Monday, April 20, 2015

Cycling Water Bottles and the Plastic-Avoidant

Untitled
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?

Twined Klean Kanteen with Sports Cap
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?

49 comments:

  1. Hey. Interesting post. I also hate using plastic bottles, and try to avoid them where possible. But my metal bottles make such a noise in my metal bottle carrier! The twine idea is genius - I shall try that. For the flow problem try the SIGG active top, a bite valve that acts like a straw. The top is still plastic, of course.

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  2. You can pretty easily convert a water bottle to use a tube system so you don't have to squeeze it (or remove it from the holder) to use it. I found this pretty useful to stay hydrated, since I could use the tube system hands-free. Just buy a Big Bite Camelbak nozzle and hose, and drill through the opening in the top of the bottle to make a tight hole to insert the tube through to the bottom. Route the hose up to your handlebars, and hold it in place with zipties. Attach a badge retriever (like the ones you get at trade shows) so you can drop the nozzle from your mouth and it is held close to the handlebars.
    Of course, you do end up using a bit of plastic this way -- maybe that makes in unacceptable to some people.

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    1. In my experience the Camelback set up is easier to drink from at speed than squeeze bottles as you do not need to tip at all to get water.

      Camelback water bottles fit King Cages. If you want to use stainless, the water bottle top fits some Sigg bottles anyhow. Probably others as well.


      http://www.heartratemonitorsusa.com/camelbak-eddy-6-navy.html?utm_source=googleshopping&utm_medium=cpc&utm_term=Camelbak+Navy+Eddy+BPA-Free+Bottle+20oz+(0.6L)&utm_content=camelbak-eddy-6-navy&utm_campaign=googleshopping&gclid=CPil0_mxh8UCFYVFaQodulsADA

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  3. BTW I had a chemical engineer tell me that HDPE water bottles (which are the kind you mostly see) don't have any BPA in them, and never did. It is added as a plasticizer to make things more flexible, and I guess high-density polyurethane doesn't need it.

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    1. Sorry, not to be a nerd, but I should have said high density polyethylene.

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    2. That is interesting. And to clarify: This was not meant to be an alarmist piece on plastics. Regarding the effects of different types of plastics, leaching chemicals, etc.: My knowledge of this topic is that of a fairly well-informed layperson. And I know enough to know that research in this field (as in all fields!) can be contradictory, and there are various unresolved debates among experts. The cliff notes version is that really we cannot say for certain what causes what if it is leached, and to what extent, and under what exact conditions. So it is up to all of us to decide for ourselves. My own attitude is simply that I prefer to avoid them - particularly as I have health problems that are traceable to exposure to environmental toxins in childhood. What others do is up to them.

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    3. I think you're right about HDPE bottles never having BPA, but I believe BPA is actually a hardener, not a softener. It's found in the hard polycarbonate type of plastic, like the Nalgene water bottles - although I believe Nalgene now makes a BPA free variety (not sure it's any safer than BPA though.)

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    4. Poly carbonate is made up of repeating chains of BPA and a carbonate groups. BPA is a fundamental part in PC. The problem is that some of the BPA doesn't get used up in the reaction and can make its way into the water. HDPE is what bike bottles are made of. It is chemically inert, it is chemically the same as very pure wax. They use a high molecular weight version in hip replacements inside the body with no ill affects. These things are very well understood and not controversial.It is just confusing for the lay person. Trust me I went to school to be an engineer.

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  4. You can have your cake and eat it too: water bottles with the flexibility of plastic yet the purity of glass (as a micro-thin interior layer bonded to the plastic). I've been riding with Purist-style bottles ( http://www.specializedwaterbottles.com/purist/) for over a year now and the technology still seems near-miraculous. Since water out of these bottles no longer has the taste or smell of plastic, I've found that I prefer plain water to the artificial sweet/flavored sports drinks. Which means I now have the problem of choosing which energy snacks to bring along.

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    1. Interesting. I have Purist bottles (I believe the gray one in the picture, and possibly the clear one are them) and don't find them to behave all that differently from ordinary ones.

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    2. A friend of mine says the same thing: he tried the Purist bottle and didn't notice any difference. On the other hand I notice different tastes even between types of "plain" water, whether it's hard or soft water, has been sitting in plastic or other types of containers. I guess it comes down to taste being subjective. Which is different, of course, from the issue of whether various kinds of plastic can endanger one's health. For me it's been simply about taste.

