Updated April 2017
As summer approaches and the roads and trails become rideable, we've updated this review. Now including charts and graphs to help you select your saddle, we've also included new product information. Despite some changes to the playing field, our Editors' Choice winner still came away with our top award.
Specialized Phenom Expert
Excellent comfort and overall performance
Lightweight yet sturdy
If we had to put the same saddle on every bike we own, we'd choose the Specialized Phenom Expert
. Its low weight and durability blew us away, and we were surprised by the high level of both comfort and
performance. The race-oriented saddle is as comfortable as you would expect a touring saddle designed for all-day rides to be. Specialized achieves this by combining optimal shell flex with minimal firm padding, resulting in a consistent feel mile after mile. The saddle's shape provides enough support for upright riders and is still able to accommodate an aggressive low position for optimal power output. Many mountain bike seats tend to be shorter, but the Phenom sits right in the sweet spot at 270mm, long enough to move around on but short enough to stay out of the way for technical descents. The Phenom is sufficiently versatile to cover both road and mountain biking, and with a price of $130, you can't go wrong. The Phenom also comes in a Pro and Comp model, so you can customize the seat to fit your needs.
Read review: Specialized Phenom Expert
Best Bang for the Buck
WTB Speed Comp
Comfortable for most riders
Tough seat cover with rear scuff guard
Has some exposed stitches
WTB claims this is their best selling saddle, and we are not surprised. With an MSRP of $40, it is a great buy. The WTB Speed Comp
is standard equipment on many new bikes as OE equipment. It offers a classic shape, with a slight rise at the tail and an anatomical groove to relieve pressure on sensitive areas. Our testers found it to provide a high level of comfort, and its middle-of-the-road dimensions fit nearly everyone. It is versatile and at home on virtually any type of bike. The synthetic cover is durable, and a tough rubberized scuff guard at the rear of the saddle further enhances longevity. It may not win over the gram counters at 362g, but you will be hard-pressed to find a better saddle in this price range. Many saddles in this price range lack durability and quality, but the Speed V bucks that trend. If you are looking to replace a worn out saddle or replace your stock seat with something more comfortable, the Speed is an excellent, affordable option. It also comes in Pro, ProGel, and Team versions, so you can choose the model that suits your needs.
Read review: WTB Speed Comp
Top Pick for Road Biking
Should last a long time
Narrowly missing out on the Editors' Choice Award, the Fabric Scoop
received our highest ranking for performance and was also the lightest saddle in our review, at 176g. Fitting a broad range of riders, it lacks the versatility of the Phenom, but it is an excellent choice for road racing and works for mountain biking and cyclocross. The Scoop does not have a full cutout, but it does have a shallow pressure relief channel at the tail of the saddle which gets the job done when down in the drops. The overall construction of the Scoop is flawless. Its attributes favor the rider whose greatest concerns are performance and light weight but is also competitive when it comes to comfort. If you are looking for a high-performance race saddle for your road bike, the Scoop should be at the top of your list.
Read review: Fabric Scoop
Top Pick for Mountain Biking
Fizik Monte Manganese
Great price for its performance
The Fizik Monte Manganese
won our Top Pick for Mountain Biking because of its durability and competitive price, but as of March 2017, Fizik has discontinued this model, replacing it with the Monte S-Alloy
. The Monte Manganese is still available from many retailers though, so if it fits your needs, we can help you find it. Designed for enduro racing, it makes some concessions when it comes to weight, increasing durability instead. The replacement Monte S-Alloy maintains many of the same features, including the 250g weight, with a slightly higher price. These saddles are comfortable with excellent power transfer, and we identified the Manganese as a true mountain biking saddle that won't break the bank.
Read review: Fizik Monte Manganese
Analysis and Test Results
After researching the market options, we purchased the best rated and most popular saddles out there for our expert testers to put through the grind on commutes, road races, and mountain bike trails. Each model was mounted on various bikes and tested by multiple riders to gain a consensus of experiences. We also analyzed the construction and design of these products to better understand performance and longevity. Each model was scored across five separate and unique test metrics, namely, Comfort, Performance, Versatility, Durability, and Weight, each weighted according to its importance. Below, we dive into each metric, explaining why we consider them key aspects of saddles and highlighting the top achievers in every category.
Let's face it; comfort is far and away the most important attribute. If you cannot spend a reasonable amount of time on a saddle in comfort, its weight and durability are of little consequence. While a bike saddle's comfort can be somewhat subjective and variable from person to person, we sought out a consensus amongst our testers. The Specialized Phenom and Fabric Scoop scored highest, followed by the Fizik Aliante
, and the Specialized Power Expert
. The Phenom features a full anatomical cut-out, which eliminates numbness. It also has sufficient padding to remain comfortable for tens of miles, plus flexible saddle edges that conform to the bottom of the rider. The Scoop's design approach to comfort differs from the Phenom but also arrives on top in this metric. Minimal and dense padding distributes the load on the saddle, reducing pressure. We didn't bounce around on this seat, and we like the upward flare at the back.
We expected higher marks from some of the comfort-oriented bike saddles with thicker padding, but we found the additional padding to cause greater friction and ultimately discomfort on all but the shortest of rides. The Brooks England B-17 surprised us with its high level of comfort
achieved using tensioned leather and no padding. But, it could not quite compare to some of the modern shapes and materials used by Specialized, Fizik, and Fabric.
