Admittedly, bike bottles may not be the most relevant gear choice you will make in your quest to get faster. Likely more is to be found in our Go Faster, Roll Faster or Be Faster sections. Still, it’s something you will need, and luckily the choice is pretty straightforward. The Elite Fly bottle is the lightest, delivers the fastest liquid flow and has a no-frills MTB version with a protection cap for riding in the dirt. Combined with the right bottle cage, this makes an excellent package that, not surprisingly, happens to be the most used by the pro peloton. Exceptions may apply for time trial purposes and some unique bike frames with bottle systems.
What to look for in a bike bottle for road cycling
Many riders overlook the significance of a bike bottle, considering it a basic piece of equipment. While many individuals opt for free, used bottles, intentionally selecting one might be worthwhile. Moreover, the bottle you choose can affect the overall appearance of your bike. Hence selecting a visually appealing one may be a good idea?
- Aerodynamics: Most bottles have standard sizing matching typical bottle cages. Modern bikes can be assumed to be designed with water bottles in mind, and some offer particular bottles and/or cages for best aerodynamics. Of note, it is unclear whether choosing two bottles, one bottle, or a specific location of the bottle will result in the fastest option. Aerodynamics in cycling is complex, depending on many factors. Unless the frame manufacturer provides compatible bottles or data about this.
- Weight: A little lighter does never hurt, especially if it doesn’t come at a much-increased cost.
- Liquid flow: How fast and easily water comes out of the bottle, maybe of importance for some scenarios, especially in high-speed events such as criteriums or cyclocross, where there is little time to take a sip.
- Color: It ultimately comes down to personal preference. However, it’s important to note that lighter-colored bottles tend to show dirt, impurities, and mold (ugh!) more easily, especially if you’ve left a sugary energy drink inside for too long. On a black bottle, these things may not be as visible. Clear bottles have the advantage of being able to see the liquid level. Then again, the yellowish liquid inside may not always be the most attractive look. Additionally, it’s been suggested that lighter-colored bottles take a little longer to heat up in the sun.
- Size: Standard sizes range from about 500 mL to almost 1000 mL. The ideal size depends on the type of event and how fast you can refill. See some tips about races below.
- Grip: Bottles falling out the cages are a nuisance while general riding, a big danger in the peloton and can become really painful in a bike race if you can’t refuel for a while. To ensure the best compatibility, it may be advisable to choose a bottle cage that matches the brand of bottle you got.
- Insulation: Some manufacturers claim improved insulation capabilities. Beyond special insulated vacuum bottles for hot tea and winter riding, the simple wrapping of some insulation material adds weight and volume. Still, it has minimal effect (s. test in video below).
- Valve type: There are two main types of mechanisms used for dispensing liquids: the “push/pull” method, where the valve must be manually opened or closed, and the squeeze membrane method, where the valve opens when pressure is applied to the bottle. While the squeeze membrane method may seem more convenient, it actually requires more force to dispense the liquid and is often more difficult to clean, as many riders have found.
Test results of the most common bike bottles show a clear winner
Luckily, Tobias from the Rides of Japan Youtube channel just put out an entertaining video where he thoroughly tested the most common bike bottles. While he doesn’t declare a winner, we do: The Elite Fly bottle. It the by far the lightest and offers the fastest liquid flow. Combined with Elite’s own premium bottle cages, this appears to be one of the best setups these days. The only downside is that it may not be very long-lasting due to its lightweight construction.
In the test were three squeeze valve type bottles: Polar Breakaway Insulated, TacX Shanti 500 and Camelpak Podium Chill Insulated 21 oz, as well as three with a push-pull mechanism: Elity Fly Tex 750 mL, TacX Shiva 750 and Specialist Purist MoFlo 22 oz. Besides the video, there is also a Google Sheet, if you like to dive into the details.
In short, the Elite Fly Tex is 70% of the weight of the next competitor, TacX Shiva. It has an over 50% higher liquid flow rate than its competitors and squeezes most easily. The downside is that it doesn’t sit too stable in most bottle cages (it was not an Elite bottle cage in the test). Full video below, a really entertaining watch.
Which bike bottle and holder should I select?
Recently, some bike bottles, such as the Cannondale Gripper Aero for the Cannondale SuperSix EVO, have been specifically designed to optimize aerodynamics when combined with a bike frame. If you happen to have such a frame, in all likelihood, that’s your fastest option. Remember, aerodynamics beats weight by far. Moreover, for time trial purposes, non-round, thin bottles, such as the Elite Crono CX FRP exist. Very aero, but beware, they are not very practical for general riding, as they are difficult to grab, slot into the holder, and can’t be free standing. If your TT bike doesn’t have an integrated solution already, the Elite Crono CX bottle and cage combination is also the most used by the pro peloton.
