Thursday, June 13, 2013

@KarbonSpeed SpeedPac bike hydration system review

Where do you stuff your hydration on the bike? There are hydration belts, which most triathletes are going to use on the run, and not the bike. There are the single and double seat-post mounts. There are the frame mounted cages that hold one or two bottles depending on the frame size and geometry. And then you have the SpeedFil setups that replace the frame mounted cages or bottle systems with drinking tubes that snake to the cockpit area. The latest is the aero bar bottle mount system.

You can go with the regular bottle on the mount and you could also go with a bottle/drinking tube setup as well. Basically there are enough choices and setups out there that long course triathletes have no reason to come out of aero except to dismount or stretch and aching back. It’s a beautiful thing.

For your consideration, Karbon Speed has built a bar mount system for triathlon bikes. They shipped us their SpeedPac system and we tested it out. Read on below to find out what we found out about the SpeedPac.

Packaging / Appeal / Marketing - 3 out of 5 bike pumps

When we received the SpeedPac, it was in your standard postal box and sealed in a heavy duty zip-lock bag. It was well protected from damage in shipping, but this particular unit did not come with what one might expect to see with products hanging on the peg boards at the local bike shop. It's an exercise in minimalism that KS can hopefully keep costs down while supplying quality products and not dump overhead funds into shiny wrappers.

Form / Construction - 4 out of 5 bike pumps

The FXR plate and Kage is made from KS's line of flax carbon products. What may look like defects in the surface are actually natural forming patterns due to the nature of the flax carbon. Read HERE for more information about the flax carbon line.

Through the installation and testing phase of this review, we've torqued and wrenched on the SpeedPac system and it's still not broke, despite our best efforts. It takes a good amount of abuse and use without needing special handling. Now, we haven't gone after the SpeedPac with intent to apply the maximum torque, compression and tension to find the breaking point. Destructive testing isn't our bag. Through 4 weeks of riding and usage, the SpeedPac is still as strong as when it arrived in the mail.

The design is simple and straight forward. There's no reason to make a front bottle mount system over complicated. It comes with a bracket, 4 Velcro straps and and bottle cage. It takes 2 minutes to install as long as you don't need to reconfigure computer mounts or other cockpit items. There are no zip ties and the only tool you will need is an allen wrench for the cage screws (don't forget to tighten the cage screws! We learned that lesson too late that we will visit later). Simply cinch it down on the bars, tighten two screws and throw on a water bottle and you're out! Fashion / Appearance - 4 out of 5 bike pumps

Right now, black is in. The SpeedPac is all black and has white lettering. Black pretty much goes with anything, but if time moves on and the SpeedPac is successful, maybe they'll venture into other colors. The design is minimalist, functional and sleek. It looks fast and gives you the impression that you can shave seconds off your bike while using this hydration system.

You will have an occasion when you look at the flax carbon and wonder if the finish is fading or scratched. That’s just the nature of flax carbon. It’s not a defect, just the way the product looks. Don’t be discouraged if you’re riding a tempo ride and look down and wonder what’s going on with the finish.

Fit / Function - 5 out of 5 bike pumps

We have ridden the snot out of the SpeedPac. Ok, maybe just the snot out of us on sprints, intervals, hills, tempo rides and long rides. We tried it with regular water bottles and the SpeedFill A2 water bottle system.

One ride descending at 35+ mph onto a bridge found the SpeedPac ejecting the standard water bottle when we hit the transition from the road to the bridge joint. It was around a half inch rise that was enough to jostle the water bottle from the cage. The bottle wasn't held in place with anything other than the friction of the bottle cage. Luckily, the bottle was spared a certain demise by stopping just short of going over the side of the bridge for a 20 foot drop. Be aware, bottles are more at risk to ejections over bumps.

Another item of note, make sure to tighten the cage screws to the FXR plate before heading out. Check them often. We made the mistake of not checking before the maiden voyage which resulted in the lose of a screw. We replaced it with a screw from the tool box and we were good to go. The vibrations resonating through the bike to the SpeedPac is substantial enough to unscrew a loose screw.

One issue is the mess that can be made from having a water bottle sitting on its side, while being vibrated to kingdom come on training rides and races. It's not a real fault of the SpeedPac, but more a fault with the water bottle. If you're like most triathletes, you undoubtedly have an army of water bottles either store bought or goodie bag earned. Through use, washing and more washing, these bottles get a little loose and the nozzles don't seal like they used to. If you're using anything with a powder or sports drink in the SpeedPac, be ready for a little leakage on the mount, handle bars and bike. That's why we switched to the SpeedFil A2 system that eliminates the nozzle from the equation. Leaking bottles were no longer an issue and the SpeedPac worked great. Notice that Karbon Speed offers a SpeedPac system with an A2 includes for a bundled price. For this review, we bought our own A2.

When not using a bottle like the A2, a regular bottle will work fine. Reaching for a bottle mounted on the bars is a lot more convenient that reaching for a seatpost holder or between your legs for a bottle on the frame. There’s no need for getting too far out of normal riding position and no torquing reaching for the bottles. If you do use regular water bottles only, one suggestion would be to buy cheap Velcro strapping and cinch the bottle on to secure it to the bike and enable one handed retrieval of hydration bottles. But, it feels more safe using a bar mounted bottle system.

The SpeedPac strap system also allows for the adjustment of the placement so you can move it up or down on the aero bars to your liking. If you’re like a number of long course triathletes, you’re bike cockpit is probably getting a little full and anything you can do for flexibility, the better.

Cost - 4 out of 5 bike pumps

When you break it down price wise, you have to consider the individual pieces and the package as a whole.
  • KS Kage - $34.00
  • KS FXR - $32.95
  • KS SpeedPac - $58.45
  • KS Super SpeedPac - $112.55 Use code "MVT" for 10% off for the readers of this review!
  • Comparable XLAB plate - $34.99
  • General Carbon Bottle Cage - $40.00
  • SpeedFil A2 - $48.99
  • Total buying separate without tax and shipping is around $124.00.

There’s a chance to find a more competitive pricing for comparables, but overall Karbon Speed is the same or better on price. You won’t be winning by a large margin on price, but you will get the same quality at least for a little less than the contenders.

Final thoughts

Before the SpeedPac came our way, we didn’t really consider the aero bar bottle holder setup. Using other hydration systems and double bottle holders on the seatpost served us well. Now that we have tested it out, this reviewer is leaving as a permanent installation on our tri bike. It’s convenient when paired with the A2 or similar bottle setup with a drinking tube to allow hands free drinking in aero. This also solves the issue of leaky bottle nozzles. It works the same with regular water bottles and offers more safety in reaching for a bottle without having to turn your body for the rear or reaching between your legs. The only real issue is the flax carbon appearance. It’s not what you think would be normal for anything labeled as carbon fiber. It’s not unattractive, but it is a little different than the industry standard.

Karbon Speed SpeedPac has it’s place with the best bar mounted hydration systems on the market. It’s priced right to compete and buyers won’t be disappointed.


* Writer's note - Karbon Speed supplied a SpeedPac for this review. In no way did they influence this review. Use code “MVT” for 10% off Karbon Speed products.
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