We’ll admit it. When we first saw these things, we shook our heads… bib knicks with pockets? It just seemed, well, like a product that we didn’t really need.
We’ve changed our minds, completely and utterly. The new Specialized SWAT (Storage, Water, Air, Tools) bibs work very, very well and we’re huge fans.
Like a lot of riders, we love riding without a pack when possible. On shorter rides, the comfort and feeling of freedom that comes from riding without a bag on your back is unreal – lighter, cooler, faster and more manoeuvrable.
We also prefer the feel and look of looser fitting jerseys and baggy trail shorts for most of our riding too. Unfortunately, most loose-fitting jerseys don’t have any pockets (and even if they do, they sag and flap around if you use them) and putting bulky items in your shorts pockets can make pedalling awkward.
This leaves you with the problem of your spares and food. Do you strap your tube, pump and multitool to your bike? Do you leave them behind and risk a mechanical? Or stick them in your pockets so your shorts and jersey sag all over the show?
OR, do you get a set of Specialized SWAT bibs?
The whole idea of these bibs is that you can ride without a pack while still carrying your spares and food in a way that keeps them secure and close to your body so they don’t flap around. There’s a pocket on each leg, and then three pockets across the middle of your back.
We’ve taken to keeping our phone in one leg pocket, a small multitool and car key in the other, then a tube, CO2 canister/head and some food in the three pockets across our back. Combine this with a 750mL bottle in your bottle cage on the bike and you’ve got everything you need for a couple of hours on the trails.
If your bike doesn’t have a bottle cage, then Specialized suggests that you use the pocket in middle of your back for a water bottle. We don’t like that idea. Do you really want a massive water bottle sticking out under your jersey like the hunchback of Notre Dame?
In practice, this is a very comfortable and practical way of carrying your stuff. Everthing is secure, close to your body, and remarkably unobtrusive. We didn’t notice the food/tube/canister in the pockets on our back at all. Admittedly, we don’t like the idea of crashing with all those spares strapped so close to our body, so try to keep it upright! Importantly, the chamois is good too, definitely up to scratch for a few hours in the saddle.
We can understand why some people are dubious about these things, but if you’re the target rider (ie. wears baggy clothes, has a bike with a bottle mount and likes to ride pack-free) then these bibs are just unreal.