A few months ago while wandering the aisles of our local Safeway I spotted some pouches that looked like large GU gels. They weren’t sports food at all—they were baby food. In my mind baby food is inextricably linked to Gerber’s little glass jars. But now they’ve grown up and are available in easy-to-open screw top pouches—rather than tear-off—making them much easier to carry, open, and use. My curiosity was piqued: could these be a better on-the-road food than Clif bars or gels? I’ve come to hate Clif bars and gels and use them only because I’m too lazy to prepare anything else for on-the-road eating. As a consequence when I’m riding alone I rarely eat anything regardless of the length of the ride. (But if I’m riding with others, then it’s a great excuse to stop somewhere very nice for a good, long lunch!) I’ve got enough fat on my body to fuel me for a very long ride so it merely becomes a question of whether I mind slowing down or eating something repulsive like a Clif bar and then maybe going faster.
The pouches I saw happened to be Earth’s Best Organic Baby Food Puree although Gerber’s—and I’m sure all baby food companies now—sell their food in pouches as well. Earth’s Best are organic, GMO free, and vegan friendly. We bought a couple, an orange banana and a banana blueberry. They sat in the cupboard for a couple of months until I realized they actually had a short expiration date and I’d better use them fast. The bottom line: they definitely taste better than gels or bars because they’re real food, just pureed. For example, the Orange Banana consists of organic bananas and orange juice concentrate. And because they’re pureed food, specifically fruit, they aren’t thick or dry concoctions that need voluminous slugs of water to get down your craw. After all they are intended for babies! So they taste good and they’re very easy to swallow. They also come in a huge variety of fruit and vegetable combinations, 28 (!) in all. I liked them so well that I bought a box of 12 from Amazon.
So what’s the drawback? Cost-wise they’re about the same as a Clif bar. But these are real food, so the pouches are definitely heavier and not as calorie dense. The only way you’re going to get 100 calories in a tiny 1.2 oz. gel pack like a Clif Shot is to take as much water out of it and use industrial food products like maltodextrin and dried cane syrup. Earth’s Best pouches are 4 oz. and contain only about 90 calories. A Clif bar weights 2.4 oz. and has 260 calories or about three of these Earth’s Best pouches. But if you want the light weight of a bar made out of organic brown rice syrup, well, you’re stuck eating Clif bars or some such dreck. Baby food is easier to slug down and you don’t have to wash it down with water. Plus, it’s yummy.
Like most recreational cyclists I studiously ignored the nascent appearance of electric bicycles, or e-bikes, on our shores. I preferred to propel myself down the road, thank you very much. Using an electric bicycle seemed like another incarnation of laziness and of not knowing what to do with too much money. E-bikes also were oriented towards the commuter and ‘transpo’ crowd, and there it has some semblance of a rationale: you could commute to work and not arrive so sweaty that your funk would repel your coworkers, or for example if you wanted to haul your kid to Rooftop Elementary up Twin Peaks, you could use the electric assist.
In Europe electric bicycles, although still a small yet distinct portion of overall bike use, have been growing by leaps and bounds. Over the years Roger and I have seen them go from rare Bigfoot-like spottings to steady and regular appearances both in the cities and the countryside. Three years ago outside of Bern, Switzerland we ran into a group from Zurich, all of them on e-bikes. They were on rental ‘pedelecs’—electric bikes that you must pedal to get a power assist (i.e. no throttle)—and having a holiday in the hilly countryside east of Lake Geneva. They didn’t appear to be couch potatoes nor were they dressed in cycling drag: they were just regular city folk. When we stopped together at a cheese-making farm in Affolterm for lunch, I took the opportunity to chat with them about their bikes. They weren’t on anything special, some urban style bike with upright bars and a gear train, probably nine gears in back. They explained that they were out doing daily tours and that if they had to use regular bicycles they would never be able to do the distances or hills that they were covering and consequently see and experience so much less of the beautiful countryside. They said if you run down the battery on the bike, you are able to exchange it at train stations for fully recharged units and keep on riding. Apparently this zone of Switzerland had infrastructure that allowed for easy battery exchange—Elon Musk would be envious. Of course if you run the battery down, then you’re on pedal power only and since the bikes run about 50 pounds, that’s a lot of weight to lug around. But at least you can make it back to town.
