Cycling Water Bottles and the Plastic-Avoidant
From the Monday Mailbox:
I love your photos of twined stainless steel water bottles. But I also notice you use plastic bottles on your modern bikes. Is this a weight issue, or do you see another advantage to using them which outweighs concerns over plastics?I received this question over the weekend, just as I was going through my stock of cycling bidons. Giving a deep clean to the ones that needed it, I marveled at the residue that builds up in their crevices - a residue that is as gleefully resistant to ordinary dish soap as it is to the clumsy prodding of the sponge. So out came the baking soda and the cloth that I could wrap around my fingertip, as I probed the dankest crevices of the tortured plastic containers. "Jeez, should I just throw these out already?" I thought to myself as I scrubbed their aging surfaces. The fading logos of bike shops I am fond of shot me looks of betrayal.
But the real betrayal is that of my own sensibilities. I hate drinking out of plastic and have carefully avoided it for years. My favourite water bottles are stainless steel, and when I first began cycling I used Klean Kanteen bottles exclusively. The 22oz size fits fairly well inside a standard bottle cage. Wrapping some twine around it makes the fit perfect and eliminates rattling. So what's with the pile of plastic in my kitchen sink?
The thing is, that as much as I love the stainless steel water bottles, I have trouble drinking out of them on the go. Because I can't squeeze them, it is difficult to get the water to flow at a decent pressure without removing the cap. The lack of squeezability also makes the bottles more difficult to grip - and thus more difficult to remove from, and then insert back into, the bottle cage while the bicycle is in motion. With my skills of drinking water on a moving bicycle far from impressive as it is, I cannot handle extra challenges. So basically, if I want to keep myself properly hydrated on the sort of rides where I cannot stop or dramatically slow down every time I want a sip of water, I need to use ordinary, easy-to-squeeze plastic bottles. For someone who generally avoids plastic, that is an uncomfortable compromise. But since the alternatives were (a) don't go on the sort of rides where you cannot stop and drink from a stainless bottle, and (b) improve my drinking-on-the-bike skills immediately - the former of which I was unwilling to do, and the latter unable - it's a compromise I decided to make, at least for the time being.
For reasons much the same as mine, plenty of other cyclists I know who started out using steel bottles on their bikes have switched to plastic ones since taking up more spirited forms of riding. Like me, they employ strategies for limiting the potential effects of this choice on their health.
An obvious one is to use BPA-free bottles only. While research suggests that even BPA-free plastics are not exactly harmless, chances still are they have less crap leaching out of them than ordinary plastic bottles.
I also try to limit my plastic water bottles' exposure to the sun. When taking a meal break in the middle of a long ride or brevet, I remove the bottles from my bike and take them indoors or into the shade with me. After washing my bottles, I do not leave them to dry on my kitchen windowsill.
Some cyclists treat plastic bottles as more or less disposable - using them for only a handful of rides before taking them out of rotation - though personally I can't bring myself to do that, as it feels awfully wasteful.
Instead my approach is simply to limit my use of the plastic bottles as best I can. That is, I use them on bike rides only, and only on the sort of rides where I actually feel I need them. Otherwise, I remain a fan of stainless steel - which, in addition to its other benefits, is easier to clean and, in my experience at least, more resistant to mildew! And I hope to switch back to it fully, once my ability to drink on the bike whilst in motion reaches a level where I can do that without compromising hydration.
What kind of water bottles do yo prefer for cycling? And for the other reluctant plastic users out there: What is your method regarding the bottles' lifespan, usage and cleaning?