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    3. Note that the Purist bottles instruct you not to scrub them. I guess the coating isn't that durable.

      I like the bottles not for the coating but the high flow head with O-ring seal on the nipple that makes it easy to open. But there's a lot of mold release or lubricant on some caps.

      The cap is probably available on other Specialized bottles too.

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    4. The purist bottles do smell less "plasticky." But. I live in Ireland now, and mildew here is like quicker growing and more tenacious than anywhere else I've been. Stainless bottles are somehow able to resist it, but plastic bottles develop it even after one ride if not washed immediately, and even after they are washed/dried/stored. The slime that builds up can then be very difficult to remove, and merges with the plastic smell to create an entirely new, ever more revolting breed of stink. Point being, the Purist bottles seem no less susceptible to this than my other plastic bottles. Hopefully this is not because I've scrubbed off the inner glass layer.

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    5. The ultra-thin coating on the Purity bottles wears out fairly quickly, especially if you ever make the mistake of taking a stuff brush to it. So when new, the bottles are great: really amazing. But if you believe in using stuff for a long time they lose their effectiveness.

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    6. Ah, that could explain it. I don't use a brush, I wash them with a soft sponge. But I've had them for maybe 3 years now.

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    7. I wonder if the rampant mildew growth in your water bottles now might be traced to unchlorinated water -- are you on a well, there? I have chlorinated water, and no mildew/scum problem in my plastic water bottles.

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  5. What. You take your bottles in for a one hour break on a 14 hour ride? Come to think of it they're probably tired.

    Post #10093563 on how riding makes you rethink what's antiquated.

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  6. I use a Klean Kanteen - the 27 ounce size. I bought the cage specifically designed by them to go with that bottle and it's a perfect fit with no rattling or jury-rigging needed. It's plenty easy to both pull the bottle out and put it back on the go - meaning one handed without stopping, or usually even looking. I also don't seem to have a problem drinking out of it on the go. There is a trick to it though, the drinking lid has a little air vent - it's the clear or white goomer that's located right under the little handle part of the lid. If you position the bottle so the vent is upwards (ie not getting blocked by water) and then tip the whole bottle so it's at a significant angle, the water will flow nicely. I usually drink out of the side of my mouth to avoid tipping my head back or having the bottle blocking my view while I'm riding, but I don't have any problem using it that way. Hope that helps!

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    1. Use King Cage Iris bottle cages. They hold all water bottles securely. Great for Mtn biking or with use with metal bottles.Link: http://www.rivbike.com/product-p/wb7iris.htm
      Your timing is perfect.I just cleaned my Camel Back bottles.they have this yellow tinge and the nipples are a pain to clean.It's time to order some Klean Kanteen bottles.
      Love your blogs

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  7. Randonneur de CharmeApril 20, 2015 at 3:25 PM

    I use plastic and stainless bottles. Depend of the bike I use.
    BTW 1: to clean the bottles I use KUKIDENT tabs. Perfect result.

    (BTW 2: how is your PBP 2015 project going on? my project will probably fail, bc of wear and tear of my left hip, specially after the 200km and 300km I felt really bad. Well not good news, but not too much bad bc I am already "un ancien du PBP", something I really hope you will reach this year!)

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  8. I agree that most plastic bottles are a pain and don't taste very good. I've used Camelbacks and playtypus bags in the past and they were a compromise, too.

    The Clean bottles seem to work pretty well and are certainly easier to clean...I've had a few of the non-insulated variety and they work as advertised.

    http://www.blueskycycling.com/product10030_8_-Clean-Bottle-Insulated-Clean-Water-Bottle-22oz.htm?CAWELAID=120180840000067584&CAGPSPN=pla&catargetid=120180840000067496&cadevice=c&gclid=CIqzkaj-hcUCFQmRaQod1Q0ACA

    I wait until I know I can pedal hands free before I pull a bottle to drink on the go.

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  9. I just use the plastic bottles and don't worry about it. Over the years I've been told so many different things were going to kill me that now I just ignore most of the warnings/alarms.

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    1. I think you are right - the traffic fumes we ingest will be far more harmful than drinking from a plastic bottle.

