23 February 2010

bikefix Initial Review: Hydrapak Gel-Bot Bike bottle

One of the slicker ideas that we came across at Interbike last fall was a combination waterbottle and gel flask from pack makers Hydrapak. Though I'd come to accept the fact, locating, opening and ingesting a gel packet while riding is certainly more difficult than drinking from a bottle. Gel packets are also undeniably wasteful and the litter they leave after many races is unpleasant and give riders a bad name. Still, the idea of filling and carrying a separate gel flask is one that's never appealed to me- pulling a flask from a jersey pocket can be dicey in rough terrain or the heat of battle and there are certainly times when you don't want to wait for a smooth section of trail to get the afterburners started.

The Hydrapak's Gel-Bot Bike is a large (24oz, though 20oz are available) water bottle that has what is essentially a syringe body and plunger suspended from the cap. The end of the syringe body is open to several holes at the center of a standard nipple. With the nipple open, it functions normally, dispensing whatever liquid is in the main body. With the valve closed and the help from water pressure generated by squeezing the bottle, the rider is able to suck gel through a membrane-type seal and out of the gel compartment.

The idea is pretty simple and the benefits obvious. With 2 gel packets' worth of energy in the gel compartment, it's much easier to access energy as needed. Sure, it's harder to use over technical terrain than a hydration pack, but it's loads easier than a packet. With a 24 hour race on the horizon, I ordered a couple of Gel-Bots from my local bike shop and picked up a 26-serving bottle of raspberry Hammer Gel.

Before race day, I hadn't tried the Gel-Bot, but the bike shop's owner (who saw mine on order and had to have his own) had. In the month before the race, he'd become a convert. After emptying mine four times, I have to say that I am as well. While it takes more pressure than would be ideal to get gel through the nipple, it's not difficult to draw 1/2 packet's worth out in a shot, which seems to me to be just about right. Top it off with a swish of water to make it work more quickly (and keep your teeth happy) and Bob's your uncle.

For the next go-round, I could see a couple of small tweaks making the Gel-Bot an even better product. First, the nipple sits fairly close to the bottle. Normally, this is a good thing- a squeeze all that is needed to get water flowing so it isn't necessary to have a nipple that lends itself to sucking. Hard. With the Gel-Bot, however, all of the sucking happens with the nipple closed (down) and there really isn't that much to seal one's mouth around. A slightly taller nipple would be helpful there. Second, the diameter of bottle is a bit undersized- not a big deal with metal bottle cages, which can be adjusted, but the Gel-Bot does rattle in some composite cages. Because the lid (which is where the magic is) uses the same threads as the ubiquitous Specialized water bottles and seems to seal up well means that riders can use their favorite (or sponsors') bottles- or one that fits standard cages a bit more securely. Using other bottles will reduce water carrying capacity, but could also mean a better fit on frames where the taller-than-normal Gel-Bot is a tight fit.

All in all, Hydrapak's Gel-Bot is a great little piece of kit. Like most cyclists, I have a hard time buying waterbottles when I have so many promotional ones lying around- let alone $15 water bottles. It would be nice if the lid were offered independently for a few dollars less. All of the Gel-Bot's parts are top-rack dishwasher safe (though there's no way the bottle itself will fit on my washer's upper deck) and it's a good thing- this thing can get pretty sticky. Despite a couple of small opportunities for improvement, the Gel-Bot is well worth buying. If your local shop doesn't have them in stock, please support bikefix by purchasing from Hydrapak here:



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