At Ezi Sports, we are often asked about front hydration systems for your bike. Questions like: Should I only use these for Ironman Triathlons or should I have them for shorter distances? What is the difference between the vertical ones and the flat bottle ones? What about the newer style like the Xlab Torpedo Versa? What is the benefit of a front hydration system versus a water bottle in my bike cage or at the rear?
There are lots of questions to think about, but I think it comes down to a few key areas – Benefits, and Problems.
Benefits of a Front Hydration System
Hydration - For most athletes, I believe the number one benefit of putting a complete front hydration system on your triathlon bike is that you will drink more. By having a straw only a few inches away from your mouth you will find yourself taking more sips more often. This is especially true for longer distance races such as Ironman and Ironman 70.3 triathlons, equally important for an Olympic Distance race but less so for Sprint distance. Once you are cycling for 1, 2 even up to 6 hours you should be consuming at least a bottle of fluid per hour. The more consistent and frequent you can consume this the better (and easier on the stomach).
Aerodynamics – This is important for leading Triathletes or the bigger races. If you look at the 2017 Ironman World Championship count ( see the article in Triathlete Magazine ) you will see that about two-thirds of the athletes are using front hydration systems (more than rear hydration) and the leading brands of XLAB and Profile Design bubble up to the top. There are numerous articles that discuss the difference in the aerodynamics of front vs rear vs on the bike. I personally believe that rear is better for the aero but harder to use and nowhere near as important as constant sipping. There are also options allowing for light (carbon options) but this is an expensive option for the few.
Options – with front hydration you have many options to fit your budget and needs. The older style vertical bottles (like the profile design aerodrink) are a good entry point but I am seeing less and less of these in races. By the time you add the bracket you are at the starting price of a horizontal solution like the XLAB Torpedo. The horizontal systems are more secure with firmer brackets. With the horizontal systems you have the option of holding a bottle, bottle and straw (such as Profile Design Aero HC SystemXLAB Torpedo Versa 200 System) all the way to the larger systems such as the Profile Design HD FC 35 System which has a place to hold some nutrition while you ride. Most now come with a bracket for a Garmin.
Problems of a Front Hydration System
Rattle – there is nothing more annoying on a long ride than your water bottle rattling in the front. In the past front hydration systems used to rattle on your tri bars but this is rarely the case now. The brackets are more secure with wide straps. I still recommend testing on a bumpy road and if in doubt carry some spare zip ties to better secure the system.
Hard to clean – Most of the front systems have a particular water bottle to use and you must keep care of it to keep it clean and hygienic. The newer styles have broader openings to help but put the effort into cleaning as your stomach will thank you next race.
In my opinion, a front hydration system in the front is a must have for 95% of triathletes or time trial riders. The consistent hydration far outweighs any issue in weight or use. I do recommend using these systems in training as well as racing for Olympic, Ironman 70.3 and Ironman distances. I think the best two options on the market are the XLAB Torpedo Versa Range and the Profile Design FC 35.
About the Author
Andrew Lang has been competing in triathlons for over 20 years and all distances from Sprint all the way up to completing 19 Ironman triathlons. Although he is a middle to back of the pack triathlete he has been fortunate to race at 2 Ironman 70.3 World Championships and the Ironman World Champions at Kona. Since 2009, Andrew has co-owned and operated Ezi Sports – the largest online triathlon store in Australia. He gets to field test and evaluate most new products on the market as well as help thousands of athletes with their sport gear needs.