Last month I was contacted by the folks from Koala Bottle asking if I'd review their product. They've developed a novel bottle and cage system and told me I'd love it for its potential BTA applications. That's a bit of a buzz word for me, so I told them to send their wares and I'd give them a look.
The essence of the Koala Bottle is a magnetic retention mechanism built into their proprietary cages. The Koala cage replaces your normal cage, and can't mechanically grip standard bottles. Instead, it magnetically grips bottles that have been given an iron collar around the waist. The Koala system includes one of their special cages, one bottle pre-fitted with an iron collar, and two spare collars for you to put on other bottles.
It's a novel idea, and there is a positive CLICK that you both hear and feel when a bottle snaps into place. It's a nice bit of feedback that lets you know the bottle is definitely in place, and ready to ride. I haven't done any long-term testing as to the relative retention strength of this method versus a good standard cage like the Specialized Rib Cage or my trusty Arundel Trident, but Koala claims their system offers superior retention strength. Moreover, the Koala bottle cages have some built-in slots for zip ties. This is a pretty neat feature if you want to use these bottles in a BTA setup.
Unfortunately, the system's fatal flaw is that as interesting as the magnetic system is, I simply couldn't find any application in which I'd prefer a Koala cage to either a standard bottle, or another proprietary solution. Let's break down why.
The principal feature of the Koala bottle system is that it all goes together � you MUST use their special cages, and those cages MUST be fed the special bottles. Ultimately, this makes the system a worst-case choice for bottles on the frame, the saddle, and the aerobars. Why? Let's take a look at each one separately.
Keep in mind, those special bottles are just standard round bottles fitted with iron collars. If you're a triathlete who has made the choice to use a proprietary bottle somewhere on your frame, you're always better off with an aero bottle � round bottles will be an aerodynamic sacrifice in comparison. Similarly, if you're using bottles on a saddle mount, you almost certainly want them to be standard bottles that you can swap on course. The one exception is if you're using a saddle-mounted bottle to store a flat kit. In that case, however, you are probably still fine with a standard bottle and cage, and you may even resort to more robust methods to keep that bottle in place (and by "robust" I mean things like duct tape � or Velcro ties for the fancy pants among you).
And finally, the Koala system is a non-starter in the aerobars as well. If you're gonna use something proprietary in the aerobars, you want it to be refillable, as with a Speedfil A2 or Profile-Design HC Bottle. If you don't want one of those refillable solutions, then you certainly want your bottle to be swappable for course bottles. The Koala is the worst of both worlds in a BTA application. You can't refill it, and you can't swap it for course bottles. You get the one bottle, and you're done. In that case, might as well use a standard bottle anyway and save yourself the trouble. Moreover, I think Koala's supposedly superior retention is moot here � bottles virtually never fall out of BTA cages.
I wish I could have said nicer things about the product, because I think it's an innovative idea, and could possibly be leveraged to greater effect if Koala takes these kinds of criticisms to heart. But at present, this seems like a solution without a problem. I can't see myself using the technology in its current incarnation.