After lunch we set off together and I was able to see them in action. They definitely were pedaling to get around and they were enjoying the countryside. In fact they loved to stop and take pictures of the spectacular views of the area. And, they were out doing something for exercise. At that point it sunk into my head that e-bikes wasn’t cheating at all: they were liberating devices. These folks were able to do something healthy and pleasurable that they very likely would not have done otherwise.
Roger loves his e-bike. As I mentioned previously, a couple of years ago he started having health setbacks. The result was that he was not just going slower but struggling much of the time. Rides were becoming exhausting efforts. No amount of training was likely to bring him back to his former level. The e-bike allows him to do all the riding he used to do and enjoy at the speeds he used to do (and faster!) at a power output he is able to sustain.
I don’t know of any other e-bike users in the club but I do know that the Den Daddy is actively searching for one. Maybe we should set up a Different Spokes subsection: Electric Spokes! Derek is in his eighties and still actively rides throughout Contra Costa. But he claims he can’t do hills anymore and thinks an e-bike will be of great help, and he is exactly right. However it is a bit ironic since the last few times I’ve ridden with Derek he has zoomed on the flats at close to 20 mph. I don’t doubt that he isn’t enjoying the hills anymore and he’s probably comparing himself to the way he used to ride, which I know from my own personal experience can be demoralizing. If he succeeds in finding a mount he likes, I think he’ll take to it like a fish to water. And he’ll be kicking your butt not just on the flats but the hills too. (You better hope his battery dies before you do!)
Speaking of kicking butt, Bill Bushnell, one of our former Ride Coordinators (but unfortunately no longer a member) rides an electric recumbent. If you rode with Bill back in the day you know that holding his wheel was difficult. Then he got a recumbent and it became almost impossible. Then he faired his recumbent and it was impossible! Well, Bill developed a health issue that cut his power and made riding more and more problematic. His solution was to electrify his recumbent. He still rides incredible mileage and does rides that would destroy you or me. If there were ever a poster child for the potential benefit of e-bikes for recreational cyclists Bill would be it.
The future development of e-bikes in the US is going to be very interesting. No doubt the majority of purchasers will continue to be very casual cyclists who just want to get from point A to point B without much effort. But with Boomers and Gen-X cyclists getting on in years there is another market to be tapped. Aging recreational cyclists no longer have to resign themselves to going slower and slower. Instead they can harness the power of an e-bike to keep going at the same pace they used to and/or to continue to do the big rides. For e-bikes to catch on with this crowd they’ll need to evolve in a slightly different direction to appeal to those enamored with carbon fiber and drop bars rather than your typical city bike with upright bars, a kickstand, and fat tires. We are just now beginning to see the appearance of that kind of e-bike, designed for fast road riding rather than commuting. The cost is already up there already because e-bikes aren’t cheap—you have to pay for the motor and an expensive lithium battery. For example Specialized’s top-end e-bike, the Turbo—which is a city bike—is now $7,000! It’s a piece of art and certainly Apple-esque in its suave mien but you’re still stuck with a boat anchor with flat bars. Admittedly weight is less an issue for an e-bike since the extra watts to propel that poundage can come from a battery rather than your paltry quads. From a design perspective e-bikes for this crowd will have to look and ride like what they’re used to riding: carbon fiber Venges, C60s, and Dogmas. Whether that’s to be able to hide the fact that you’re using ‘mechanical doping’ or because our esthetic sensibility has recentered around aero-superduper carbon bikes, it really doesn’t matter because that lithium battery and motor allow a drab city e-bike to drop every Pinarello in sight. Yet we know what a real bike is supposed to look like, so damn it, make one that looks like a Pro Tour bike even if it does weigh 50 pounds. When e-bike manufacturers catch on, look out! You’re going to be seeing a lot of e-bikes in the Bay Area. Maybe even under me.
