Swift Zeitgeist Review: Saddle and Handlebar Bag
The updated 2020 Swift Zeitgeist saddlebag/handlebar bag was announced a couple months ago. Prior to its release, we had the chance to put a lot of hard miles on a prototype model, provide feedback, and ultimately help make improvements to the final design. Here’s the full review…
When we review bags, bikes, shoes, or any other product, we like to properly put them through their paces. Most of our bike reviews involve several hundred—and often 1,000+ miles—of use and we especially like to show bikepacking bags their fair share of abuse before putting pen to paper. So, when Swift sent us a near-finalized prototype of their updated Zeitgeist saddlebag to try during our long, rugged, and bumpy trip in Colombia, we jumped at the opportunity. Along the way, we uncovered a unique issue with the Zeitgeist’s strap attachment system and passed along our feedback. Swift quickly corrected the problem prior to final production and sent us the revamped bag to try out.
2020 Swift Zeitgeist Redesign
Since we already have a review of the older Zeitgeist saddlebag on the site, let’s dig in to how the new version was redesigned. First things first, you’ll note that the Zeitgeist is now called a “Saddle and Handlebar Bag.” Reason being, with a new mounting system focused on the handlebars, it’s not just a saddlebag anymore. Here are all the details on that system and everything else that’s changed, along with our impressions after using it.
New handlebar attachment system
The most significant update to the new Swift Zeitgeist is its handlebar mounting system. Traditionally, saddlebags such as Carradice Long Flap, Bags X Bird Goldback, and the original Zeitgeist all use two sets of strap slots spaced for saddle loops that go through the back of the bag. Straps are inserted through the bag, then loop around an internal dowel, and then exit the bag to connect. This pulls the dowel toward the saddle loops, keeping the bag stable and attached. Saddlebags have been using this tried and true method for decades, so it’s interesting to see Swift introduce a unique alternative. The main purpose of this new mounting system is to make it work better (and easier) when mounted on the handlebars.
In lieu of the slotted holes and dowel, the new Zeitgeist uses a 305 x 15 x 4mm (12 x 0.59 x 0.16″) fiberglass batten (strut) that’s mounted to the outside of the bag within a stitched sheath made of die-cut hypalon, a tough, leather-like fabric commonly used for high-wear areas on bikepacking bags. The external batten completely eliminates the strap slots and dowel, and keeps the bag stable. It also allows the included Voilé straps to simply thread behind the batten via the die-cut slots on the hypalon sheath and then pass through saddle loops or around a handlebar. The beauty of this design is that there’s no longer a need to fish straps through holes in the bag. Instead, it’s just a matter of sliding the straps behind the batten and quickly attaching them to the bars. This makes for a simple attachment method that’s undoubtedly quicker and easier than any other strap system I’ve used on a handlebar bag.
Swift includes two 1/2″ wide Voilé Nano straps, but I might recommend using some trimmed down larger 3/4″ Voilés if you pack heavy or are heading out on a longer trip. That said, we used the 3/4″ straps in Colombia, but I’ve also put quite a few rides in with the Nanos and haven’t had any issues. I also used a couple of foam spacer blocks to move the bag away from the bars and allow more hand positions.
Each of the mounting point slots are about 1″ (2.5cm) wide and the attachment system includes two pairs. The inner two are spaced about 3.75″ (9.5cmn) apart and match the standard spacing of integrated saddle loops, which also happens to be the ideal spacing for mountain bike handlebars. The wider pair is spaced 9.5″ (24cm) apart and is meant for use on wider drop bars or flat handlebars.
At this point, you might be wondering about the problem with the Zeitgeist prototype that we took to Colombia. That particular bag (shown above) was constructed with an unfinished version of the fiberglass batten. The edges and ends of it were unsanded and squared off, and since fiberglass is essentially glass, a highly abrasive material, the extended rough vibrations we experienced day after day during the trip led to the edges of the batten literally sawing through the ends of the hypalon sheath. Had we used the outer strap placement points on the system, perhaps there would have been less movement in that area and this may not have occurred at all. However, we were fortunate enough to discover this issue and pass it along to Swift. Even so, we put a couple hundred miles on the bag with the fabric torn and it didn’t jeopardize the bag’s connection or stability.
Swift fixed this issue on the production version by sanding and rounding the edges of the batten, and adding a vinyl end cap to each end. Since the company that fabricates these battens originally made them as internal struts for sails, they already had the solution on hand. As it would with sail fabric, the simple vinyl cap prevents the end of the batten from abrading the otherwise tough Hypalon. We’ve now put a handful of rough rides on the new version and there are no signs that this should be an issue, at all.
Form and Function
The two most visible alterations are the new Zeitgeist’s well-defined form and a redesigned lid. Swift tweaked the contour and slope of the top flap downward on either side to make it more water resistant. This new top fits perfectly on the bag’s new semi-rigid U-shaped body. Swift accomplished this by adding an interior HDPE plastic liner, similar to the BXB Goldback we reviewed a couple years ago. Our test bag came with the liner uninstalled, but it was fairly easy to slide into the sewn-in sheath. Once in place, the liner stays put and does a relatively good job keeping the bag’s shape. While it’s not hard enough to thwart off the bag folding around the headtube due to improperly heavy packing, it’s pretty easy to pack strategically and cinch down to keep the contents in place and the bag tight and sturdy.
