Plus, experts tips on finding the right water bottle to keep you hydrated
Water bottles from CamelBak (far left, second from left), Co-op Cycles, Polar Bottle, and Elite Fly.
By Amy Jamieson
I affectionately call my bike The Brooklyn Bomber since Brooklyn, N.Y., is where it was purchased and earned many of its miles. It took a brief sabbatical when my two kids came along. But more recently, as they’ve grown older and we retreated to the suburbs, my blue-and-white Fuji bike has cycled around Block Island off the coast of Rhode Island and along the Farmington River in Connecticut. It may seem counterintuitive to the premise of this article, but all of those miles were clocked without one key item hanging from the frame: a water bottle.
That’s right, I carried my drinking water for these recreational adventures in a backpack, or sometimes not at all. Mostly because I’m the cycler who bikes to places to imbibe. So when Consumer Reports asked me to review five popular cycling water bottles, The Brooklyn Bomber needed an upgrade. I learned right away that not all water bottle cages—the water bottle holder that attaches to the bike’s frame with a few screws—are created equal.
“I would recommend an aluminum bottle cage that fits your frame,” Zach Nehr, a freelance writer and elite cyclist as well as the owner of ZNehr Coaching, told me. “The fitting is the most important part—almost all bikes are the same, but it’s good to double-check—whereas the material is much less important. Carbon fiber should be reserved for serious cyclists and bike racers, whereas metal bottle cages are more for bike packing and off-road riding.”
Six dollars and approximately 6 minutes in Dick’s Sporting Goods was just about all I needed to begin road testing. Like a pit crew member fixing up my race car, my husband used an Allen key to attach the cage for me.
Next, it was time to fill it. Nehr says there are a few things to look for in a good cycling bottle. “To sum it all up, you need a water bottle that is comfortable and easy to use,” he says. “Don’t pay extra money for a water bottle with a fancy opening that you don’t know how to use. Stick with the basics.”
I assessed these cycling water bottles for several things, including ease of grabbing them from the cage and drinking from them with one hand while steering. At Consumer Reports’ lab, they were weighed when empty and when filled to capacity, and tested to find out how cold they kept water over a 2-hour period. Read on for more information on these popular bottles.
Editor’s Pick: CamelBak Podium Chill Water Bottle (24 oz.)
Photo: Amy Jamieson
As you’ve likely gathered by now, I am not a professional cyclist. I learned through this water bottle reviewing process that there isn’t a dramatic difference between the bottles pro cyclists use and the ones recreational cyclists might choose.
“As long as people purchase a quality bottle from a bicycle shop or outdoor retailer [example, REI], they will be getting the exact same bottles that professionals use,” says Robert Evans, a former competitive cyclist and founder and CEO of Cycling Quests, a company that manages cycling events.
“Many professionals use basic cycling water bottles just like you and I,” Nehr says. “Professional cyclists use carbon fiber bottle cages that are extremely lightweight and sometimes even aerodynamic. These cages are very expensive compared to a basic aluminum cage, but for the professionals, it’s worth it to go 1 percent faster.”
This double-wall insulated CamelBak Podium Chill water bottle hit the two key points Nehr says are important to look for: comfort and ease of use. Because it fit rather snuggly in my cage, I found getting it out of and back into it with one hand mildly challenging. But you want a bottle that stays in place in the cage and doesn’t accidentally slip out. The CamelBak definitely stays put.
It was also comfortable when it was in my hand. With a 24-ounce capacity, the CamelBak Podium Chill holds a nice amount of water and keeps that water cool for a long time. I biked on a Monday afternoon, put the bottle filled with cold water in my shaded garage afterward, picked it up at noon on Wednesday, and the water was still decently cool, definitely not warm. On another day, the cold water inside also stayed cool in the bottle for 2 hours while sitting on my picnic table in direct sunlight. By hour 3 on the table, it no longer felt cool.
It’s made of polypropylene, and CamelBak says it’s 100 percent free of BPA, BPS, and BPF and equipped with a self-sealing “positive lockout cap” that seals after each sip. I really liked that the mouthpiece is soft and easy to use. Squeeze it and water comes out. Release and water stops flowing. I found the bottle easy to squeeze while drinking and easy to douse myself with on a hot ride. There’s a lock on the top, too, which keeps the “leakproof” mouthpiece locked. Unlocking it takes two hands.
Evans is a fan of the unique mouthpiece and twist valve of CamelBak bottles. “All you have to do is squeeze the bottle and the water/drink easily goes into your mouth,” he says. “You don’t have to pull the valve open with your mouth. When the valve is closed it’s great for travel as the bottle will not leak in a bag.”
The cap on the CamelBak Podium Chill disassembles for easy cleaning and, per the website, hand-washing with soapy water is recommended. Just make sure you don’t lose the small parts.
Budget-Friendly Pick: Elite Fly Water Bottle (550 ml)
Photo: Amy Jamieson
Price paid: $10
Where to buy: Amazon
Capacity: About 18.6 ounces
Empty weight: 1.6 ounces
Materials: Made of polypropylene, food-grade polypropylene, and food-grade thermo-plastic rubber.
