A couple of years ago I had a chance to spend some time with Caroline Steffen in Kona. The occasion was the launch of Cervelo’s P5X. We fell into a discussion of the relative merits of just a cage on the front of the bike versus some form of dedicated refillable hydration system.
Caroline favored just the cage. And I said, well, no. “Squirt, squirt, squirt,” and you have the contents of a bottle at an aid station in your refillable hydration system. And she said, no, I don’t like squirt, squirt, squirt; easier just to take the bottle out, drink it, put it back, and then grab another when you need it.
When I got back to the mainland I asked Jordan Rapp about this. He said, “Caroline’s right.” Just yank the bottle out and replace it. No squirt, squirt, squirt.
Note here the pics of both Caroline (below) and Jordan's front set up for Kona that corresponds with his practice, along with a couple of athletes - Daniela Ryf (above) and Lionel Sanders (furthest below) - who take a different approach (but they all are proponents of front drink systems that are easily accessed).
Slowman's Doctrine says that orthodoxy rules until there’s an overwhelming reason why it shouldn’t; and orthodoxy is defined by the behavior of the best exemplars. Accordingly, if 75 percent or more of the pros in triathlon do something, that’s orthodoxy. What appears to be the case is that between 60 and 80 percent of the best long distance pros use some form of handlebar-accessible hydration.
I think Profile Design is doing the best job in this, with its suite of front hydration systems. Of course, a lot of bikes nowadays have built-in front-accessible hydration: Ventum, Specialized, Scott, Giant, Canyon to name a few.
In the video below I've got a Diamondback Andean with a very simple Profile Design Aero HC bottle. Here’s a 30sec video showing the difference between squirt, squirt, squirt from a bottle grabbed on-the-fly from an aid station versus pulling the bottle out of its cage to drink and then replacing the bottle after each drink.
I don't prefer the approach used by Caroline and Jordan. I think you drink more often, more easily, with less fidgeting, you're more aerodynamic in the long run, if you just squirt, squirt, squirt the contents of the aid station bottle into a refillable system.
Now, to be clear, I’m not the ITU World Long Course Champion. And Jordan was. And so was Caroline (twice). So there is that. But I don’t see that the pros are in accord on how the front hydration is handled. I see more squirt, squirt, squirt than I see yank and replace.
This PD Aero HC bottle in the video and in the image below costs less than $50. So, regardless of where you come down on this, it doesn’t have to be pricey. I like the PD bottle because there’s a lot of flexibility on where you can put it.
I like mine placed lower, so that it’s not in the way (I like my hands to be free to grab the bars, shift, swipe the view on my head unit, without interference with the bottle). In this case I made my own bracket system out of a couple of PD J2 Rear Brackets (I find this bracket piece VERY handy for a lot of uses), and a joist hanger I cut down to size.
The one thing I'm a stickler on: The front system must be easily accessible and refillable on the fly. My personal preference, beyond this, is a system that is easily to clean, and easy to detach and replace from the bike.