We’re not alone in our quest to ditch the hydration pack in exchange for freedom to move on the bike. It turns out there is a sizable contingent of riders at Specialized that feel similarly, enough to develop a few solutions of their own. After chatting with Sean Estes, marketing man at the house of S on the subject, he sent a few of their ride carry solutions over for us to try out and review.
I was expecting the bib short with their unique solution to rear pockets while wearing an over short. In addition to the bib, I also found he included what has to be the most useful top cap I’ve ever seen and a bottle cage with an integrated multi-tool.
SWAT stands for storage, water, air and tools. When I had first read the press releases on the SWAT system, I was somehow under the impression the items wouldn’t play well with other bike models. Admittedly, I didn’t look very closely at the items other than the bib short. That said, the chain tool and bottle cage should fit most standard frames without any issues, provided your frame has the space for it.
SWAT Top Cap Chain Tool
The Top Cap Tool kind of blew my mind. Though the small size and ergonomics put it into the “hope to only use it in the case of an emergency” category, this thing was created by someone that was quite clever. It only adds 25 grams of weight over a typical top cap, and should be compatible with any chain you’d be running on a typical trail bike.
To install it you’ll need to move your star fangled nut to a lower position to make room for the tool in your fork’s steerer. I didn’t realize it, but the version I received was actually the carbon version, as it included an expander plug for a carbon steer tube. (as opposed to the setting tool the alloy version comes packaged with) I haven’t gotten around to picking up a star nut setting tool, but a punch with carefully placed strikes did the job acceptably.
The best part of the tool is how it has a spot for storing master links. I started running the KMC 10 CR Missing Link a while back and having a spot to stash a spare on the bike is brilliant.
(Specialized isn’t the first manufacturer to produce a tool that can be stored in a headtube. Cannondale also makes one that is a more complete multi-tool. However, it only works with oversized steerer tubes.)
Specialized Zee Water Bottle Cage II with Tool
He had also included their Zee Cage II. I’m generally not a fan of plastic cages due to bad experiences with them not being able to retain bottles, but it hasn’t been an issue with Zee Cage. It’s a reinforced composite that has been doing the job well; unfortunately I’ve had the opportunity to test how well it holds my bottle on an off the bike excursion. It passed the test with no qualms. (My Endura shorts did not though, as I lost a pump from my rear pocket in the incident, still need to determine a better carry than a rear pocket here)
It features a side loading design, a nice feature that takes into account limited space on many full suspension designs. (assuming they can accept a cage at all) Running the biggest bottle I can squeeze into my frame has been an integral part of leaving my hydration pack at home. Zee Cage is offered in a left hand or right hand option.
The cage features an integrated mount on the bottom for their mini EMT multi-tool. The tool is small, minimal and lightweight and slides into a slotted holder.
The tool features a 3mm, 4mm, 5mm, 6mm, 8mm and T25 head in addition to a flat screw driver head. I wasn’t sure the tool would stay put, but it appears to be retaining it without issues, even after banging through the long (and fun) rocky descent of Tahoe’s Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. (and the crash mentioned above) It doesn’t make any noise either.
The cage also accepts Specialized’s XC storage box kit, which probably wouldn’t fit my trail bike- a Santa Cruz Bronson. I use a strap to bundle a tube to my seat rails anyway.
Mountain Bib Liner with SWAT
Since I’ve made the decision to leave my pack at home and carry my essentials on my bike and person, I’ve been wearing road specific jerseys in order to take advantage of their extra cargo capacity. (along with shorts that feature secure pockets) There’s obviously a fashion downside to this strategy: your top half looks like a roadie. Looser fitting MTB style jerseys with zipper rear pockets don’t work well either— carrying stuff in them, while secure, often throws off the fit of the jersey, as the weight pulls the front of the jersey up towards your chin.
The Mountain Bib Liner with the SWAT features mean you can stow your gear in your base layer and no longer have your backside resemble a stuffed sausage. Bless you SWAT team.
The SWAT Mountain Bib with the integrated rear pockets isn’t a new concept; I also have a Giro New Road Bib short that features integrated rear pockets in my rotation. Getting to the point, having rear pockets on a base layer is awesome.
Without a pack, finding storage for trail riding essentials becomes a bit challenging. As mentioned, the best part of these bibs is not having to run a road-specific three pocket jersey in order to carry a few basics. The SWAT bib however, features an extremely unique approach to the construction of the rear pockets. The bottom of the pockets are constructed separate of the bib, letting your stuff hang outside of your over shorts. Because the pockets are part of a base layer as opposed to an outer layer, your cargo doesn’t bounce around, and everything sits in snugly.
The construction of the rear pockets is a big upgrade from the New Road bib in terms of gear storage. In addition to the three rear pockets, the bib also features two small pockets on the thighs suitable for gels or small items. I haven’t really been using them much though, as I prefer to use my rear short pockets for energy food storage. I like my short with pockets, thank very much. (preferably with zippers as I’m getting sick of having stuff fall out)
I’ll get straight to the downside of this bib though: it’s a huge pain in the ass to take a pee. I’m hoping these things take off, because it could really use the addition of some sort of pee flap in a follow up iteration, as taking a wiz in the woods has required taking off my jersey/ top layers and getting half naked to whip it out.
On the bright side, you’re looking good until you run off to find a bushy spot on the side of the trail to do your thing, as a relaxed fit trail jersey covers the rear pockets and depending on the fit of your top, often one can’t even tell you’re carrying gear in the small of your back. I get to dress like my old self and even wear my gravity kits again without carrying a huge back pack for legit rides.
I’ve taken to running a Hydrapak SoftFlask water bottle as my second bottle, and having the additional hydration storage means I can do longer rides again without resorting to my pack. I’ll be featuring the bottle in a follow up post, but it fits the middle pocket on the bib well, and has been a great solution to having adequate hydration for rides.
The bib runs on the snug side, and was constrictive in the thighs. I’m usually a small medium for shorts and pants, (I typically wear a size 32-32 jean, weigh 163lbs. at 5’10”) and the bib feels like it runs a bit small, and would in hindsight, would size up to a large.
Although the bib is made of a polyester based mesh material that is designed to wick moisture, it still was a bit warm. I was a bit sweaty after a bit of riding, though not as warm as I would have been with a pack. The lightweight construction of the bib helps it breathe, but it’s not intended to be durable at all, as I found out first hand, during my off the bike excursion mentioned previously. That incident that left a hole in the right rear pocket, which forced me to move a number of items to my short pockets for the remainder of the ride.
The hole in the bib was easily repaired by a local seamstress, but she took a bit of a short cut, and instead of adding a patch, she stitched the pocket in a a way to rounded off the bottom, and decreasing the amount of space I have to stow stuff. Oops— I should have been a lot more specific in how I wanted that repair handled.
The fit on the Bib could use a bit of tweaking, and the addition of a pee-hole would go a long way to making a great idea even better. I’d have to agree with the thoughts of other reviewers on the color of the chamois as well— while the neon green looks ok new, a few month of use and this thing could look a bit on the yucky side.
In regards to chamois comfort, it’s inline with other liner shorts I own. With a retail price of $88, its a relatively inexpensive bib with a lot of value for the dollar. If you’re planning to do a seriously long epic ride into wilderness you might want to choose a different pair for the day.
Plus you’d probably want to bring that pack in order to be adequately prepared, so it’s a wash.
I’m looking forward to getting a lot more ride time in with the gear, and am psyched to know I’m not alone in my quest for freedom from the pack.
I’m also finding myself intrigued by their Mountain Vest with Swat ,($62.00) since wearing a bib short two days in a row could be icky.