A Better Mousetrap

The water bottle is the lowliest of cycling necessities. It’s disposable even though they rarely wear out. You’re more likely to toss one away near the end of a race than actually wear it out. Most of us have probably lost far more of them than we’ve destroyed.

While keeping one may not seem all that important, it is by no means an accessory. It is as important as your helmet; for while it can’t make you go faster, lacking one can ultimately result in you going slower.

The old-timers out there will certainly remember the Specialized bottle at the left. Its spout dispensed liquid at a rate twice that of trickle and featured a top that didn’t leak. However, they cracked in freezing temperatures, which brought on a very different set of problems for users. It was supplanted by the Specialized Big Mouth bottle that gained instant PRO status by virtue of the fact that the bottle was softer than any of its competitors’ and the spout sent for a stream that didn’t frustrate the parched.

The two bottles at the right, by Elite and Tacx, respectively, feature pretty lousy spouts, small openings to frustrate those who use drink mixes and stiff plastic bottles that require a firm squeeze. They are, however, by virtue of their European origin, utterly PRO. The Elite bottle, with its unnecessarily complicated top that convinces you it holds more fluid than it does, is almost hopelessly PRO. I only have a few of these, but I wouldn’t trade them for a cotton musette bag. As for the Tacx bottle, it may be the most affordable item emblazoned with the Assos logo on the market.

Speaking of hopeless complication, I didn’t include the Camelbak bottle here, which is, to my eye, rather complicated and yet not PRO, thanks to both its shape and twisting closure on the spout. Maybe the fact that it is amazingly expensive didn’t help, either.

In position two is the Specialized’s new bottle, the Purist. According to company literature, the Purist has a coating inside the bottle to prevent the bottle from retaining flavors or being stained by drink mixes (Cytomax, anyone?). This coating is said to leave water tasting like, well, water. It’s also supposed to be mold-resistant, if not outright mold-proof. I can affirm that the bottle doesn’t stain or retain flavors, and the Missus—who has already confiscated one of my samples—compared the Purist to her favorite Nalgene for the way it didn’t alter the taste of plain water. We’ve also become more aware of chemicals leaching into the foods we eat, so it’s reassuring to know the Purist is BPA-free.

The Purist is available with two different spouts. The MoFlo is a traditional design Specialized claims offers a 15 percent improvement in flow over its Big Mouth and Little Big Mouth bottles. The Watergate includes what Specialzed calls its Heart Valve, a self-sealing valve the prevents leakage (a la Camelbak) even when the spout is left open, but of course, this one can be closed with your teeth or a simple smack on the hip.

Another nice touch is that if you order a colored bottle, there is a translucent lengthwise stripe that will tell you just how much fluid is left in your bottle.

Impeccable style is the surest route to PRO. But every now and then something works so well it would be stupid not to adopt. Think disc wheels and SRM. I’ve been waiting for a better mousetrap, one that wasn’t silly, but scored well enough on both style AND function to be called PRO.

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  1. eightplustwo

    The classis Specialed bottles were great for not leaking, however one time I did squeeze a little too hard and probably didn’t have the cap on tight enough and the whole thing blew open on me. Still a better design then the incessantly leaking Big Mouth bottles. There’s nothing PRO about having sports drink dripped all over your frame.

    The Camelbak bottles are the worst design ever, especially in a race. The last thing I want is a bottle/valve system that requires an engineering degree to operate when I’m gnawing on my stem and delirious. K.I.S.S.

    I have not tried the new Specialized bottles yet but they sound promising.

  2. todd k

    Is the lid coated with the same material? It is a pain to clean water bottles in general, but what I have had the most trouble with when using cytomax (or equivalent) is getting the lid clean after using it. You cannot really disassemble the valve on most bottles and once mold starts growing in there it is (in my experience) pretty much always there. Not that it isn’t lovely to fill your water bottle with nice clean water and then look down and see black crap floating around in it.

  3. Michael

    the bottle might be BPA free, but i am leary of any and all coatings in bottles – inevitably said coating will degrade and end up leaching into whatever fluid is in the bottle, as far too many bottle manufacturers have already found out. most of the chemicals used in these coatings are fine when intact, but rather nasty when floating around in consumables.

  4. 68GT

    I’ve been using the Camelbak bottles for a couple of years now after some initial resistance. I never close the valve to the off position as mine don’t leak at all even in the open position. They are easy to clean and generally don’t alter the taste of their content. My one complaint is that they are a super tight fit in my Tacx Tao cages, which is annoying.

    The Specialized bottle sounds promising, although I’m not sure what’s on their website is what you are describing? My biggest issue with them, is that I feel it is decidedly not PRO to have the Specialized mark in combo with my Pinarello frame.

  5. Geofferson

    I’m confused how the Camelbak bottle is complicated?

    Step 1: Before you ride make sure it’s twisted to the “open” position.

    Step 2: Squeeze bottle into mouth for hydration.