The details are sketchy but it looks like the Typhoon is not a pedelec: power assist is by throttle. Note for whom this bike is aimed: “The Typhoon clearly isn’t aimed at professionals, but wealthy cyclists that want a little assistance on the hills or for keeping up with fitter friends. The three modes mean you can get just a little bit of assistance, enough to help if struggling to keep up and about to be dropped from the group. Is there any problem with an amateur cyclist using such a bike, if it helps them to ride more, as long as it’s not used for racing?”
Weight is about 8 kg., or 17.6 lbs. It’s yours for just $11,000!
If you were on the Mt. Hamilton ride, Turkey Burn 2, or a recent Social ride, you may have noticed that Roger was riding an electric bike. It’s a ‘pedelec’—he must pedal in order to get any electric assist. If he doesn’t pedal, then the bike doesn’t move. The bike isn’t light: it’s about 50 lbs. And it isn’t a fancy racing bike: it has upright bars and looks like a commuter bike. He can set the amount of assist, from none to ‘turbo’, but he usually has it set on the lowest setting, ‘eco’. He was able to ride to two miles short of the summit of Mt. Hamilton before his battery finally conked out. For the record that was about 20 miles and well over 4,000 ft. of elevation gain. When it died, he just swapped out the battery for a second fully charged one that he was carrying on the back, and that was more than enough to get him to the top and back down to the start. On the way up he wasn’t trying to spare the battery, as he spent a fair amount of time in the next higher setting, ‘sport’, which of course drained the battery at a higher rate. Under flatter circumstances Roger has been able to get over 50 miles on one battery, making completing a century on an e-bike within the realm of possibility.
Getting the e-bike has transformed Roger’s riding. A couple of years ago he started having health setbacks that reduced his power and endurance. Coupled with just getting on in years meant he was not just going slower but struggling on rides we used to do without any issues. Rides that he had done previously that were enjoyable were becoming exhausting struggles to be survived rather than relished. No amount of training was likely to bring him back to his former level. After much hemming and hawing he went down and demoed a Haibike pedelec and was sold on the idea despite having no other experience than a ten-minute demo ride. He’s now had it about four months and he’s able to do all of our former rides more easily and is back to enjoying riding.
Like most recreational cyclists I viewed the appearance of electric bikes as an aberration. Wasn’t the point of cycling to put move by your own effort? If you were using an e-bike, it must have been so you would not have to exercise. Since e-bikes are primarily aimed at commuters and so-called casual cyclists, that actually makes a lot of sense. If you’re want to get to work more quickly than walking would do and you don’t like to ride Muni, then an e-bike is a viable option: you don’t have to work up a sweat if you don’t want to and you have extra power when you’re hauling your groceries home with you. Oh, and it makes going up San Francisco’s hills tolerable.
But for recreational cycling what would be the point? In Roger’s case using an e-bike hasn’t prevented him from exercising at all. To the contrary it has re-enabled him to cycle. He gets the same workout but the experience is different: he’s able to go faster yet keep his effort below the top of his range where he used to spend an unhealthy amount of time. The result is that he finishes his rides pleasantly tired and not wiped out as he has been. Going up hills is still hard but he’s going up them at a faster clip, which also makes the entire experience more enjoyable and less frustrating. The result is that he’s riding more than ever and actually getting more exercise than before.
If we cycle long enough in years, we are going to get slower: that is a certainty. It’s an inevitable byproduct of aging. There is only so much that training can do, and in any case who wants to train incessantly? E-bikes are another way to keep going albeit not entirely dependent on our own effort. Here’s a thought: instead of viewing e-bikes as cheating, we should see the benefit that they afford all of us who are getting on in years: to age gracefully on the bike and to allow us to do something we dearly love.
January 1 allows us all to wipe the slate clean and start anew, to do a reset. What of 2016? Undoubtedly some of you are already dreaming of new cycling exploits for the coming year. It could be as simple as planning how to ride more often or as aspirational as completing (another?) AIDS LifeCycle or going on a cross-country tour. From small things, big things follow. That plan to ride one more day during the week or get on your trainer when it’s wet and cold outside just might lead to completing your first century!
