Help carrying water on a step through bicycle frame
June 30, 2009 8:46 AM   Subscribe

I have a bicycle with a step through frame, and am looking for solutions for carrying fluids and keeping hydrated on long (30 - 100 mile) bike rides. C'mon, bike-friendly problem-solving MeFites, help a girl out!

I have this bicycle, and for the most part love it. I ride it to/from work every day (17 miles round trip) and do longer rides with my husband on weekends, usually at least 30 miles. We are planning on a 100 km (62 mile) brevet in August. Because it's a randonneuring (DIY) event, there will not be any rest stops and other support you see in supported rides. We are also planning on a 100-mile supported ride in September and possibly another DIY century with some friends.

My problem is that the step through frame, combined with my height (or lack thereof - I'm 5'1") and other circumstances limit my options for attaching water bottles. There is one set of attach points on the frame, which only fits a regular sized water bottle. This location is virtually impossible to get the bottle in/out while riding because the top and bottom bars are so close together, so I have to come to a stop to access this water. I also would like to be able to carry more than just 16oz. of water/gatorade with me on rides.

The constraints:

1. Due to my height, the seat post is too short to use any of the seat post water bottle holders I've seen.

2. I have a rear bike rack installed, and combined with the low height of the seat, I think this makes the behind-the-seat water bottle holders that I've seen also incompatible. (They need to hang lower behind the seat than there is clearance for on my setup. I am also not without booty and am not sure how that would interfere, if at all.)

3. I really don't want to have to carry something on my body, because to me it seems like it would be hot and sweaty and irritating on my back, but I'll listen if you have a positive experience with a Camelback-type thing on long road rides.

4. I found a handlebar mount that was supposed to hold a regular bottle cage in front of my handlebars, but the brake and gear cables are in the way. I think it's intended for drop handlebars rather than the MTB style ones I have.

5. I'd be open to solutions that take advantage of the rear rack - I just haven't found any. For the longer rides I will be carrying a pannier or two.

6. I'd love to hear about DIY options along with existing products. If you got some hose clamps from Home Depot and turned them a holder for a bottle cage, tell me how! I think I have room on my top bar and/or my handlebar post, I just need to figure out how to attach them.

Someday I'll get a new bike and when I do, I'll avoid the step through frames like the plague (it causes problems in other areas as well) but for now I've got to work with what I have. I just got this bike in April and can't justify or afford a second bicycle this year.

Sorry so long; thanks in advance for your help!
posted by misskaz to Health & Fitness (20 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I've seen bottle holders that go on the handle bars, and ones that go on the back of the seat (as I recall, they both hold two bottles). I'll search and re-post with details.

How do you feel about wearing a Camelbak?
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 8:58 AM on June 30, 2009

Linky (I use the Mule when on the MTB)
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 9:00 AM on June 30, 2009

Attach a Camelbak or similar to the handlebars?
posted by slow graffiti at 9:00 AM on June 30, 2009

Have you considered attaching water bottle cages with hose-clamps to the frame? I can't see a problem with this functioning, but you would probably damage the paint on your frame as you would need to tighten the clamps quite tightly around the outside of the cage. I'd recommend testing the positioning with zip-ties beforehand to minimize paint-gouging.

Side-question: Do you use the current pedal setup and tires? Clipless pedals and slicks might make things quite a bit easier, particularly for a long ride and they are items that are transferable to a new bicycle.
posted by a womble is an active kind of sloth at 9:02 AM on June 30, 2009

Seconding clamping cages to the frame, namely the sloping top tube. Looks like you could get two up there, but as womble mentions, test out the positioning for clearance issues. You can protect the paint with old inner tubes.
posted by exogenous at 9:08 AM on June 30, 2009

You should be able to clamp a water bottle onto the upper downtube. Back in the old days, all bottle cages were held to the frames using special clamps; nowadays we have braze-ons. But those clamps still exist, and hose clamps with a bit of rubber underneath (to save your paint) would work also.

I've used Camelbaks in conjunction with water bottles on very long rides. They're really the most effective way to carry a lot of water, and I did not find them to be troublesome. You're going to want to carry some energy bars anyhow, and a backpack makes sense for that too.
posted by adamrice at 9:08 AM on June 30, 2009

Handlebar Mount Water Bottle Cage Attaches to your handlebars.

