Carrying All of That Stuff
Written by: Greg Kopecky
Added: Wed Mar 06 2013
This article will focus on the bike portion of these events. More specifically, we’ll focus on the ever-worsening challenge of trying to carry all of our stuff with us.
As of today, there is no ‘standard’. No best-practice of carrying food, fluids, and whatever else you want to bring along. There are simply too many ways to piece the puzzle together. Some people like clincher tires. Some like tubulars. Some prefer an all-liquid diet for their Ironman – and some like a full buffet of solid food. Some of us use a GPS, a power meter, and a Go Pro camera… and some are happy with a wrist watch and plain water.
As we will discuss in this article, much of what you carry is dictated by your equipment choice. While our own publisher and fit expert, Dan Empfield, will talk your ear off about choosing the right bike based on your physical dimensions – I’ll add another layer on top of that. Get the fit right, but you must also get the practical nuts-and-bolts right, too. Maybe your picture-perfect fit dictates two ideal frames for you – brand X and brand Y. Brand X is a TT-only bike, has zero bottle cages on the frame, a proprietary stem (with no place to put a GPS), and integrated everything. It looks really cool, too. No problem, you say – I’ll just put a rear-mounted hydration system on the back of the saddle. That’s all fine and dandy, but you must consider – is there enough space for your repair kit and two bottles? Do you ride tubular tires? Can you fold up that spare small enough to put somewhere? Do you normally do a flying bike mount in T1? Can your leg clear the bottles behind the saddle? You could also put a bottle between your aerobars, but where do you put your GPS display? And your Salt Stick dispensers… they can’t fit in to the ends of that sleek aerobar.
Brand Y may have the same fit dimensions, but offer a bottle mount on the frame and a non-proprietary aerobar – complete with a separate non-integrated stem. All of a sudden you have a lot more places to put things.
We will examine each category of items you might want to bring along on your bike, and attempt to guide you through the ins and outs of choosing the right setup for you. Categories include hydration, food, electrolytes, electronics, tools, and cameras/lights.
I’ll start with hydration for two reasons: 1) It’s important to your racing success, and 2) It’s likely the bulkiest and heaviest thing you have to carry on your bike. All other decisions flow from your hydration (pun intended).
What’s right for you? The first decision to make – before anything else – is the number of bottles on your frame. Your options range from zero to two (some custom bicycles can also have a third on the bottom of the down tube).
The other main locations for fluids are behind your saddle and between your aerobars (a third option exists for Specialized Shiv owners – inside the frame).
Behind-the-saddle carriers are an easy way to hold a lot of stuff. There are two main potential questions to ask yourself – 1) Do I want to do a ‘flying bike mount’ in T1, and 2) Do I have enough seatpost exposed to accommodate other things I might want to carry on the rear of the bike?
For me, the first question is the reason I usually do not use a rear-mounted hydration system. Simply put, I’m not a contortionist, and my leg can’t safely clear the bottles to run and jump on my bike. Trust me – I’ve tried. Not triathlete does this, but just be aware of the potential issue before buying that new bike.
The second part has more to do with the other things you put on your bike. If you’re short and have very little seatpost exposed, a rear-mounted carrier could take up all of your real estate. Is there enough space for a rear light? What about a fender for those rainy days? Or a rear light AND a fender? As an example, here’s a 48cm Cervelo P2 with my custom PVC light mount. It has a Tacx saddle-mounted hydration system, and just enough space for the light below:
Your other option is to go between the bars. Some folks swear by the verticle-style-bottle, such as the Profile Aero Drink:
You can also use a horizontal bottle carrier, such as this Xlab Torpedo Mount:
Aside from hydration, food choice is likely high on your priority list for long course racing. Your first option – and a very good one – is the simple ‘Bento Box’ that goes behind your stem:
However, they don’t work very well on a lot of newer triathlon bikes. Many of them have cables that enter behind the stem, such as my 2010 Felt DA:
The next option is one of my favorites – the aerobar bento box. Here’s mine, from TNI:
If your bike doesn’t allow a standard bento box behind the stem – and you prefer to use an aerobar hydration system, where do you put all of that food? You’re left with jersey pockets, or the triathlon gold standard:
By now, we’re starting to run out of space to put things. Lucky for you, Salt Stick has a very elegant carrying solution for your electrolyte tabs. Pictured below are my two favorite options for mounting Salt Stick dispensers:
On the left of the above photo, you see my alternate method of mounting Salt Stick dispensers – a rubber band. I’ve used this method on a variety of aerobars; it works with most anything out there. The key is using a thick rubber band, and making sure it fits tight enough to keep the dispenser from spinning.
