Hydration has been one of the most popular topics here on TriRig, and we have reviewed a lot of products that all aim to solve the same problem. This guide is going to be a collection of the best of what we have covered before, a few new items, and our most recent recommendations on the best way to stay hydrated.
There is no shortage of options for triathletes in terms of how to carry liquids on the bike. There are rear cage holders, aero bottles, aerobar-mounted bottles, aerobar-mounted cages, frame-mounted straw systems, aerobar-mounted straw systems, and of course, the standard frame bottle cage. That's a big list. So what's the best way to go?
The balanced answer would be to evaluate one's needs, and weigh the benefits of different systems in different scenarios. But my gut can't let me do that. Well, not completely. Ideal hydration will indeed depend on distance (a 5-mile ride won't require any, while a 112-mile ride will need a lot). But we have some pretty solidified opinions about hydration storage, and I'm gonna give 'em to you. In the end, that's why you're reading this anyway, right?
The short version is - you don't need anything fancy. Sure, there are some pretty slick aftermarket solutions available. But there are also some pretty ugly, clunky, heavy ones. Some of my favorite setups don't require anything except a couple standard bottles and some zip ties.
On a training ride, you can carry as many humongous, aerodynamically-miserable round bottles as you like, and just refill when needed. Training is not about saving seconds, it is about getting stronger. And having the most aerodynamic setup is not going to help you get stronger while training. Nor do you need to save time over a given distance. The time you spend stopped at traffic lights will most likely be greater than any time savings you obtain from a cleaner setup.
So for this article we are going to focus on racing, where saving time over a given distance is critical. Most triathlons will have many aid stations stocked with water, so we will assume that in addition to wanting the cleanest setup aerodynamically, that you will be able to grab more water regularly during the race.
That means that in terms of capacity, you should carry just enough to get you from one aid station to the next, and that's really all you need. For a 112 mile bike course, you might have aid stations every 15-20 miles. That will be your target capacity (enough water for 15-20 miles). You don't want to carry extra weight or bottles as that leads to wasted energy. You need just enough to get to that next aid station.
But it is also important to think big picture. While one hydration system might be better than another aerodynamically, using a system that makes it harder to drink isn't smart. Your body needs water, and if a system that will get you to drink sufficiently robs you of a few watts, it is still preferable to not drinking enough and being forced to drop out of a race. Sufficient hydration is more important than minor aerodynamic gains. Do what works best for you.