Designed to hold two water bottles attached to the seat post. Attaches to your seatpost.

Dual Cage Rail Mount Bottle Holder Attaches to your saddle rails.
posted by wfrgms at 9:09 AM on June 30, 2009

You can use hose clamps to attach cages. It will damage the paint, if that's a concern. But I do think on your longer unsupported rides, like the 100k, you'll need a Camelback. Yeah, it'll keep your back sweatier. An alternative would be a jersey with pockets on the back for water bottles. You can find those. Probably won't be any more comfortable than a Camelback, but less sweaty. And keeping a bottle in the cage between the bars would be okay, too. You can just swap bottles out at a rest stop.
posted by 6550 at 9:10 AM on June 30, 2009

I've never had an issue with a CamelBak on longer rides. The back is designed with aeration in mind. Just combine it with a synthetic shirt of some sort.

I also have a Deuter Race EXP Air which is great due to their Aircomfort design which separates the pack from your back by about an inch, with only a mesh screen touching your back so there's no sweaty backpack syndrome. They have other models.

You could also just use a waistpack with bottle holders, even if they do look dorky.
posted by hungrysquirrels at 9:13 AM on June 30, 2009

I have a 70oz Classic Camelbak hydration pack. As you can see, it's not cumbersome. I hardly notice it.
posted by birdwatcher at 9:15 AM on June 30, 2009

Depending on the amount of clearance between your fork and the tire, you could attach bottle-cage mounts to the fork. The Salsa Fargo uses this trick to put 5 bottle cage mounts on a frame. Tough to reach while riding, I admit.

When I head out for long rides, I usually stash an extra water bottle in my saddle bag. Also not easily reachable while riding.
posted by iwhitney at 9:38 AM on June 30, 2009

You can use hose clamps to attach cages. It will damage the paint, if that's a concern

Not if you put a rubber shim between the clamp and tube. Where do you get one? Old inner tube and a pair of scissors. However, hose clamps are not the best thing here -- they're designed to clamp flexible hoses, not inflexible steel.

For long rides when you're not working (so the only thing you're carrying is stuff for the ride) you can carry water bottles in a rack trunk on the rack, but that's also a stop-and-grab.

You should be able to put a clamp-on bottle cage* near the normal position -- you can't put it under the top tube because of the step-through frame, but you should be able to put one on the seat tube, above the top tube, below the saddle post clamp, facing forward. You could then put another clamp-on ontop on top of the top tube, well forward, close to the handlebars. That would give you three mounts, one very easy to reach, one fairly easy, and one not-so-easy. Bottles in the rack truck could be extra supply on long brevets.

As to Camelbacks. They do work, but I dislike things on my back when I'm riding, and on long rides, they limit access to jersey pockets, which means you're trading food storage for water storage -- not automatically a win.

* You'll have a more flexible system if you get something like this which lets you install a conventional bottle cage onto any place where you can fit the clamp. More importantly, you can try several different places.
posted by eriko at 9:46 AM on June 30, 2009

Don't know about the availability where you are, but I've had good experiences with the Rixen & Kaul systems. They mostly use a patented proprietary system for attaching bottles etc., but they also make the Bottle Fix which attaches to any pipe and allows the attachment of any bottle holder to a frame without integrated frame threads.
posted by PontifexPrimus at 9:54 AM on June 30, 2009

What eriko suggests sounds good -- multiple small mounts for quick access and the rack for the rest -- and I have to agree about avoiding the Camelbak or anything on your back in a long ride if you're at all inclined to tense up there. I rode the first 50km of my first metric century this weekend with a small backpack, no heavier than a filled Camelbak, but moved it to my rear rack to finish the ride and found that my back and shoulders were a lot more comfortable.
posted by maudlin at 10:02 AM on June 30, 2009

Wow, thanks for all the great answers everyone! I marked two of the best, but all of you offered something for me to think about. I agree with what eriko said about Camelbacks blocking access to jersey pockets. I *love* jersey pockets and having quick access to food and handkerchiefs and things.

a womble is an active kind of sloth, I have old fashioned toe clips on the pedals, bar ends, and the rear rack, but otherwise the bike is stock. I probably will end up w/ clipless pedals and shoes before the longer rides, since I'm getting some achy feet riding in my running shoes and if I'm going to buy bike shoes I might as well upgrade the pedals too. The tires aren't big nubby MTB tires, so I think I'll stick with what I've got. They're fairly slick while not quite as thin as racing tires.