  6. J

    While the Tacx and Elite are certainly staples in the European scene, let’s not forget that in the amateur American scene (one that it can be argued has much more market-driving power) the Specialized Big Mouth and Trek counterpart are, because of their narrow neck and “grab-me-here-you-parched-anaerobic-idiot” hand-up capacity are the choice of crit and road racers alike.

    Seriously, ever tried to grab a bottle at 28+ in a P/1/2 field of 90+ on an 8-corner figure-8 1-mile course lined with barricades and fans 4 deep… I’ve seen riders go after competitors bottles sooner than risk an attempt at a Tacx or Elite… seriously.

    1. Author

      Eightplustwo: Word. Sticky bottle and sticky bike = not PRO.

      Todd K: Periodically, I pour a half cup of bleach in a stoppered sink and drop all my tops in there. That kills any hiding mold. If it’s possible to grow mold on a surface, chances are, I’ve done it, so I’m all about the bleach.

      Michael: We’ll have to see about longevity, but I think these bottles deserve credit as being a step in the right direction.

      68GT: You’ll just have to wait and order the RKP bottles. No big “S” on them.

      Evil: We knew we could count on you to get the bigger picture straight. Also, glass doesn’t leak BPA, ever.

      Geofferson: I’ve seen Camelbaks leak, so it seems prudent to ride with them in the closed position, which means you have to reach down, hold the bottle, use one hand to switch it open, remove the bottle and then put it to your lips. I like a bottle I can open and close with my teeth, and close with my hip.

      J: I’ve been a big fan of the Specialized Big Mouth bottles, but bear in mind, my appraisal of the Tacx and Elite bottles weren’t based on their practicality, but their style. Those two features don’t always track together. When it comes to practicality, nothing has beaten the Specialized bottle until the new Specialized bottle. (Isn’t that what happened last time?)

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  8. Massimo Jaboffo

    Camelback “podium” bottles are nice and leak-free. They are insanely easy to operate; they require only a squeeze. Only issue is that they are less pliable in cold temperatures and when new.

    Specialized bottles used to be my benchmark but always end up leaking around spout after a few weeks. Gonna give new model a try.

    BTW… I’ve seen specialized bottles leak too. In my experience they leak way more than the Podiums ever will or have.

  9. mr.blue sky

    I currently like the SOMA brand bottle; made of food grade polypropylene, it doesn’t leach BPA, DEHA, is taste and odor-free, has a normal valve, and doesn’t cost a pant load. Your LBS can order them from Hawley Co., or Merry Sales for you left coasters.
    Check ’em out, I think they got it right.

  10. James

    I just don’t get this obsession with “PRO”! If you don’t ride for Garmin, HTC, SaxoBank,Liquigas, etc. you aren’t PRO. Like me you are a Schmo!

    1. Author

      James: Unless you ride in Keds and cutoffs, chances are your choices about your bike and your cycling apparel is influenced by what the PROs do. We all do it to one degree or another.

      Mark: You think my opinion was purchased with a lousy water bottle? Are you new here? 😉 While I got a couple of them for free, the order I’m about to place for them will be anything but.

      I admit, I do close my bottles, always, and with a bump of the spout on my hip. If closing the bottle is more complicated than that, I don’t want to know about it. It’s true that a sticky down tube is PRO, but I honestly try to avoid that experience.

  11. mark

    Padraig: You’ve seen Camelbaks leak? Seriously? You’re not just saying that because Specialized sent you some bottles so you’d say nice things about them? I love my Camelbak bottles enough that I don’t race with them because I don’t want to cast them to the side of the road never to be seen again. That’s what Specialized bottles are for. Unless it’s a crit, in which case Camelbak all the way (because there’s no feeding and no discarding bottles allowed <–this last bit for anyone reading who might like to talk about being PRO but hasn't actually pinned on a number for a good long time if ever).

    As for the need to close bottles, it never occurred to me. Sure I might close them on a ride, but in a race, they stay open for easiest access. So what if they spill. Sticky bike not PRO? Pfft. If your downtube's not tacky with remnants from your bottle, you weren't racing. Who has time to close a bottle, even with teeth, in a race? A sticky bike is the essence of racing, but let's not kid ourselves–none of us are doing it at the PRO level, regardless of the seriousness with which we play dress-up.

  12. Antti

    Apparently I’ve been extremely lucky with my Camelbak bottles, but mine haven’t been leaking a bit. I did same as other Camelbak owners here. I make sure bottles are open and leave ’em there. When I’m thirsty or in need of drink I just squeeze. One good thing with those is that plastic isn’t super hard as it is with Elite’s bottles or Tacx’s ones.
    In fact, those bottles are best I’ve ever used and now I have hard time to use my old Elite thermo bottles in winter rides since I haven’t found Camelbak’s thermo yet from local stores. Sure they’re are expensive but quality tends to be expensive.

  13. Slonie

    I got two Purist bottles at Interbike, and love ’em.

    On the other hand, I like the fact that with a Camelbak bottle in the locked position, I can throw one in my bag and be totally confident that it won’t leak. I’m not sure I can say the same with a Purist (heart valve), because it’s still a push-pull valve.