While the old triathlon guard may scoff at us, our electronic gadgets are here to stay. Where do you put them?
On the stem, I have a CycleOps Joule GPS quarter-turn mount:
This is where the aero extension mounts come in handy – like the Bar Fly. These are made for 22.2mm extensions, which have become the industry standard. If you put something else between your aerobars (i.e. food or fluid) – you can but the Bar Fly mount on so it faces to the outside of your aerobars.
Xlab has their own unique solution – a computer mount that is integrated with their Torpedo bottle mount:
Tools and Spares
Most of us carry some sort of repair kit – at least for long-course racing. This typically includes a spare tube or tubular tire, a multi-tool, tire levers, and a CO2 inflator.
The obvious choice to carry these things is a bag mounted under your saddle. I really like this micro bag from Jandd:
Cameras and Lights
The use of cameras and lights can really complicate things. You might find that after you’ve strapped on your bottles, food, electrolytes, and tools, you simply don’t have any space left.
For lights, you have an easy out on your helmet. Many modern lights have some sort of helmet mount, which frees up your handlebars for other items. If you happen to have free space between your aerobars, a good option is to make a 31.8mm accessory mount from PVC pipe, which we detailed in the article linked at the bottom of this page.
On the rear of the bike, your two location choices are the seatpost and saddle rails. I’ve seen some sleek saddle rail camera systems, which obviously displace tool kits or hydration systems. For lights, the seatpost tends to be the easiest option. If you have an aero post, a PVC adapter might be necessary, such as the Cervelo P2 shown above.
What’s best for you?
The best way to proceed is to make some sort of decision tree – and don’t wait until the day before your race to do it. In fact, this should be part of the bike-buying process. Here is a very basic of example of some of the questions you might ask yourself:
My two cents of editorial opinion – after trying nearly every bar, saddle, and frame-mounted system – is this: Keep it simple and use what you’re comfortable with. What works for others might not work for you.
Some people legitimately prefer a super minimal setup. While I’m admittedly a little jealous of their cool-looking bikes, I know from experience that it doesn’t work for me. On the flip side, I sometimes question the people with six bottles, two spare tubulars, and twenty gels taped all over their bike. Do they really need all of that? I don’t know – maybe they do.
I can tell you with certainty that it is always easier to have extra options and not use them – than to need more options and not have them. If your frame has two bottle mounts, but you only use one – no problem. Take the second cage off. If, however, you determine that you really want one or two bottles on the frame, but the frame doesn’t accommodate it – you’re out of luck.
We look at a few products from two manufacturers – CycleAware and FOOTbrake. If you’re having trouble finding a gift for your triathlete friends or spouse, look no further. 8.22.13
We look at a very cool Kickstarter campaign called Rideye. This device is a small video camera and ‘blackbox’ recorder for your bicycle that can detect a crash. 10.04.13
Our Mailbag covers two new questions. First, how does GPS work? Next, how many calories or carbohydrates should you take in during an Ironman or 70.3? For more, read on. 12.09.13
We show you how to make a 31.8mm diameter accessory mount for your aerobars. It works well for handlebar-mounted lights, cameras, computers, and GPS units. 2.03.13
We show you how to make a tail light mount for your aero seatpost equipped bicycle. They’re relatively easy to make and can fit any bike on the market. 2.08.13