Absolute Beginners: User’s Guide to Hydration

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Image Credit: Daily Billboard.

Drinking from a water bottle doesn’t seem to require much explanation, does it? But drinking while riding puts two important aspects of cycling at odds: hydration and attention.

As a long-distance cyclist, it is vital to learn how to drink from a water bottle without falling, hitting something, or dropping it. And, especially for new cyclists judging distance, timing, the operation of new and confusing equipment (shifters, clipless pedals, steering, etc.) adds to your brain’s new burdens on the bike. So lets get one simple thing down: hydration.

The operation of the bottle itself is fairly straightforward. Clean the bottle before each use. Keep two on your bike on each ride. Fill them with ice on hot days (though it will melt all-too soon). Then fill one with fresh water and one with hydration fluid. Sip from each bottle alternately at least every 15 minutes. Plan on draining both bottles every hour, depending on the weather. (See video A for hydration tips.)

Video A: Hydration Tips.

Start by ensuring you can control the bike. Take your sips on the flattest, straightest stretch of road you can. Be sure you have plenty of space between you and the riders in front and behind, and that there are no obstacles coming up (potholes, stop signs, etc.). Then keep control of the bike by placing your hands on the top of the handlebars or on the hoods — avoid drinking from the drops. Keep your eyes on the road, and reach down, feeling for the bottle. Grasp it toward the middle and firmly and pull it out of the cage. Keep your hand toward the middle of the bottle so you can squeeze it gently. Then place the opening on your lips and tilt the bottle, not your head. (See video B below for a demonstration.)

Video B: Using your water bottle.

Believe it or not, your hand position will be slightly different for the front and back bottles. (I’m going to make some notes on my next ride and fill in how my hands are differently positioned later.)

To put the bottle back, get used to not looking down, but keep your free hand on the top or hood, and your water-bottle hand on the top end of the bottle. Look ahead to make sure there are no obstacles. Reach down and feel with the bottom of the bottle to find the cage and insert it. Jiggle it a bit to make sure its secure. If you need to look down, be careful and look quickly returning your eyes to the road as soon as possible. If you’re not sure, look — a dropped bottle is dangerous to other riders.

There are multiple kinds of water bottle and hydration systems to choose from, from freebies you’ll get at cycling events, to insulated bottles which are still very cheap (About $14 on Amazon), to elaborate and expensive back packs designed to hold a day’s worth of water. The insulated bottles may keep your iced water cold for an extra 20 minutes. Choose the largest bottles you can fit on your bike (two 24 oz bottles are perfect for a 1–2 hour ride).

I do not recommend hydration packs for new cyclists — at least if there are planned water stops on a route — the extra weight and bulkiness may be counterproductive. Plus having that extra storage space encourages cyclists to bring unnecessary things along for the ride. Bring as little with you as possible! I have a fairly large hydration pack which I use for the training rides I lead. That way, I can refill my rider’s water bottles in an emergency.

In your hydration bottle, put an electrolyte supplement. Gatorade and its ilk work well, but may be too sugary for some. Plus they get sticky and unpleasant when warm. Alternatively, there are a number of low-calories, non-sticky hydration tablets. They have the added advantage that you can bring extras with you when only water is available on a route. I tend to use Nuun tablets which provide enough electrolytes but never get sticky. Which ever you choose, be sure that your electrolyte bottle is not placed directly over your chain ring!

Speaking of placement of water bottles, there are multiple possible cage locations. Usually, you’ll see the cages inside the bike’s frame that is a good, non-obtrusive place for them. On smaller bikes, there’s not enough room for two 24 oz bottles in the frame — consider using one 12 oz bottle and one 24 oz bottle instead. There are also mounts for water bottle cages behind the seat and on the handlebars. I’ve never used these locations, but they seem obtrusive and difficult to manage. Use extra care if you select one of these.

That was a lot of text for something which seems so obvious. But by thinking about these things, they become easier to do. And you’ll be drinking a lot on your rides!

Your Bear

Over the next couple months, I’m going to write a few articles with the lead-in title “Absolute Beginners,” explaining some of the basic principles of cycling. Most of the information is stuff I’ve learned from other cyclists, bike shop mechanics, classes I’ve taken, and Google searches. Please help me out and comment with corrections, additions, or supplements which will help my readers learn about how to operate their bikes!


2 thoughts on “Absolute Beginners: User’s Guide to Hydration

    […] Drink: As with eating, you need to maintain proper hydration. Drink about a single 16 ounce water bottle per hour, though you may need more or less depending on the weather, your own needs, and the road conditions. Drink more for hilly workouts and hot weather. Read about hydration. […]

    […] User’s Guide to Hydration. […]

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