    That said, the people obsessed with cleanliness will appreciate the fact that the spout is far easier to clean than an old big-mouth Specialized bottle. There aren’t any inaccessible spots for gunk to accumulate on the cap, once you pull the valve out.

    I’ve got eyes for a custom order of Purists though…

  14. Bikelink

    Who has trouble with cytomax in bottles? I just run them through the dishwasher when I have anything in them but water….solved (I have four standard bottles ? brand with my LBS/Sponsor brand on the outside).

    Tacx..off topic but love the cage…a little big for standard bottle…easy to get in when hammering and close to popping, but bottles never seem to pop out (they do break though).

    Camelback bottles…I agree they don’t leak, but also too hard to get fluid out of them while racing. Like some have said, it’s one thing to drink on a regular ride, another when you’re surrounded tight in a crit pack at speed.

    I hope the new specialized bottles work as advertised, but if it takes more then two brain cells to get the amount of fluid out you want then it won’t fly.

    1. Author

      I’m not out to badmouth the Camelbak bottles, but I think it’s fair to point out they aren’t perfect and have some real estate in Leaksville, which is why I want a top that is easily closed.

      Slonie: Removing the valve from a Purist bottle isn’t necessary. Just buy the MoFlo, which doesn’t come with the valve.

      Bikelink: Cytomax has ruined more bottles with the aftertaste of Cool Citrus or Apple or whatever was at some rest stop than I care to remember. That taste doesn’t come out, no matter what I do.

      Miguel: Yep. But it’s the only time I don’t want to be PRO.

  15. James

    Padraig…Honestly I don’t buy things because they are used by Pro cyclists. I’m more of a substance over style kind of person. The bike I ride would never be seen under a pro, but it fits me well , is a little more upright for my old overweight self so I can ride longer miles in a little more comfort. I bought clipless pedals when they first came out in the 80’s because I hated toe clips and straps. The closest thing I have to pro are my Assos shorts but only because they are comfortable (my shorts are always plain black). When I wanted to be stylish back in the 70’s the stuff I purchased generally disappointed me so substance over style became my mantra of sorts. Now if I had a water bottle that was discarded by a pro I would certainly keep it, but as a souvenir not as something to use to impress my ride buddies. I hope this clarifies my thoughts on the PRO thing. The guy that gets me is the one at Competitive Cycling… in his blog I get the feeling he thinks he’s on a par with pro rider because he uses the same stuff as they do! Weird…

  16. fausto

    Commercial for the BKW bottle, they are a favorite. Pet peave, recently purchased bottles from a favorite website, Trek bottle ok, but the beautiful graphics come right off sliding in and out of the cage. Once on the gloves it works into the bar tape, the hoods… takes forever to clean up and have to throw the new bottles out.

  17. polkadot

    At first my schwag Camelbak Pro was a solution in search of a problem. Finally one day it dawned on my you are not supposed to twist the top closed while riding, you just leave it open. (Yeah, it says that in all the advertising too, but who reads ads?)

    Now I like it better than big mouth because there’s no more biting the spout open, and no more leaking if you don’t quite close the spout.

    Once it is sitting in the cage the Camelbak does not leak. If they are full to the tip-top you can get a burp out of them if you poke the bottle or drop it on the ground, but otherwise it does not leak.

    The one Camelbak I have is now my favorite, and I was bummed they didn’t give one out as schwag this year at the King Ridge Gran Fondo (comped ride) because at around $10 I can’t afford another one when I have a bunch of big mouths sitting around. It’s not like they wear out quickly.

    A small downside with the camelbak is that it’s opaque so you can’t see exactly how much water is left. A bigger issue is the spout gets slimy between rides, quickly, and that makes me worry a bit about what’s going on inside the spout where my brush doesn’t reach. Your mileage may vary.

    1. Author

      I haven’t tried the Clean Bottle, mainly because I saw it as a solution to a problem that no one was complaining about. I’ve got special brushes I buy just for cleaning bottles. The idea of threads at the bottom of the bottle seems like a fresh opportunity for something to go wrong. Honestly, I wonder—if you can’t get a bottle clean with one large opening, how will a second large opening help?

  18. SinglespeedJarv

    Why do people throw their bottles when racing, is it because it’s PRO? What does it save, 30g, is that really going to make a difference? It’s nothing more than littering. Perhaps if bottles were more expensive people would think twice before throwing them in the scenery.

    As for bottle usage I have some podiums, but due to injury have yet to use them on a bike. I’m surprised at Padraig’s comments as even bottles with decent push/pull valves have leaked down ny frame. Can’t say I expect to have a clean bike at the end of a race

    1. Author

      SinglespeedJarv: It’s understandable to me when actual PROs toss their bottles. They usually do so when they know they are about to get a new bottle or two. It’s also understandable for amateurs to toss them just as they enter the feed zone. I always tossed my bottles about 10 meters before entering the feed so whoever was feeding me could grab those bottles and fill them to hand them up the next trip around. Bottom line: I never tossed a bottle away with no intention of re-using it.

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