Friday, January 27, 2012

Staying Hydrated On The Fat Bike

Discomfort is an excellent teacher. I know this because I have learned a lot by being uncomfortable on the Fat Bike in cold temps. One thing that has taken me a while to dial-in is the process of hydrating when the temps are below zero. You can make mistakes and get away with it when the temps are 10F to 32F but once the temps drop below zero, the margin for error is slim.

About a month ago we had a stretch of overnight temps that dropped into the -5F to -18F degree range and I made it a point to get out and ride early a couple of times to practice my cold weather routine. On my first “below zero” ride of the season I managed to freeze my hydration tube within the first hour and then spent the next hour trying to thaw it out. During that time I had nothing to drink. Well, technically I had 72oz of water in my hydration pack but getting to it would have meant stopping, taking my jacket off, taking my hydration pack off, and then drinking from the opening in the top of my hydration bladder. That was an effective reminder.

Here are a few things that work for me to stay hydrated in really cold temps while out on the Fat Bike:

Hydration Packs – The most efficient way to drink while on the move…even when it’s bitterly cold

For moderately cold days, I wear a base layer & hydration pack under my softshell jacket

For below zero days, I wear a base layer +vest & hydration pack under my softshell jacket. The vest helps keep the hydration hose against my body.

I had a buttonhole sewn into my vest where I wanted the bite valve to exit.
  • Wear a minimal hydration pack as close to the skin as possible
  • Wear your outer jacket over your hydration pack and try to choose a jacket that does not compresses the hydration pack when in your cycling position. I normally wear a large jacket but I have a dedicated XL jacket for the Fat Bike to accommodate the hydration pack.
  • Route the hydration tube under the arm and against body
  • Don’t overfill the hydration bladder to start the ride or the liquid will be forced into the tube when you lean forward into your cycling position
  • Consider using a drink mix with sodium, like Carbo Rocket, to reduce the freezing temp of the liquid
  • Forcefully blow back into tube after every sip (blow until you hear bubbles in your pack), then lock the mouth piece closed
  • Carry a “backup” bottle in case your hose freezes and you can’t thaw it out


Insulated Bottles - Not as efficient but more foolproof in truly cold temps

From Left to right; 32oz Nalgene bottle, Outdoor Research Water Bottle Parka, Granite Gear Aquatherm, 24oz Polar Insulated Bottle
  • Outdoor Research and Granite Gear make effective bottle insulators
  • Carry your insulated bottles on your bars, fork legs, and/or downtube for easy access
  • The Salsa Anything Cage allows you to easily mount “bottle parkas” to your bike


With the Arrowhead 135 staring this Monday, I have been thinking about the gear that I would choose if I were racing. The Arrowhead is notorious for freezing racer’s hydration systems due to typical temps of -20F or colder during the race. If I were lining up this Monday, I would run the combination of a 3L hydration pack and two Granite Gear Aquatherm bottle insulators with a couple of 24oz Polar Insulated water bottles in them. This would ensure that I could have at least 48oz of insulated liquid storage available even if I managed to freeze my hose. The Granite Gear Aquatherm/Polar Insulated bottle combo can be operated with one hand while riding and are much easier to drink from than a screw-top Nalgene bottle. The only downside is that you give up 8oz per bottle in capacity vs. a standard Nalgene bottle.

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