I rode less in 2015 than I had initially thought I would but it wasn’t because “life got in the way”. In fact it was just the opposite: I was living my life and cycling just didn’t figure as prominently a role as it had in prior years. I hadn’t gotten tired of cycling or was burned out: it just seemed the right move to ride less and devote some time to “the rest of my life.” Ironically an important influence was the state of Different Spokes. Although I had been concerned about the imbalance in our Ride Calendar and had commented on it, i.e. that we weren’t offering as many easier, social rides as we had back in the day, I hadn’t done much about it. I was part of the “problem”: I too liked to ride fast and hard too and didn’t want to lead rides that I wouldn’t normally do. I figured that those who wanted to do less challenging rides would step forward and lead them. When that didn’t come true, I decided I’d stop being such a hypocrite and start leading slower, social rides. Last year we had a very good turnout overall, so Roger and I are looking forward to offering at least one social A-paced ride per month in 2016. That’s a long way of saying that doing those Social A rides was so enjoyable that I started to back off from the harder rides I liked to do. Now I’d much rather go out and schmooze on a ride than do another solo training ride. Plus, stopping for a great lunch is always much more pleasurable than wolfing down a Clif bar. I hope that more of you will join us this year.
An inevitable part of aging is being witness to your own physical changes (usually declining) as well as that of your larger social circle. I have a cousin whose wife is living with late stage Alzheimer’s, and he’s not the only one I know in this situation. I also have friends and family dealing with chronic, debilitating pain; Parkinson’s; and cancer among other ailments. It’s a reminder that being able to swing a leg over your bike and go for a ride, let alone being healthy, is a gift. Even if it turns out that you aren’t able to fulfill all your hopes for 2016, just get on your bike, go for a ride, and experience the joy that only rolling down the road on two wheels can provide.
Perhaps you haven’t noticed but bicycle manufacturers now have model years in emulation of cars, computers, and clothing. So the upgrade and ‘new features’ propaganda is in full swing for the 2016 model year. If you’ve been cycling for a while, you may have noticed a subtle change in road bikes on the showroom floor. I’m not talking about electronic shifting—I’m referring to the disappearance of triple cranksets. Shimano, the largest of the three international component manufacturers, has been gradually yet inexorably phasing out triple road cranks and has just started the same process on its mountain bike chainsets. Shimano used to offer a Dura Ace triple crankset but it vanished in 2008; its second road tier, Ultegra, kept the triple until its revision to eleven-speed two years ago; this year the third tier, 105, dropped the triple. If you want a triple road crankset from Shimano, you now have to drop down to Tiagra, which is also ten- rather than eleven-speed (not that that’s a bad thing, mind you).
Campagnolo has never offered a triple in its top-of-the-line Super Record group but it did have a Record triple for a number of years. Campy ended that at about the same time as Shimano killed the DA triple. Campy continues to sell a triple in its Athena line, which is fourth tier. SRAM has never offered a triple road crank and is going in the opposite direction by instead marketing a single chainring systems (“One ring to rule them all”) for road bikes.
On the mountain bike side Shimano continues to offer an XTR triple but the writing is on the wall: it’s pushing the XTR double and a single-ring chainset to compete with SRAM’s XX single-ring set up. If the demand for triple cranksets is diminishing, it is mostly due to the relentless marketing emphasis on racing. That’s too bad because triple cranks have advantages for the recreational cyclist, whose needs are not the same as the racers’.
Two developments have made it possible to ride a double chainset and get a reasonable range of gears. Compact double chainsets—50-34 or 52-36 combinations instead of the race standard 53-39—allow gear development (i.e. gear-inches) into the mid-30s with older cassettes (historically a 11- or 12-27 cassette). Now with eleven speed cassettes we are seeing wider ranges such as 11-32 that allow even lower gearing but without sacrificing reasonable jumps between gears. A smaller front chainring along with a bigger rear cog means we’re finally seeing road gearing getting down into mountain bike territory and low enough to replicate the gearing you’d get from a triple crank with the previous smaller cassettes: a 34 front/32 rear yields an approximate ratio of 29 gear-inches. That’s just a hair lower than the old triple combination of 30 front/27 rear (= 30 gear-inches) of a Shimano triple system.