Truthfully, I'd love to just get an entry level Bianchi or Surly touring bike, but that's just not in the budget any time soon.
posted by misskaz at 10:40 AM on June 30, 2009

Thanks wfrgms! I was posting while heading out to lunch, so didn't have time for research.

misskaz - The Mule has pockets and then some for storage. Not quite as easy access as jersey pockets, but still good in a pinch.
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 10:58 AM on June 30, 2009

I probably will end up w/ clipless pedals and shoes before the longer rides, since I'm getting some achy feet riding in my running shoes and if I'm going to buy bike shoes I might as well upgrade the pedals too.

Do that *well* before the long ride. A fundamental rule of event rides is *NO NEW GEAR*. You really do not want to find out that the seam on that new jersey hits a scar, or that those new shoes hit your little toe just right and leave you with massive blister, or that your stomach really doesn't like that new powerbar...

So. Try new gear on short-to-mid rides, but don't show up with anything on that brevet that you haven't already put a few miles on.

Novara isn't the most popular, or best, brand around, but they make one of the flat-out best touring bikes I've seen, and *the* best when you consider the price** -- the Novara Randonee. I have a 2005 version, it's still dead solid and rides great, though I've swapped stuff, of course. However, my current dead sexy going to buy ride is this one. They're not the fastest, but they ride comfortable and are built like tanks -- important, given the streets in our parts.

** Which is always 20% less if you are a member and buy at the right time. Most bikes aren't eligible for the two-three annual 20% off coupons, but Novara and K2 marks are.
posted by eriko at 11:25 AM on June 30, 2009

Oh yeah, eriko, I meant in the next couple weeks, not right before a long ride. I'd just like to get one or two more paychecks under my belt before buying more gear at the moment. I really love this new hobby of mine but damn it can get expensive if you let it. I just keep reminding myself of the gym membership and CTA pass I'm saving on every month...

Thanks for the heads up about the Novara - my husband and I are REI members so I'll keep an eye out for the coupons...
posted by misskaz at 11:51 AM on June 30, 2009

I really love this new hobby of mine but damn it can get expensive if you let it.

Indeed, though the mark of the true cyclist is that the cars in the garage are worth less than the bikes. :-)

If you are riding only on roads/paths, even what we call roads in Chicago, I'd really get the smoothest tires I could. Tread is only useful in dirt, much and wet, on dry pavement, slicks rule the road.

Finally, as a small woman, there is, in fact, a person who gets that your body is different than guys. You may want to check out Terry Cycles, founded by Georgina Terry, a Mechanical Engineer who was tired of not having a bike frame that fit her, so she made one. Then another.

Some of them look funny, because the front wheel is smaller than the rear. This was the (very clever) way she found to make the geometry work for shorter women -- the smaller wheel allows a shorter top tube without the toes clipping or using a very steep seat angle, which puts you too far forward for efficiency.

Being a 6'4" guy, I don't ride one, but the people I've seen on them are thrilled. I do ride on a Terry saddle -- the one part she makes for guys as well as girls (and they're very different)
posted by eriko at 2:54 AM on July 1, 2009

Just wanted to thank everyone again for your info. This weekend I was able to carry a bottle of water on my top bar thanks to some hose clamps (and an old tube to protect the paint)... it was so awesome to be able to reach my water during the 45-mile ride.

eriko, here's hoping you'll be able to make a Chicago meetup one of these days and we can geek out about cycling. I did try on some shoes at REI this weekend, but I guess there's something weird about my foot because they all seemed to hit the outside of my ankle bone in a weird way so I didn't buy them. (They also had some Raleigh bikes on sale this weekend... managed to resist taking one for a spin.)
posted by misskaz at 8:34 AM on July 6, 2009

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