Home > Gear

Use these bike hydration tips to get the most out of your long-distance race day

Dial in your best hydration on the bike in your next long-distance race

Photo by: Kevin Mackinnon

When it comes to racing a full-distance event, there are actually four disciplines you need to take care of – swim, bike, run and nutrition. Fuelling appropriately will make or break your day. A huge component of that fuelling process is hydration. Australia’s Max Neumann, who finished fourth in his debut appearance at the Ironman World Championship, lost 5 kg of fluid during the race, requiring two bags of IV fluid before he was able to get to the post-race press conference.

Lionel Sanders spoke about the same issue before the race in Kona last year. He has a very high sweat rate – “my losses are just massive – up to 3.4 l/ hour.” With that in mind he, he says he can lose up to eight pounds during the race and still be in contention.

“If you lose 10 lbs with 10 km to go, you’re done,” he said. “I’ll be at 162 lbs on race morning. I can’t be at 152 before going down Palani (one mile to go).”

All of which makes how you choose to hydrate during the race critical to your success. Lucy Charles-Barclay, who finished second for the fourth time in Kona this year, rode a new Cube prototype bike with four different hydration options on it this year. The challenge comes for those who are looking for maximal performance while they’re achieving those hydration needs. Every time you move from an aero position, you’re losing time, which is why reaching down for a water bottle can lose valuable seconds. Those round water bottles aren’t always the most aero options on your bike, either, which is why bike and accessory manufacturers have spent so much effort developing aero hydration options.

Related: Determining your hydration strategy for a triathlon

Lucy Charles-Barclay’s Cube prototype featured four different hydration options

So, what are the keys to dialling in your best hydration during a full-distance race?

  1. Pick a system you’re going use. If you’re most comfortable reaching down to grab a bottle from your down tube, keep doing that. You’ll lose way more time dealing with dehydration issues later in the day (read the run) than you will from losing those aero benefits every time you reach for the bottle.
  2. Have some space for a round water bottle. Those are what will be handed out to you at the aid stations, which is why even the most speed-hungry pros make sure they have some storage options for round bottles. One of the best spots for those is behind the saddle – your body blocks them from the wind.
  3. Use a BTA (between the arms) system. Whether it’s a bladder hidden inside your frame with a straw that reaches up for easy access while in an aero tuck, or an aero water bottle (see sidebar), or a cage mounted on your bars, the BTA systems give you easy access to hydration.
  4. Make hydration an integral part of your bike set up and choice. When it comes to buying a new bike, make sure you’ve thought this important aspect of your day through. There’s no point being on the fastest bike on the planet if you’re not going to be able to get the most out of your entire day.