The more you test a product the more you start to create a mental checklist of elements you would add to your ideal version of that product. Ever since our first ride with the SpeedFil A2 we have been crafting a list of all of the elements that would make up our perfect BTA hydration solution. First, it would have to be horizontal and would have to be designed to be as aero as possible. The computer would need to be easily read by almost any rider and the straw should be able to be hidden out of the way when not in use. Finally, we want a bottle that leaks as little as possible.
In June we took our first look at a product that could possibly check every box on the list—the XLAB Torpedo System. It uses a custom-designed bottle in a horizontal orientation, the straw includes a bite valve and can be tucked out of the way when not in use, and finally, the computer is mounted up front. But a product is always so much more than a series of checkboxes – what really matters is just how useable it is on the bike. So a few weeks ago we strapped the Torpedo System 100 to our test bike and started using it (as a side note we actually have both the 100 and 400 but decided to start the review with the more affordable 100).
The Torpedo System
The XLAB Torpedo System is really three products being packaged into a single consolidated system. First up is the XLAB Torpedo mount and cage (a Torpedo cage in the 400 and a VEE cage for the 100). We reviewed the Torpedo Mount a few months ago and came away impressed. It was easy to setup, easy to use, and never launched a bottle. In fact, we chose this setup for a number of races this past season.
Upfront XLAB includes its Aero Computer Mount. The computer mount connects easily to the Torpedo mount and provides an effective means of viewing the computer for almost any rider.
Finally, XLAB has crafted their own BTA bottle. The bottle is a 26oz design that features a Kamm tail at the rear. On top you can choose to use either a solid or slotted lid depending on your needs. The top also features a “dolphin tail” to keep the straw out of the way.
So the question is…does it all work together? Is the sum of its parts greater than even the individual pieces? Is this the finished product that we have been waiting for?
A Complete System
Let’s start off with the most important question first – does it work? The short answer is that in 300 miles of riding we can already tell you that this is the most complete system that we have ridden to date. It really does check off every box we had on our “must-have” list. The bottle is extremely easy to drink from, refill, and ride with. At the same time, because the computer is mounted out front, it is extremely easy to read and interact with. In many ways it feels like XLAB has read our wish list in previous posts and put this product together just for the AeroGeeks.
Take for example the straw. XLAB wisely included a bite valve which makes grabbing fluid from the bottle that much easier. Next up is the dolphin tail that holds the straw out of the way until you are ready to hydrate. The first time we rode with it, we found tucking the straw to be a bit of a challenge, but by our second ride we had no problem what-so-ever.
Like a few other manufacturers, XLAB includes both a solid and slotted lid. What surprised us is that the lid is quite a bit smaller than other products in what we assume is an attempt to minimize splash back in the slotted configuration. Unfortunately we still did end up experiencing a bit of splash back with this lid. While it was not so much that we worried about losing significant amounts of liquid, it was enough that we wanted to clean the front of the bike a bit between rides. However, we did find almost no splash back with the solid lid design, which has become our go-to lid on any ride where we know we will not need to refill.
But we know that a “complete” system is not necessarily a finished system, which is our one significant criticism of this product. It just does not feel polished. All three parts of the system still feel as though they’re original parts—not components of a truly finished, complete system. Most visibly, the computer seems to hang off the front without feeling like it’s integrated into the system as a whole (something which XLAB acknowledges and has already let us know will be addressed in 2014 with a complete redesign of the Aero Computer Mount).
Fortunately triathletes are not a group known for always needing a fully polished product. We love to tape gels to our top tubes and zip tie cages to our saddles. We are perfectly happy making the products work for us regardless of how “clean” they look. One of our favorite elements of the Torpedo system is that XLAB includes two small foam patches. At first we had no idea what those patches were for. But on our first ride we noticed we could hear the torpedo mount clicking against the stem over bumps in the road, which is when we realized the purpose of those pads – to cushion the mount against the stem. It’s not the most elegant solution to the problem, but it’s a solution that definitely works and is easy to replace if needed.
XLAB has very much set a new bar for hydration products with the Torpedo System, but until we test it all the way through we won’t know how just high they’ve set that bar. To date, we have concentrated the majority of our testing on the 100. Now it’s time to step up our game to the 400 and see what carbon fiber brings to the party. Is it just a weight savings? Or does the original Torpedo cage bring any additional benefits to the Torpedo System?
Based on our last review of a BTA product (the Aero HC), we suspect many of you may have specific questions in regard to the Torpedo System. Make sure to start sending them in so we can add them to our test plan and include answers in our final thoughts column. Until then, make sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter to catch up with the latest on this review and the others we have in the queue.