On a few occasions I packed the main compartment with a Big Agnes Tiger Wall 3P tent (everything but the poles), an Enlightened Equipment 32° Quilt, and a Nemo Tensor insulated sleeping pad. The pockets usually hold snacks, a headlamp, windbreaker, and a few other doodads. In Colombia, Virginia packed the main compartment with an Enlightened Equipment 32° Quilt, a Sea To Summit Sleeping Mat, a silk sleeping bag liner, and her rain jacket and pants. The two side pockets held shoe covers, sunscreen, and lots of snacks.
Even when packed full, I’ve been impressed that the Zeitgeist can remain fairly compact once cinched down. It doesn’t sag and has a relatively low profile that can fit within about 8″ (20cm) of room between the handlebar and tire. I’d probably recommend 9″ (~23cm) to be safe though. And while the Zeitgeist doesn’t have an expandable long-flap like the Carradice or Goldback, you can pack overflow contents (such as extra food) in vertically.
While the new HDPE shell and lid work really well together, it’s worth noting that the Zeitgeist isn’t fully waterproof. We had several rainy days in Colombia, and while the contoured lid does a good job of shedding water, like any X-Pac bag, it will eventually soak through. Even so, the main interior of the Zeitgeist stayed fairly dry; the contents of the pockets got soaked on a couple occasions, however.
New straps and cords
There are a few new features on the Zeitgeist’s strap system as well. The biggest improvement is a new lateral compression strap that pulls the top opening of the bag together and helps cinch down contents. The compression strap is made up of two standard 3/4″ webbing straps sewn into front and back of the bag’s top that connect via a plastic side-release compression buckle. Similar to the compression strap on the BXB Goldback, we found that it does a great job of tightening up the contents as well helping the bag maintain its shape.
The Zeitgeist’s four other straps were left relatively unchanged. Swift retained the D-loops and daisy chain on the lid for strapping additional gear or a spare layer to the top. They also kept the integrated strap-keeper loops in the two main lid compression straps. Two other strap-keepers were added to both side pocket straps. These plastic loop sliders help keep the straps from dangling, which is especially helpful when not in use. And they’re particularly beneficial given that the pockets are now designed to fold flat when not in use. So, when the strap is cinched down, it’s not hanging way below the bag. These foldable pockets allow the Zeitgeist to fit in between the drops on bars down to around 44cm. I tried it on a 46cm Cowchipper and it fits nicely, with a little room to spare on each side. All that said, they aren’t too different from the pockets on the old Zeitgeist.
You might ask, “what about the Zeitgeist Saddlebag used as a saddlebag!?” The short answer: neither Virginia or I are big fans of long flap saddlebags in the saddle position. We tried them on a 6-month trip through Africa back in 2016, and on a few subsequent outings, but the leg rub, need for a rear rack, and shifting weight imbalance wasn’t our cup of tea. We both prefer seat packs instead. However, we also really appreciate the top-opening saddlebag used as a handlebar bag. They’re easy to pack and unpack, and make accessing contents all the more easy. Plus, having two side accessory pockets is especially handy for organization. With that, I fully understand that some people prefer a saddle bag in the back. For more thoughts on the Zeitgeist in that position, be sure to check out Spencer’s long-term review from a couple years back. Horses for courses, I suppose.
- Volume 12L
- Weight (as tested w/o Voilé straps)597 grams (1.32 pounds)
- Width (side-pockets folded down) 39cm
- Width (side-pockets full) 48cm
- Place of Manufacture Washington, USA
- Price $195 at REI
- Manufacturer’s Details BuiltBySwift.com
Note that the Swift Zeitgeist is available in black or Coyote VX21 X-pac, or navy blue 500d Cordura.
- New external batten and strap attachment system makes it super easy to install and remove from the bike
- 12L volume is an excellent size for about any bike, and folding pockets make is useable on relatively narrow handlebars
- Perfect amount of volume and useable space for a handlebar bag system
- The use of X-Pac and other efficient materials keep the bag relatively lightweight and minimal
- Para-cord headtube strap is useless for rough terrain and should be replaced with a Voilé Nano Strap
- I’m not a fan of the elastic cinch cord used in the telescoping liner. It’s not as easy to use as standard para-cord, although it did break in and become easier over time
- It would be nice to have foam spacers included for handlebar use
Top-opening saddlebags have seen a bit of a resurgence over the last few years. They offer packing volume that rivals most bikepacking front rolls, with easy access storage and handy side pockets for organization. However, older models were heavy and required a bit of patience and tweaking to get them to work well on the handlebars. It’s good to see companies pushing these capabilities with versatile, innovative mounting solutions and lightweight, modern materials.
Using a unique fiberglass batten mounting system, an HDPE liner, and lightweight VX21 X-pac, the latest version of the Swift Zeitgeist offers all the benefits and style of a classic saddlebag in a very stable and secure package that’s only a 150 grams heavier than a comparable handlebar roll. And while we had an issue with the mounting system on a prototype, the remainder of the bag held up quite well, and it appears that Swift solved that particular problem by adding plastic end caps to the batten. Ultimately, I expect the Zeitgeist to last a long while, but I’ll be sure to update this post should any issues arise.
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