I’ve seen many water bottle designs for biking, after about 35 years of cycling. The basic bottle hasn’t changed much over the years with plastic being the primary material used. Bottle design has always considered the grip of the bottle cages, to prevent losing them while riding. A key feature of the bottles is the ability to drink liquids while riding. Being able to close, or seal, the cap after drinking is one of the simple but great features of most bottles. People will use non-bike bottles sometimes but having to unscrew a lid while riding is not a skill I’ve pursued. Although some drinking valves work better than others, most are sufficient.
I don’t always remember to close the valves in bottles, but I’ll close them when they are nearly full or likely to spill. Closing the valve after every drink also means it will have to be opened again before drinking. I’ve squeezed bottles so many times, trying to get a sip of whatever miracle liquid I had loaded, only to get nothing because I closed the valve. Some riders believe unwanted things will enter that tiny opening, I’ve never noticed this but I’ve never really looked either.
Some bottles have caps that cover the valve completely, an attempt to keep the drinking valve clean from all the things that can splash up around a bottle while riding off-road. I’ve ridden dirt roads where cattle were the most numerous occupants, but I don’t think I’ve ever tasted their waste (from an exposed water bottle). I have been so thirsty at times that I probably wouldn’t care. Sometimes I’ll take in some liquid and realize it has chunks of dirt in it and I’ll spit it out, but it never tasted bad. However, I don’t know what cow waste tastes like, I doubt it tastes like a burger though.
As for the basic bottle valves, we always want to know they’re clean before starting a ride at least. Do you look closely at your bottles for cleanliness, or just a glance while filling? Some bottles have black valves and it’s not easy to see inside the opening. I recently found two older Specialized 1st Generation Big Mouth bottles that had an amazing layer of “black stuff” in the opening. I was very surprised at how well this black stuff blended with the darkness in there. So, I now suspect my entire of collection of similar bottles have the same problem. I hope to remember to clean all of them before using again. I haven’t inspected the 2nd generation Big Mouths or the Purists bottles I have, maybe I should.
CAMELBAK created a unique valve a few years ago, The Podium. The Podium bottle came with the “Jet Valve”. This valve will not release liquid without a squeeze of the bottle. You could probably shake it vigorously and get some liquid to dribble out, but the valve is very secure. There’s also a lock position that definitely will not leak, this is a major gain for those who cannot keep their bottles standing upright during preparation or travel to rides. Even with this security I still don’t fully trust a bottle of sticky miracle liquid to not soak all my ride gear in a bag.
I’ve been using the Podiums for a few years now and am very satisfied with their performance. I got three new ones from Bikeworks ABQ, (in Albuquerque, New Mexico) a little over three years ago. These have been great, the logos may have worn a bit, but the valves are still working great. The Chills do insulate nicely for winter rides. As winter comes on, I’ll begin using warm water in the Chills, and even go to boiling water when the temps get way below freezing. Still, the valve has frozen many times on those cold morning rides to work.
With both models of the Podiums, I began noticing a “darkness” inside the silicone bite valve after some time. I learned the hard way that drinking from any container, straw or valve that has something “dark stuff” growing in it, can lead to a great week away from biking or running, while recovering from an odd collection of crappy symptoms that begin with a sore throat. I discovered this with my first CAMELBAK bladder drinking system, around 1992, just can’t use it when the hose doesn’t look right.
I decided I need to keep these Podium lids clean, so I learned how to disassemble these valves for cleaning. It’s not a difficult process, just time consuming. The first few times I did this, I just scrubbed the gunk out of each piece. Later I realized I could just let them soak in a bit a bleach and water in a bowl, and rinse well when all the parts looked new again. I usually do a few lids every few months, or more when using liquids other than water.
But water will do the same thing eventually, don’t feel immune to this problem. I would imagine some of our current miracle liquids will create the dark stuff sooner, and I’ve experimented with rinsing methods for after use, but there are so many surfaces in this assembly that can’t be easily rinsed.
So, you’re wondering why these bottles are worth the extra care, and I don’t blame you. I have just rattled on about the work involved in preventing the “gunk” disease. Back to that part about the valve not leaking, after a long bumpy ride, my bike frame is not covered in sticky miracle liquid that spilled from the bottles. Some residual drops will get on the frame, but I don’t have to close a valve to keep the frame from becoming a sticky mess. The dogs do like to lick the sticky from the frame though. CAMELBAK has changed the design of the Podium bottle recently, I haven’t tried one yet, so I can’t say if the time needed to disassemble and clean has been reduced. The website says they are easier to clean. I’ll let you know when I’ve had plenty of time with the new ones to report on cleaning requirements. I’ll closely track what liquids have been used that led to the growth of the black stuff, but I won’t let you know if I got sick drinking from them.
As for the perfect bicycle water bottle, it does not exist, yet. Every new design gets closer, but always has at least a minor weakness. With progress, some perfect items are never needed because we change the way we do things and no longer need that item. Either enjoy what’s available now, or wait for the future, but either way, I believe the Podium bottles are our current perfect.