In all other cases, and for most road rides with the purpose of going fast, the Elite Fly is highly recommended, as it turns out to be superior for the most important characteristics, especially weight and flow. Generally, use 2 small bottles at 550 ml rather than one big one. They sit more stable and add flexibility. This setup is potentially more aerodynamic, but that’s hard to say as it is highly dependent on bike frame design and other parameters. You may want to opt for bigger bottles for longer events without support, especially if you consider using one bottle with only water as a shower and cooling option.The Elite Fly bottle is 30% lighter and delivers a 70% faster liquid flow than most competitors. Combined with the right bottle cage this makes an excellent package, which is the most used by the pro peloton. Make a Friend Faster
Consider robustness, insulation and environmental impact of a bike bottle
The downside of the Elite Fly bottle is lack of robustness due to its lightweight construction. It may be advisable to use a more robust bottle for general training rides or maybe even longer bikepacking or ultra endurance events. Many other options are available, but one classic example is the Tacx Shiva bottle. This bottle is often given away for free with custom printing.
Some bottles also offer a protection cap which is especially useful when riding through dirt, even though it makes drinking and handling a little more tricky. As such, the Elite Fly also offers an MTB version with a simple, removable plastic cap.
Many bottles with thermal wrappers only add bulk and don’t yield a significant improvement. The Elite Nano 0-100 bottle may be an exception, but no independent testing is available and it only comes in a 500 ml size. For most cyclists, having an extra 250 ml of liquid is more beneficial than having a slightly colder drink. A dedicated vacuum bottle may be an option for those who ride in winter. For example, the Camelbak Forge Flow is a truly vacuum-insulated, stainless steel thermos bottle. It keeps drinks warm, is designed for one-hand operation, and is robust enough to fit well in common bottle cages.
Finally, some companies have claims about the environmental impact of their bottle and the plastic used. Not always easy to verify, but certainly a point to consider. Within the Elite range, the new Elite Jet bottle is said to be made from biodegradable material, which decomposes in a couple of months instead of hundreds of years. Maybe a good option if you often use a throw-away bottle in races?The plastic of bike bottles takes hundreds of years to decompose. The new biodegradable Elite Jet bottle is different. Treated with a special additive it decomposes in months. A good option for throw-away race bottles. Make a Friend Faster
Make sure your bottle cage secures the bike bottle well
Most bike bottles have somewhat of a standard shape, so all bottle cages should be compatible with all bike bottles. Yet, in practice, this is not always the case; some combinations work better than others. A lost bottle is very often frustrating and a sure way to slow you down massively. For example, in many race situations, you will also have no ability to get it back. So it is wise to ensure the bottle and holder work well together.
From the picture above, it’s noticeable that even griptape is used in the pro peloton. However, this can significantly reduce the lifespan of your bottle. Pairing the bottle with a holder from the same manufacturer ensures best compatibility. For example, the Elite T-Race Carbon a super, lightweight bottle cage works well with Elite Fly bottles, but not so with most others.
You will find many different shapes and styles of bottle cages on the market and they may offer a little bit of weight difference, which is probably not very relevant. Similarly, whether the material is plastic or carbon may not matter all that much. Just carbon may look and feel a little higher quality and match your carbon frame.
Race day tips with bike bottles
As amateur cyclists, we often don’t have the luxury of teammates or support cars providing us with a steady supply of cold drinks. This can make managing our fluid intake a crucial factor in our performance, particularly during Grand Fondos where access to hydration can be limited and feed stations may not always be well-organized.
If you want to limit your stops at feed stations, usually bringing enough food is not the challenge, but liquid is, especially on a hot day. One strategy is to start with 3 bottles and have one as a throw-away. You race the beginning with an additional bike bottle in the jersey, dispose of one at the first feed and just go on. This can be especially useful if the first feed is at a critical place where you want to stay in a fast group and not stop.
Use a water bike bottle to keep you cool
On a hot day, cooling will have a major impact on your performance. If we get too hot, the body starts to limit our performance. Remember, 3/4 of all the energy consumption while riding ends up in heat; only about 25% goes into the pedals. Bringing a bottle of water with you and using it to shower yourself utilizing the cooling effect of evaporation is a smart move. Keep your head and face cool to maintain your body’s performance. Additionally, cooling down your back and crotch area, where the major veins are located, can also be effective. Give it a try, you may be pleasantly surprised. Remember, prioritizing your body’s performance is more important than worrying about carrying a few extra grams.
Many Grand Fondos start with a climb to separate the field. It may be obvious, but you can have an empty bottle on your bike and fill it up later at the feed. Another minor, marginal gain. Speaking of empty bottles, most TT bikes are faster with a bottle. To fully comply with UCI rules, however, just a little bit of water needs to reside inside. Otherwise, it is considered a fairing and therefore illegal.