Cleaning: CR recommends hand-washing this bottle. The manufacturer says it’s dishwasher-safe up to 104° F. But as a “dishwasher uses 120° F water as a starting point but raises it to 140° F or higher,” according to CR senior test project leader Larry Ciufo, “it’s safe to say that this water bottle will not work well in a dishwasher.”
Insulated water bottles are great for people who actually use the insulation feature, Nehr says, referring to serious cyclists, long-distance riders, and people who train in summer heat or cold temperatures. But for a fair-weather cyclist like myself, he says a basic water bottle is best.
The Elite Fly definitely has all the basics. It’s the smallest of all the bottles, holding just 18 ounces of liquid. It’s short, stout, and has a no-frills mouthpiece that you can pull with your mouth to easily open and close. I found it really comfortable to drink from while riding.
If the mouthpiece is pressed down closed, it doesn’t leak any water when shaken. If the cap is closed and the bottle is dropped on the ground, the cap will pop up and water will come out. The easy-open structure of the mouthpiece means water comes out easily, and for fast-hydration purposes, that seems like a good thing.
Weighing just 1.6 ounces, the Elite Fly water bottle is dubbed by the company as “incredibly light,” and that’s definitely true. It’s lighter than all the other bottles I tried here because it’s built with less plastic material, which the company says makes it easier to squeeze. It was pretty easy. Of all the bottles in this article, this was the easiest to get in and out of the cage, sliding both ways effortlessly. That’s what I liked most about it.
Sure, there are downsides to choosing a bottle this basic, lack of chill being one. Cold water inside the uninsulated Elite Fly turned warm quickly when it was put in direct sunlight on my picnic table. But if your bike comes out to play just a couple of times a season as mine does, the simplicity of the Elite Fly checks the important boxes.
What the Pros Like: Co-op Cycles Insulated Water Bottle (23 oz.)
Photo: Amy Jamieson
Price paid: $17
Where to buy: REI
Capacity: 23 ounces
Empty weight: 3.7 ounces
Materials: Made of polypropylene
Cleaning: Hand-washing is recommended, but the bottle portion can be placed on the top rack of a dishwasher.
This Co-op Cycles bottle slides out of the cage in much the same way as the CamelBak, requiring a tug and a little coordination while steering the bike. I can report that removing all of the bottles from the cage became easier for me the more I did it.
The cap design is called “MoFlo,” which branding material says features “a wide water channel to deliver up to 50 percent greater flow than other leading bottles; plus, it has improved functional grip.” I did like the fact that the screw top has grooves, which helped me grab the bottle from the cage. I found the water delivery to be swift, also. Was it better than the other bottles I tried? I didn’t sense a dramatic difference.
While I liked that the cap feels soft, I did have to pull it open with my mouth to get water flowing. This Co-op Cycles bottle also boasts “Purist technology” which “infuses the bottle’s interior with silicon dioxide to prevent odors, stains, and mold from attaching to the inner surface, offering a pure taste.” A plasticky taste can be an issue for some riders, but none of the bottles here tasted that way to me.
I found it slightly easier to squeeze water out than the other insulated bottles. The label says hand-wash only, while the Co-op website says that it can be washed on the top rack of a dishwasher but that hand-washing is recommended.
Evans, who along with Nehr wasn’t informed that I was reviewing this model or any of these brands, believes Specialized, which makes bikes and cycling gear, has arguably the best bottles on the market.
“Their standard bottles are just so good,” Evans says. “They have soft, closable bite valves that allow a very good flow of water/drink, and the caps don’t leak. They have a model called the Purist that has a silica coating inside so your water doesn’t taste like bottle instead of water.”
The instructions say the cap is sealed with an integrated O-ring and a lockdown nozzle for leak-free transport. When held upside down and shaken vigorously, it didn’t leak at all for me.
“Some models do have a bottle cap that does not use a bite valve; just squeeze and the water passes through the cap,” Evans says. “However, it’s not closable for transport, and in my experience, the pass-through is less than satisfying and can even be difficult. But that is probably their only weakness.”
Double Duty Pick: Polar Bottle Sport Insulated (24 oz.)
Photo: Amy Jamieson
Price paid: $26 for a two-pack
Where to buy: Amazon (single bottle, two pack), Target
Capacity: 24 ounces
Empty weight: 4.2 ounces
Materials: Made of low-density polyethylene, it’s BPA free and has a TPU valve.
Both of the bottles in this set seem large and heavy when full. I was surprised to learn from Nehr that there are actually larger options available for cyclists.
“It is definitely worth considering getting an oversized water bottle if one fits in your frame,” Nehr says. “While most cycling water bottles are 22 to 24 ounces, an oversized bottle could be 32 to 34 ounces, while still fitting in the same bottle cage. On a hot day in the middle of the summer, it is a great feeling to have 50 percent more water onboard.” I can definitely see the benefits of that.