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  10. No to plastic!! I have a kleen kanteen with the stainless steel top because I do not want ANY PLASTIC. I cannot drink out of it while riding. I have trouble drinking out of the thing as it is with the wide mouth. It often spills out onto my chin and down my shirt-classy! They have come up with some lid alternatives and smaller bottles, but that costs money. I have smaller double walled stainless steel coffee thing that does not fair much better. It has the flippy coffee lid that one could open up and take a slurp from, but clumsy me..... I lost the skills to drink and ride years ago, so it wouldn't really matter if it was a squeezy plastic bottle, I'd still have a special needs moment.
    If I am thirsty, I stop and drink, no big deal, I have no illusions about performance. In fact I usually forget to bring water or I wait until I absolutely need a drink usually waiting until I reach a nice spot or for shorter rides, I will arriving at the destination to drink.

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  11. I like stainless steel, so I use a Dirt Rag Stanley flask filled with Bulleit rye. Makes those long rides go by so much more smoothly...

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    1. No. Cyclists use cognac or homemade grappa. The only other possibility is to be like Freddy Maertens, the Man With Champagne in His Water Bottles. 373 professional victories with Champagne. Lanson Champagne.

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  12. I'm glad you brought this up cuz" there's a couple of things I want to say about bidons and NO-ONE is ever going to casually ask me what I think and then stand there for 15 minutes while I wave my arms around and get all loud and slobbery lettin' em' know what ought to be done about it. Thank you for this opportunity.

    First, the stupid things cost about $6 for a even small, basic shop branded one that will more or less poison you if used properly, and closer to 9 or 10 for a big one with a wide lid you can screw off and shove a useful brush or cloth into. But, that lid WILL NOT FIT the almost, but not quite identical, ones you bought from THE SAME SHOP 2 years ago the last time you realized you couldn't make 2 good bottles from the 13 you had in the box under the sink because of all the split caps, the missing nozzles or the scraped up bottles themselves that look and smell like they washed up on the beach with a hermit crab running a karaoke bar inside them.

    I bought one bottle because it had this weird little nozzle/rubber valve that when you squeezed it a merry little fart noise could be heard, SHEER FREAKING GENIOUS! I assumed something so perfect would be available till the end of time! I've never seen one the same size since. Now the bottle has disappeared(might have paint water in it on my drawing table so that one's never coming back and anyway had a stupid logo that looked like the shop owner whipped it out himself on his computer to save paying some college girl $50 to design one) and that lid wont screw on to any other bottle in existence and now I must carry the lid in my jersey pocket and BLOW through it to make fart noises which I think is an insult to my dignity and somebody owes me a freakin bottle D-A-G-N-A-B-B-I-T!!!

    Nine dollars I paid for this, but it's not just the money it's the 6 tacos I could have bought with the $9, so maybe it really is the money after all... Jeez, 6 tacos. Is any bottle worth that?
    So anyway, I say there needs to be an Industry Standard for waterbottle lids, make them interchange just like bottom brackets or headsets, something like that. No responsible industry would ever allow there to be 5 or 6 different sizes and threads for something as simple and well developed as the water bottle should be after all these years, right? As soon as the accessories manufacturers realize this is an issue they'll come up with a solution so I should just relax and wait for that to get straitened out...

    Stainless Steel bottles are pretty nice but seem to all be too long to properly sit in a cage meant for a plastic bottle, some get close and are secure and quiet but don't seem to be able to sit parallel to the frame tube. And they don't usually share the same threads between brands or leave them alone for more than a year or two for the same brand leaving you eventually with a bunch of incompatible bottles and caps just like plastic ones. If I find Aluminum or Stainless ones that will actually fit in a King Cage and be parallel with the frame tube I'll buy a couple and resign myself to using corks when I lose the lids.

    Maybe the solution is an I.V. bag in a small backpack.

    Spindizzy

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    1. You pay for bottles?? With money??

      My bottles are all from curbside. I use Polar bottles exclusively. White ones. They're made in USA and the nozzle disassembles for complete cleaning. I see a white one, I slow down. If it got scuffed from falling, if it looks like it was used more than once, I keep riding. If it has some sticky energy goo inside I throw it back, don't want that junk in my pocket. I've seen a stainless bottle on a bike, in person, exactly once. That rider was full Grant to the seersucker. But I've curbsided half a dozen and two of them were twined. All of them were very new. Curbside NIB inertubes all seem to have long valves that don't work well with my flat rims, I only stop if I recognize a label says they're latex. Too many multitools to stop for those anymore. Campy T wrenches and peanut butter wrenches and pregnant wrenches are still available curbside, those I stop for regardless of how beat up they are.