Given all this why would you bother with a triple crank? It has more weight than a compact double and in theory more complicated front shifting yet the gear range is no different. For those who live in flatter parts of the world, the gear range provided by triple chainsets (or wide range compact doubles) is completely unnecessary anyway—no one is screaming for super low gears in Indiana for example. But in Northern California wide range gearing makes sense unless you deliberately want to restrict your road riding to less mountainous routes. In just about any part of the Bay Area there are steep and/or long climbs—Mt. Diablo, Hicks Road, Tunitas Creek, Mtn. Charlie to name just a few (and those are just the paved ones). Lots of cyclists use triples on less frightening climbs such as Palomares or Mt. Tam. A few years ago I was chatting with one of the principals of a local bike shop about the disappearance of triple cranks and he made the same comment: riding the local hills and Mt. Diablo just made more sense on a triple.
Even with wide-range compact double set-ups the gearing isn’t always low enough. That might strike some of you as absurd: “You need a gear ratio lower than 30 gear-inches? You must be ready for a wheelchair!” But there are local ascents where an even lower gear is helpful, if not necessary, for survival: Hicks Road in Campbell has a solid mile at 14% as does Gates Road in Napa, and Mix Canyon is over 16%. Even on lesser grades a gear lower than 30 gear-inches will reduce the load on your thighs and allow you to spin a more comfortable gear. Of course if you’re also carrying stuff (or have additional “cargo” around your waist), then the imperative for low gearing is even more urgent.
But it’s not just about range: with a triple you can use a smaller cassette, say a 12-28 rather than an 11-32, and have smaller (and thus smoother) jumps between gears for the same range as a compact double. My ‘sweet spot’ for riding seems to be 76 to 47 gear-inches—I do the majority of my cruising in that range. On a triple these gear ratios are conveniently all in the middle chainring. But on a compact double my preferred range is split down the middle between the big and small chainrings. So I find myself doing a lot of double shifting to stay in that range, say from a 50×23 to 34×17 to get the next ratio. It’s just easier to click up and down the cassette on a 42 or 39 middle chainring. On my triple crank bike the big ring is used primarily for descents and fast flat riding and the granny is used infrequently but it comes in very handy for long, tough ascents (e.g. Hicks). The middle ring is where I do most of my cycling. This division of labor works really well for me and probably does for many other recreational cyclists.
If you have a tandem, then the absence of a triple option is an even more depressing development. Climbing on a tandem is just harder and low gears are not a luxury but a necessity. You need really big gears for the descents and the really low gears for the climbs. There’s nothing more debilitating and demoralizing than having to do a long ascent on a tandem and being over-geared. Roger and I have a 28 granny and a 34 rear cog (= 22 gear-inches) and it’s tolerable for moderate ascents, up to about 8% grade, and plain suffering at anything more challenging (Note: for the record we have ridden the tandem up ascents like the Covadonga in Spain and the Rossfelder Panoramastrasse in Germany that are much longer and steeper.) If you’re doing loaded touring, well, forget about finding a road triple unless you drop down to Tiagra or Athena. (You’re probably better off with a mountain bike triple if you’re really carrying a lot of gear.) So for those markets the loss of the road triple is exasperating.
What I’ve found irritating about the compact double besides having to double-shift frequently is the extreme chain angles it requires. I end up a lot in the big-big and small-small (or near big-big, near small-small) gearing to be in my preferred gears. At those angles even with a well-lubricated chain there is often a lot of noise. In addition depending on how well set up the drivetrain is, the small-small combinations can lead to the chain rubbing on the inside of the big chainring producing even more noise. Annoying!
There are three oft cited negatives of triple cranks: weight, finicky front shifting, and greater Q factor. There is no doubt that a triple crankset is heavier. But the total difference in weight is on the order of 150 to 200 grams at most, i.e. just a half pound—this is essentially a meaningless weight difference. As for finicky front shifting, I’ve found Shimano triple front derailleurs to be quite good and I’ve never had problems with them. It’s possible to drop a chain on any chainset but the compact double with its 50 to 34 jump—seems to be especially prone and I’ve certainly observed that often on group rides. Plus, with the compact double you’re doing a lot more front shifting. A greater Q factor means a wider stance. The virtues of a narrow or wider Q are individual; some fitters claim the narrower Q leads to less loading of the medial side of the knee and hence less likelihood of injury. But the optimal Q depends on the individual’s particular morphology and most of us switch effortlessly between road bikes and mountain bikes, where triples until recently had been the norm, so the argument is academic rather than real.
