib short, you haven't lived!!!!

Reply

pete@nsmb.com
+1 Andy Eunson
Pete Roggeman  - March 26, 2019, 3:19 p.m.

For long rides, no question you need a good bib short - especially for riding where you're on the saddle more (road, gravel, or mtb that doesn't have a lot of tech).

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