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    2. I don't see bottles on the road as a rule, which now that you mention it seems a little strange but I wonder how big the population of Freds around here would have to be before there would be a reliable supply of one type and color and the possibility of finding nice ones often enough to maintain an inventory. I suspect you live somewhere where the breeding population of cyclists is greater than here(or the population of pickup truck drivers who try to nail anything that might produce a satisfying "POP" may be lower where you are).

      I do pick up tubes and tools like you but not the sparkling little gems you run across(are you serious about finding Campy "T" and "Peanut Butter" wrenches on the road or are you just screwing with me? Let me relieve you of some of your extras. Really). I do see bottles on the trails when out in the woods sometimes but not often enough to maintain an inventory, and even then they are still all different types and sizes.

      And on top of that, even though my standards tend to be quite low, the idea of using a ground-scored bottle is sort of a stretch for me. It's not on the level of sharing needles of course but it doesn't quite seem to be "sharing a Coke with a friend" either. Oh well, my gradual descent into poverty and squalor doesn't show any signs of reversing so it's only a matter of time till I'm using an empty Four Loco can as a Bidon and will be reminiscing about the good old days of drinking from Virgin L.D.P.E.

      Spindizzy

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    3. Spin

      What we're looking at here is the distance between Edith Wharton and Scott Fitzgerald. I'm from the Midwest like Scott. Free goods are strewn over the landscape. Going back 40 years I would pick up any bottle, and then I started to pick up only bottles that were pretty new and might reasonably still come clean. I ended up with hundreds of bottles. Now I'm picking up the ones that were purchased yesterday or perhaps earlier this morning. The Polar nozzle that cleans is a boon and as long as there are marketers plugging that bottle I'll have a supply.

      Campy tools have dwindled to perhaps one a year. Tubulars are coming back. To give you some idea the kind of person who litters tubulars I will never see a stretched previously glued tire roadside. That's what you or I carry for a spare. The ones I see are always very new and topend only. Sitting in a group of a hundred riders and they think it's funny I will dismount and chase back just to pick up that distinctive orange box with the Sonderklasse inside.

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    4. I get it. I too never find properly prepared spare tubs but do find the occasional new unstretched. I have NEVER, ever, lost one of my own.

      I don't bother stopping for tools anymore unless they look like they might be Craftsman or better, I still squeal with delight when the 1/4" drive ratchet complete with swivel extension and 12mm socket says "Snap-On" though. Pumps and tubes and tire levers I can't resist and sometimes find the owner and otherwise throw them in my "FREE" box at home where my friends and the Boy-friend of my Daughter and friends of the boyfriend of my Daughter grab them. If I ever find a Campy "T" or Peanut Butter Wrench I will likely have a little mini stroke.

      Spindizzy

      Oh yeah, Edith Wharton: ALWAYS. Fitzgerald: Meh... sometimes.

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    5. Spin

      Me again. I'm looking at a row of four #770 tools on the shelf. There are more around here if I start to dig. Having a spare is a good thing but I don't need all this. All of them were found. Post an address and I'll send you one. Maybe something else too.

      P's and T's are what visitors always glom on to. I like to keep multiples around anyway. It's slowed down to where I don't score Campy that often but I have been doing it 50 years.

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    6. WOW! Thanks.

      Give me a shout at...spindizzy43@gmail.com

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  13. aren't most stainless steel water bottles coated internally with a polymer?

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    1. Aluminum bottles are lined with plastic. Stainless steel are not lined - maybe some are, but all the brands I'm aware of are just pure stainless. Best, Lissa

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  14. What you want is a real zohata, the Basque goatskin bag that walkers carry (usually with red wine, not water). Avoid the modern ones with a plastic or latex lining. The real zohata is not only utterly romantic, but far more practical than a plastic bottle. You can squeeze them so the wine shoots into the mouth without touching the spout. They fit comfortably one ones back and slide around when thirsty. They were often used on horseback as well and when tossed from one rider to another, if the receiver was a klutz, the zohata would not break on hitting the ground.

    The history of zohata (wineskin, bladder, bota) goes far back beyond history. Made from an animal bladder covered in leather, often with brilliantly designed stoppers (some 30,000 year old ones have been found - threaded even), they even have prominent mention in the bible, where it is recommended that new wine goes in new wineskins... an alegory that means little to folks today.