Face it: we are going to be stuck with whatever is on the showroom floor and that means compact double chainsets and no triples. A look at any brand’s 2016 catalog is going to show a near complete absence of triple crank road bikes. Perhaps that’s good for component manufacturers since it reduces their tooling and development costs. But it’s not necessarily good for recreational cyclists—tolerable maybe but not good.
If you’re interested in triple cranks or want to keep using them in the future, you should pray that Campy and Shimano continue to produce at least some road triple systems even if they are second-rate. There are also several small companies that continue to produce triple cranks, e.g. Sugino, TA, Velo Orange, Compass. But you won’t be able to find a triple front shifter or front derailleur unless you give up indexed shifting (and obviously electronic shifting too since no one makes an electronic shifting system for road triples). It’s always possible to get a third-party triple crank, buy a third-party triple front derailleur (e.g. Interloc), and use bar-end shifters. Personally that’s a big jump because I’ve been using indexed shifting since forever and love it. Where does that leave cyclists like me? Well, praying for one thing—praying that Shimano reverses course at some point and produces the road triple again in their higher end groups. But road cyclists seem to be drinking the compact double Kool Aid without protest and so I suspect we are indeed witnessing the eventual demise of the road triple. My back up plan is to stock up on road triples for when my current parts wear out. I guess that makes me a retrogrouch “survivalist”!
A fabulous, well-run strenuous ride, with spectacular mountain passes, super helpful staff and volunteers, good plentiful food, weather extremes, and a lot of serious riders. Best rides: Chief Joseph highway, Beartooth Pass (despite smoke, rain and snow!)
Temps were fine (except for the snow and rain;) and camping was easy (except for the snow and rain;). Did the happy dance in Cooke City hotel room (27 degrees overnight) that David wisely booked in advance (camping at 7700 feet even in August is iffy) and on one rainy day. Worthy cause – to protect wider Yellowstone ecosystem. Rides are outside Yellowstone, route varies each year. New route to past this fall Limited to 350 rides. Planned activities for non-riders. http://www.cyclegreateryellowstone.com/
Read on for more details…
What is Cycle Greater Yellowstone? It’s a 7 day ride that supports the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. http://www.greateryellowstone.org/mission/ It’s mission is protect the ecosystem, waters and wildlife that surround Yellowstone. Yellowstone is 2 million acres. Zoologists and ecologists recognize it’s not big enough range for genetic diversity of the big mammals – bears, bison, elk, etc. Need 20 million acres to maintain genetic diversity and a broader range for sustainable big mammal populations, and the ecosystem that supports them (otherwise, inbreeding and unhealthy populations). Greater Yellowstone coalition works with people to preserve the land – state and local governments – via conservation easements ad habitat protection. Ride is all volunteer except for 2 employees. Beer and drinks donated. Appear to have low overhead. Most of the money goes to the cause. Can princess ride by doing hotels, or Sherpa service, massage. Ride supports local towns’ 4H kids fundraising – cookies, donuts, sherpa service in towns we ride through.
These are from mostly our “pre-trip”:
Clothing: Bring full rain gear. Bring hot and cold weather riding gear.
Sleeping: Due to weather, consider princessing the whole time, esp if 2 people share a room. cold at 6 am in Powell, but probably just low 50s. Had breakfast in the gymnasium – Or you can do tent sherpa for 250 each if you share a tent (otherwise 500 solo), or camp for no extra cost.
Snacks: No need to bring food, unless you are particular. Mostly cliff or candy bars, chips or Cheetos, packaged cookies. Plenty of calories available.
Route: Varied, incredible scenery most days. Does NOT go into Yellowstone or Grand Teton National Parks. If you want to see these, add extra days. Do extra days before the ride, if possible, to acclimate to elevation.