The Fabric Scoop Flat Pro wins our Top Pick Award for Road Saddles.
The level of performance a bike saddle can offer is largely dependent on its shape, padding and shell stiffness. A high-performance saddle must provide a platform from which the rider can achieve an optimal position to apply power to the pedals. The right balance of padding and firmness must be achieved. Too much padding and energy will be wasted through the pedal stroke, too little and the saddle will not offer enough comfort for extended use. The shape of the saddle also impacts performance.
The Specialized Phenom Expert is the winner of our Editors' Choice Award. As the favorite among our testers, it was taken on many adventures.
Traditional thinking would be that a relatively flat saddle with a long nose offers the best power transfer. New saddles such as the Specialized Power buck that trend, with a short chopped nose, wider tail, and a deep cutout. The Fizik Antares
and the Specialized Power Expert
scored highest with drastically differing designs.
The Fizik Antares has a unique shape that allows for easy movement when seated.
The Specialized Phenom and the Fabric Scoop followed them closely. The Phenom and Antares are both firm with a flat profile, and with a long, wide nose to provide optimum position for power transfer to a wide variety of body types. The Specialized Power also has a flat overall shape but has a dramatically short nose and deep cutout to provide greater comfort when the rider is in a low aggressive position.
Specialized Power Expert
Many cyclists own multiple bikes and participate in several cycling disciplines. In a perfect world, we would use the same saddle on every bike, eliminating the need to acclimate to a new saddle when we swap the road bike for a mountain bike. The more versatile a saddle is, the more likely you will be happy using it for multiple disciplines.
Selle SMP Extra headed out for testing on a rainy day.
The Fizik Monte Manganese works well for cyclocross and gravel riding use.
We found the Specialized Phenom and the Fabric Scoop to be the most versatile saddles in the test group. Both offer excellent power transfer and comfort, in both a forward performance road racing position and a more upright mountain bike position. Our testers also love both on the cyclocross bike, but generally we would not choose a saddle with a cutout for cyclocross due to mud slinging issues. (A well-placed piece of tape on the underside of the saddle cured this issue.) The Fizik Aliante
and the Fizik Antares
were also found to be very versatile by our testers — comfortable and well suited to road, mountain, and cyclocross.
Our testers put the review saddles through the wringer. The contenders were tested in some of the worst conditions possible. Dirt, mud, rain, and snow — you name it, we rode in it. The saddles baked in the sun on the roofs of our cars and made accidental contact with the pavement and trail more than a few times and we did not manage to break the rails or shells on any of our test saddles. The differences in durability we encountered were primarily related to the cover material. The Specialized Phenom achieved our highest accolades for durability. It utilizes a very durable synthetic cover material Specialized calls Micromatrix. The only issue we had with Phenom was related to dirt build up in the micro-perforated cover, but this can be remedied with a soft brush when washing.
The plastic shell on the Phenom extends past the cover at the rear of the saddle to protect the most vulnerable points from abrasion in the event of a crash or accidental drop. The Monte is another standout for durability with tough manganese rails and Cordura scuff guards to ward of abrasion and tears.
The Fizik Monte Manganese features cordura scuff guards to enhance durability.
All of the Fizik Saddles use a Microtex cover and received high marks. The Fizik Arione was given slightly lower marks than the other Fizik Saddles in the review due to increased wear on exposed seams. The Wilderness Trail Bikes saddles all use a similar synthetic cover that we found to be quite tough and resistant to abrasion, landing them a close second to the top offerings from Fizik.
For racers, overall bike weight makes a big difference. A few hundred grams on a climb can be the difference between first and second. For the rest of us, weight can affect handling, as well as our motivation at the end of a long day in the saddle as we face that final climb. All of our test saddles were weighed in-house; some came out under manufacturer claimed weight and some over. As a rule of thumb, as the weight of a saddle goes down, the price goes up. The lightest saddle in our test group was the Fabric Scoop
, weighing in at a paltry 176g.
The Romin weighs in at an impressive 232g despite the steel rails.
This is impressively low weight is achieved by using carbon rails. It is possible to drop even more weight from other saddles we tested by selecting the carbon rail version. The Phenom, for example, is available with carbon rails and shell in the S-Works version boasting a manufacturer's claimed weight of 153g. Also coming in on the low end of the weight spectrum is the Selle Italia Flite Gel Flow Saddle at 229g
. On the other end of the spectrum, the Serfas E-Gel Cruiser Saddle came in at 774g. It is important to keep in mind, however, that the intended use of the Serfas saddle is not racing, its design is focused on comfort for short, non-aggressive rides, and thus makes concessions in the area of weight. Each rider must balance the importance of weight with comfort, cost, and intended use.
Saddlebags are a great place to carry spare tubes and flat repair kits. We recommend the Fizik ICS Saddle PA:K
and the Planet Bike Big Buddy
. Specialized also makes saddlebags as part of their SWAT (Storage Water Air Tools) line. The Specialized Mountain Bandit
would be a nice addition to the Phenom Expert saddle.
Selecting a saddle for your bicycle can be a daunting process. The range of saddle styles and intended design is vast and confusing. We have taken 17 of the best, most popular saddles available and tested them head to head on multiple bikes and in a broad range of conditions. We hope that our hard earned knowledge can help guide you to the perfect saddle for your needs. For all the details on every saddle we tested, see the full product reviews, and check out our Buying Advice
article for a step-by-step selection process.