There are a lot of things to like about this 100 percent BPA-free Polar Bottle, first and foremost the “dash handle,” as the brand calls it, which I easily used to pull the bottle out of the cage while I was riding. None of the other bottles had this feature, and I really appreciated it.
I found that the Tri-Layer insulation definitely kept the water inside cold. I filled all of these water bottles with cold water from my refrigerator and placed them in direct sunshine on my picnic table on a 75-degree day. After an hour, the water in the Polar Bottle was the coldest, while the water in the two insulated CamelBaks and Co-Op was still cool but not cold. By hour three the water in the Polar Bottle was still chilled.
When the cap’s nozzle was closed and the bottle was shaken, it didn’t leak for me, but that tight nozzle comes at a cost. I found it hard to open and close while steering, and that was a drawback. When I threw the bottle off the bike (just for kicks!) it stayed securely closed. That’s the advantage of having a tight nozzle, I suppose.
I realized that the best way to open a tight nozzle is to do it before you remove it from the cage for a drink. When you’re done drinking, place it back in the cage and hit the nozzle closed. Or avoid any nozzle yanking at all and just leave it open for the whole ride.
The Polar Bottle Sport really hammered home how important easy openings can be. “Easy openings and grippy materials are the two standout features that I look for in a cycling water bottle,” Nehr says. “You want to have a bottle that is easy to grab and easy to drink out of, since grabbing your water bottle while cycling can be a tricky and awkward motion. Especially on hot days, or when you’re traversing bumpy roads, you want to have a water bottle that stays firmly in your hand and planted in your bottle cage.”
While easier to grab from the cage and easily held in my hand, it wasn’t easy to open for water. But having double the water for your adventure—one for the bike and one for the car ride to the bike path—is a great idea.
Dirt-Busting Pick: CamelBak Podium Dirt Series Chill (21 oz.)
Photo: Amy Jamieson
Price paid: $18
Where to buy: Amazon, CamelBak, REI
Capacity: 21 ounces
Empty weight: 3.7 ounces
Materials: Made of low-density polyethylene and medical-grade self-sealing silicone.
Cleaning: Hand-wash only
Like the Podium Chill, this CamelBak is double-wall insulated. It essentially has all the same bells and whistles—cooling ability, the self-sealing cap, and the same squeezability, except for one new accessory. It has a Mud Cap. It also holds slightly less water.
The Mud Cap covers the bottle’s cool mouthpiece (the same mouthpiece I liked in the first CamelBak review above), and therefore this bottle is ideal for the cyclist who isn’t afraid of a little dirt. The Mud Cap is included on the Podium Dirt Series bottles and is available as an add-on product for $7. BPA-, BPS-, and BPF-free, the cap is compatible with all new Podium bottles launched in 2019, including the Podium Chill, Podium Big Chill, and Podium Ice.
I must admit I don’t ride through puddles or venture off-road onto dirty or muddy trails like a mountain biker would. I pretty much stick to paved paths or roadways. But if mud and dirt are an issue for you and your water bottle, a cap like this will combat that. However, caps are not for every cyclist.
“I tend to avoid water bottles with confusing openings or mouthpieces, especially ones with a cap that you’ll need to open,” Nehr says. “Some bottles come with twisting caps that ‘prevent excessive leaking,’ but it’s not like you’re holding your water bottle upside down.”
The Podium Dirt Series, which also has the locking feature on the cap, didn’t leak at all when shaken or tossed. It kept cold water cool for a few hours when left on my picnic table in direct sunlight.
I found opening the cap while riding fairly easy due to the cap’s floppiness, but it does add an extra step on the path to hydration. I had no problem putting the cap back on while steering. It was easier to do when I held the bottle to my chest, but you can also do it after the bottle is firmly in the cage.
If you’re prone to taking the road less traveled, the CamelBak Podium Dirt Series Chill bottle could be your new dirt defender.
How We Evaluated These Bike Water Bottles
I took each bottle on rides on paved roads and paths. I tried drinking from them while biking, which means I had to steer while pulling the bottle from its cage and drinking. Some features made this easier, others more complicated. This sounds simple enough, but if you’re not accustomed to it, it can be a bit awkward. I knocked them onto the ground to evaluate for durability. I also evaluated them for leaks; I shook them vigorously upside down with the lid closed to see if water spilled. I left them outside in direct sunlight and in shaded areas for days to assess how cool insulated ones kept water. In Consumer Reports’ lab, we filled each bottle with cold water of the same temperature and took the water’s temperature hourly for 2 hours with a precision thermometer to determine which ones kept the water coldest longest.
This product evaluation is part of Consumer Reports’ Outside the Labs reviews program, which is separate from our laboratory testing and ratings. Our Outside the Labs reviews are performed at home and in other native settings by individuals, including our journalists, with specialized subject matter experience or familiarity and are designed to offer another important perspective for consumers as they shop. While the products or services mentioned in this article may not currently be in CR’s ratings, they could eventually be tested in our laboratories and rated according to an objective, scientific protocol.
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