Training: This is a strenuous ride. There are long rides and a lot of climbing, as well as winds. Mileage is similar to ALC but more climbing. (30,000 feet elevation (including optional ride day) v. 20,000 feet for ALC). Training is essential if you want to do it all and not get sagged in. But sagging is easy, available, and not discouraged by the staff. All of us sagged a bit due to weather, high winds.
Showers, porto-potties, laundry: all good, well maintained. Chairs set out for shower line. Laundry wash basins and soap provided. Some towns had coin-operated laundry.
Food: Plentiful. Good. Always real food. Good vegetarian options. You can eat pretty healthy on this ride.
Volunteer staff: The road and camp crew were a bunch of enthusiastic, energetic, idealisstic young people. Super helpful and accommodating. People were super nice and responsive and there for the riders.
Director: Jennifer was great. Excellent with doing things on the fly, amazingly responsivee to changing conditions – e.g., construction, weather.
Sag people were very understanding about picking people up, not explanation needed. Also would let you ride if you wanted to.
Mechanics were spectacular – super helpful, very competent, professional.
Riders: Oldest 80, youngest 16, average age 55. Virtually all white, professional, straight, except for a few closet cases. Experienced riders. Not recommended for novices
Road conditions: Very good, some highway riding, but decent shoulders
Water bottles are a cheap accessory usually running between $4 and $10, and unless you’re using a pack hydration system such as Camelbak’s, a necessary one for longer rides. The Camelbak Podium Ice bottle sells for $25. What in the world would justify a premium price for an item that we use without a thought, mistreat callously, and dispose of as quickly as last week’s boyfriend? The name gives it away: this is an insulated water bottle, which one will appreciate greatly in hot weather. Camelbak makes two insulated bottles, the Chill and the Ice. The former sells for $12 and claims to keep water cool “for twice as long.” The Ice ostensibly commands a premium price because your water is kept cold “4X longer!”
A little history: A few years ago Camelbak sold the Ice bottle and then after one season it mysteriously disappeared. I had bought both the Chill and the Ice and found the Ice to work better than the Chill. On a typical hot day I’d fill the bottles with cube ice and cold water, and an hour later all the ice in the Chill bottle would be melted; in the Ice bottle it would last about 45 minutes longer. So, that’s not “4x longer” but almost. But as we all know, size matters and Camelbak sold the Ice only in a 21 oz size whereas the Chill came in both 21 and 24 oz. So I mostly used the Chill.
Riding in Contra Costa County in the summertime can get hot—often over 90 degrees—and having a cold sip is so much more refreshing than a tepid one. I was dreaming of a 24 oz (or bigger!) Ice bottle. Unfortunately Camelbak stopped selling them, and subsequently I found out that the insulating material that Camelbak used in the Ice bottle was no longer available, which is why production ceased. Darn. Well, at least we had a few Chill bottles and one small Ice bottle.
A couple of weeks ago we were wandering through REI and what do I spot but a new Ice bottle. I’m not sure what insulation was used before but now Camelbak is using Aerogel, an extremely light material, and it works very well. The Ice bottle still holds just 21 oz of fluid (a standard water bottle holds 20 oz) but it has the size of a typical 24 oz water bottle; all that extra space must be the insulation. The Chill still comes in either 21 or 24 oz sizes, and there still is no 24 oz Ice bottle. Now seeing the size of the current Ice bottle (the previous model was quite a bit smaller), I can’t imagine how you’d fit a 24 oz version on your bike: imagine the difficulty prying that thing out of your bottle cage. It would have to be the size of a typical Thermos! That must be the reason Camelbak doesn’t make a larger Ice. So if you want the additional cooling power of the Ice, you’re stuck with 21 oz, which is only slightly more than a small water bottle. If you need to carry a larger bottle, then you’re stuck getting a Chill, which isn’t a bad thing, just not as good as the Ice is. At least with the Chill you pay less, $12 for the 20 oz bottle and $15 for the 24 oz.
Yesterday we went for a ride out to Danville. It was in the mid- to high-80s. I filled both the old and new Ice bottles with cube ice and cold water. The new one lasted nearly the entire ride including a long coffee break at Peets, about 3 ½ hours total. I can’t recall when the old Ice bottle got warm but it was well before. I’d say that’s an improvement!