    But I digress. Take a holiday down to Basque country in search of a real zohata... a wonderful quest...

    We look forward to your review.

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    1. Even better; Get a complete goat, and have it run along with you with a stainless steel tank on it´s back.

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  15. I use a stainless steel bottle purchased from a camping store - I have no problem drinking while riding and am not concerned about losing time through slowing down while I drink - I am not into that type of riding experience.

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  16. I'm using the PBA free Polar plastic bottles with insulating liner [Made of BPA- and phthalate-free LDPE plastic]. Keeps drinks cooler longer. I have several - two larger ones and a smaller bottle. I did try steel but it rattled and twine would cover up the nice outer paint that matches one of my bikes. So for now I'm not using it. That one was for urban rides.

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  17. I use stainless steel, double-walled, vacuum insulated for commuting and running errands on my hybrid, and Polar insulated BPA free plastic for long rides on the road bike. The cage on the hybrid is adjustable both width and height and has no trouble accommodating a bottle of wine on the way home from the grocery store. I've found the most offensive thing about plastic bottles to be the smell they take on when they're not allowed to air properly between rides. We clean them well after each ride, and store them with the lids off.

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  18. Velouria,
    You may not know, but Kleen Canteen now makes a "sport nozzle" that fits all of their bottles and it has a silicone valve that is higher flowing than the older tops and also no longer makes the annoying "slurpy-chirpy" sound that older ones do. I don't like the way the bottles rattle in the typical metal cage so I switched exclusively to an old throw-back from my mountain biking days in the mid 90s. Profile Design used to make a heavy duty plastic cage that they called the Kage. Search for it on ebay and you should still be able to find them. Profile still makes the style but seems to only include them on their triathlon bottle holder which is designed to fit behind the bike seat. Still, the Kages can be found on the 'bay for usually no more than about $5 a piece. I stocked up a while back since I didn't know if these great Kages would disappear forever. They would hold a water bottle amazingly tight when bombing singletrack, and even with a 27oz. stainless bottle they still hold it rock-solid with no noise.

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  19. I use a hydration pack (Deuter or Source, not Camelback). In the summer, when it's too hot to wear a pack, I put the waterbag in a pannier and run an extension hose up over my shoulder. Voilà.

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  20. In regards to bottles rattling in the cage, it is easy just to make a cover for the bottle from stretchy fabric - I use the little drawstring bags provided with cheap sunglasses, they fit perfectly and there is no 'rattle' at all.

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  21. I like stainless steel bottles (Klean Kanteen) but after reading this link
    http://lhomme.et.largile.free.fr/temoignages/testimony.htm (see “making tap water safe”) I want to try plastic bottles because it’s said that clay isn’t compatible with metal. I’m going to try the recipe.
    My target is to make healthy and chip tape water: a training to survival behavior.

    Best,

    L.

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  22. My stainless steel bottle fits nice and snugly in the bottle cage. I'm new to cycling so still getting used to drinking on the go, but have none of the issues described in the blog.

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  23. I'm afraid I mostly employ the Grant Petersen method of stopping to take a drink. I have both Klean Kanteens and a squeeze bottle and I use either one based upon the exact circumstances you described above. The problem I have with the plastic ones is that the cap accumulates dust and dirt while riding, and I tend to put my mouth right on it blissfully unaware of the grossness I just ingested.

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  24. I use a Camelbak bottle. It is double-walled with an insulating layer between so the plastic that holds the water is never hit by UV rays. The lid does not leak (my Polar bottles all leak) and the nozzle twists open and closed rather than having to tug/push with your teeth. The nozzle is easily cleaned with a cotton swab (Q-tip). I am reasonably certain that the exhaust and other pollutants I inhale on my rides are far worse than "drinking water that was touched by plastic" could ever be.

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  25. You need a lot less twine if you put it on the cage rather than the bottle.

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  26. Picture this: Metal bottle, metal flip top to pivots 180 degrees and is the right diameter for drinking from, mounted on a larger diameter screw top (for easier cleaning of the bottle). Use it with a plastic cage for no rattling, or put camp line or twine around your bottle (or the cage itself, as someone above brilliantly suggested). All metal, no rattle, drinks easily. Someone go make it, or tell me who already does....

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