Product Feature: Specialized SWAT Storage Solution

For one reason or another, an increasing number of riders are seeking ways to leave their hydration packs at home and pedal during their rides in a minimalistic nature. There’s something about the liberating feeling of riding without a pack that is appealing to many, but there are also numerous other benefits to ditching the pack. Specialized has developed its SWAT (Storage, Water, Air, Tools) technology to incorporate all the riding essentials in a package that is free of a hydration pack. Does it really cover all the bases, or are riders left wondering why they left their hydration packs in the garage?

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Ready to race: The Specialized MTB XC kit retails for $150 and includes two Zee Cage II bottle cages, the Top Cap chain tool, EMT cage mount tool, SWAT box, an EMT tire lever, CO2 head and Turbo 29er tube.

FREE UP YOUR PACK

Specialized’s SWAT technology gives riders another way to carry their gear and also offers other, possibly overlooked benefits. First of all, freeing your back of a hydration pack provides a less cumbersome experience. There isn’t a hydration pack to snag on a fallen tree as you crouch down low to ride under it. While a variety of straps ensure hydration packs don’t flop around on your back, they still create increased leverage when rotating your body from side to side.

Second, SWAT eliminates the need to deal with the two main problems created by hydration packs. One is that we often find ourselves trusting how much water is in our pack or using stagnant two-week-old water because we don’t want to hassle with exchanging it for fresh water. Also, since bladders can be hard to clean, it’s not a good idea to carry a sports drink in a hydration pack. Even after just filling them with water, the endlessly wet nature of a bladder often leads to a slimy buildup after only a few weeks. Using bottles remedies both of these issues.

Third, for those with incessant back pains, the SWAT technology minimizes the amount of weight on your back by carrying nearly the same amount of gear without the added weight of a large storage compartment and shoulder/chest/hip straps. None of us here at Mountain Bike Action are doctors, but one of our testers injured his back two years ago and has been battling with hydration packs ever since. Keeping the gear weight to a minimum and being more conscious of carrying water on the bike frame, SWAT technology has completely removed back pain from his riding experience. There’s something big to be said about that!

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ON-BIKE STORAGE

There are a variety of SWAT setups riders may choose from, and all of them cater to specific riding needs. It’ll require examining everything from your style of riding to how long your rides last. When most people think of Specialized SWAT, they picture the black plastic box attached to a water bottle cage in the main frame of a bike. While the SWAT Box is surely a viable option, its application is limited to the Epic, Stumpjumper and Fatboy families of Specialized bikes. Furthermore, in our experience, the SWAT Box adds noise to the riding experience, regardless of how well we pack it. It’s an interesting idea, but we believe there are better ways of carrying all necessary gear using the SWAT technology.

The EMT Cage mount tool ($45 retail) is an excellent solution for carrying a multi-tool without having the weight of it on your back. Not only is its location favorable for weight distribution, but it also puts the tool in an area where you’re more likely to use it. No more leaving your saddle too low because it seems too time-consuming to remove your hydration pack and access a multi-tool. There is one caveat to using the EMT Cage mount tool, though; it doesn’t include a chain tool.

Specialized took this into consideration and offers the Top Cap chain tool ($35 retail) that hides in the steer tube of your fork until you break your chain trying to put yourself into beast mode on a climb and need to remove a link. The Top Cap chain tool also holds quick links (not included) for simple fixes on the trail. Once it’s all installed on the bike, it’s an excellent system that allows you to have everything you need without even noticing where the gear is attached; however, the downside of the system is its inability to be easily transferred from one bike to the next. For riders with a quiver of bikes, this can be a deal-breaker right off the bat.

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Fully functional: The extended depths and unattached bottoms of the pockets are able to hold longer items (mini pumps) without bunching up or poking the rider’s back while in the saddle.

OUR FAVORITE SETUP

Our testers all have more than one bike, so we’ve experimented with every possible setup to find a method that puts all the gear on the rider, using SWAT-equipped apparel, rather than on the bike. In the end, our favorite storage solution was, without a doubt, the Mountain Bib Liner with SWAT ($90 retail), which also happens to be the most affordable option. With five pockets integrated into two regions of the bib, we were able to place our gear in areas that maximized weight distribution and use of space. One pocket halfway down the thigh of each leg enabled us to carry a multi-tool (with a chain tool) in one, while we carried tire levers and a snack bar in the other. We typically go for the reliability of hand pumps and had no problem fitting a small one into one of the outer pockets in the lower back section of the bib. For those who prefer CO2 inflators, there would be plenty of additional room in the pocket for an extra snack bar. The other outer pocket provided ample room to carry a spare tube and our cell phone. It’s important to always carry a bottle on the frame while using SWAT, but we also used the middle pocket on the bib to carry an extra water bottle on any ride longer than an hour. Not a fan of bibs? Specialized also offers a liner ($65 retail) and vest ($60 retail) combo that provides the same storage capacities, although we must note our gear did move around a bit more when using this method.

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ARE HYDRATION PACKS EXTINCT?

Absolutely not! There are countless situations where a hydration pack is far more practical. The remoteness and length of a ride are both key factors in determining whether or not it’s best to grab the pack. If you’re embarking on a 30-mile loop that puts you out in the middle of nowhere, you’ll probably want to carry more gear in case of emergencies or unexpected changes in weather. Nobody wants to be left out in the rain without a shell or injured in the middle of nowhere without a first-aid kit. Extended rides often require more than a bottle or two of water, as well as additional tools and parts, such as a derailleur hanger.

Furthermore, many riders have grown accustom to wearing a hydration pack and simply feel most comfortable having one on. The garage of a mountain biker isn’t complete without a hydration pack hanging from the handlebar of his or her trailbike, but Specialized’s SWAT certainly enables a more liberating experience for shorter rides

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