Saturday, May 22, 2010

Cycling Hydration

Over the last few days we've been starting to get the hot and humid weather that summer around these parts often brings. It's certainly nowhere near as hot as it will get in the coming months, but with the body still used to the colder weather it's still a bit of a rough adjustment. The biggest adjustment to all of this is taking in enough fluids. I've done enough running in this weather to have a good feel for what works and what doesn't, however on the cycling front I'm still trying to work that out.

One of the caveats is that I find myself needing a lot more fluid on the bike than I do on the run. Thanks to the higher speeds, the continuous stream of airflow means that the sweat evaporates much quicker so it's easy to go through a good amount of water. For instance, on yesterday's 70K ride I brought along four full bottles (two on the frame, two behind the saddle) and ended up drinking pretty much all of it (~2L) before I got back. Usually I just stick with two bottles and buy more along the way if necessary, but if at all possible I'd prefer to avoid doing that.

Part of the issue is that I'm still not crazy about reaching down while I'm riding to grab a bottle and take a sip. Aside from the aerodynamic penalties of this process, when riding at speed I'm not particularly fond of taking my hands off of the controls (and attention away from the road). On a training ride this isn't a huge liability as there are enough stops (traffic lights, crossing busy streets, etc.) for me to get what I need when I'm not moving. In a race, however, there aren't any stops so taking in water/sports drinks on the move is critical. In a Triathlon this is especially important, as on the bike I have to drink enough to make up for the fluids lost during the swim stage as well.

As such, ever since I added the aerobars I've been looking at various alternative options that effectively put a straw right in the cockpit to make it easier to drink during the ride. As I wouldn't have to reach down to grab the bottle, I'd likely end up drinking a lot more often (ie taking regular sips over the whole ride rather than periodic gulps to catch up). Further, it would allow me to stick in the aero position for longer as I wouldn't have to stand up whenever I needed something to drink.

The most popular product appears to be the Profile Design Aerodrink, which mounts the reservoir directly onto the aerobars. This makes for a simple and clean installation, and is by far the easiest to fill up while on the move (as the quick fill cap is right in front of you). The downside, however, is that it adds a good deal of weight (~2.6lbs when full) to the front of the bike and is apparently prone to splashing (although it's hard to tell if this is still the case with the new plastic top, or just with the yellow sponge they used to use). It's also not a sealed container, so if the bike is knocked over (eg a careless neighbour in the transition area) you end up losing the majority of your liquids.

Bontrager appears to have a similar product called an Aero Race Pack. It holds less water (600mL vs. 1L) so it's actually a closer competitor to Profile's Aqualite, but it does have the advantage of a better designed mounting apparatus and a pocket to store gels. Either way, as it shares the same basic design as the Aerodrink, it also has the same fundamental pros and cons so there isn't a lot of point in rehashing all of that.

Inviscid Design's Speedfil system is another interesting option. Rather than mounting on the aerobars themselves, it places the reservoir inside of the front triangle and runs a straw up to the cockpit. This provides the benefit of moving the weight to a much better position (low and central) and allows for a slightly larger capacity. Normally I'd be concerned about the effort required to draw the fluids up such a long straw, but fortunately they've incorporated a bite valve so once you prime the system it shouldn't be too difficult.

The downside to this design is that refilling it on the fly would be more difficult (as the cap is by the knee rather than right in front). I'll have to do some measurements to figure out where that inlet would line up, but I'm guessing that it would be difficult to continue pedaling while the bottle is emptying in this position. Further, it's dry weight is nearly double that of the Aerodrink (and 3X that of the Aqualite) so it means more mass to drag along. I don't think these are huge liabilities, however as this product is difficult to find in normal retail channels it's hard to evaluate these parameters.

As for the splashing aspect, I'm not sure how well this will do compared to the other products. I haven't seen much in the way of complaints on that front, but I also haven't found any real reviews on this unit as of yet so it's difficult to compare. From what I can tell, it looks to be an unsealed unit like the Aerodrink (both the straw and cap appear to be open) so if it was tipped over it would likely have the same problem as well. With that said, having never seen one in person it's difficult to tell.

The NeverReach system takes a similar approach, but places the reservoir behind the saddle rather than in the frame. This puts the weight further from the ground, but further back on the frame (likely a good thing, given how front-heavy the aero position is). It has a much larger capacity than the other systems (2L vs 1-1.2L), although whether or not I'd want to drag that much along is a question (the water alone would weigh 4.4lbs). The caveat is that it would appear to be much more difficult to refill on the fly (grabbing a bottle from behind your saddle is hard enough, never mind trying to squirt water into a cap). As with the Speedfil, I've yet to find a retailer that carries this product so it's difficult to make any evaluations on this front.

Finally, I could take the simpler course of action and simply get a bottle cage mounted between the aerobars. This naturally means I still need to manipulate the bottle to get a drink, but it saves me from having to reach down and grab it. As bottles are sealed, I wouldn't have to worry about spilling it, and when empty I could simply swap it out for another. It also makes it easier to fill up and keep clean, as there are no complex piping systems to flush out ;)

Either way, will keep digging for the time being and see what I can find on the topic. Naturally, I'm open to any input that people have on this front as it's very difficult to find any independent information on these products.

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