“Why train when you can buy speed?” asks the cardboard packaging for the Arundel Chrono bottle and cage. The concept of buying speed is fairly essential to most people who race against a clock. Even if you’re into Merckx-style time trials, you’re still looking for the tightest-fitting wool jersey, the lightest aluminum rims, the most aerodynamic J-bend spokes, the fastest-rolling tires, and so on. Back in the day, mechanics would take grease out of ball bearing races and put in oil. They’d remove the dust caps and sometimes take one bearing out of each race to reduce the friction of the balls rubbing against each other.
So, when you’ve spent on your time trial bike, you should be examining every means that you can further your aerodynamic advantage. Every single component and accessory should be scrutinized for its aero benefit. And this is why if you haven’t turned to looking into the most aerodynamic hydration system possible, you are hurting yourself; you’d never wear a baggy t-shirt when racing a time trial, unless you’re Floyd Landis, would you?
There are many schools of thought. Some will tell you that mounting water bottles on frame tubes will slow you down. Others will wag a finger at behind the saddle-mounted bottles. Then there’s the group that complains about wearing a CamelBak. Finally, there are the aesthetes that bemoan aerobar-mounted bottles.
Over the years, we’ve tried everything. Never liked the function of the bar-mounted system. The straw was a pain and didn’t like how the bottle partially blocked our view of the road. Never cut a hole in a skinsuit to maximize the potential of racing with a CamelBak. The ‘Bak certainly deserves consideration as Bobby Julich found great success, even riding to a bronze (make that silver) at the Athens Olympics with a CamelBak under his skinsuit. There are two other reasons the ‘Bak has potential — filling the sack with ice to cool your core as you race and because you don’t need to take your hands off the bars to drink. The behind-the-seat mount only seemed worthwhile if you are planning on taking a single drink; reaching back multiple times certainly slows you down with the coordination and focus necessary to reach while still riding at speed.
Even with these considerations, they deserve to be tested in a wind tunnel to check if assumptions are even close to the truth.
The first assumption, that frame-mounted bottles slow you down, is the one we’re most interested in. Having a bottle on the down tube or seat tube has been proven to be convenient over the years, and no matter how many other systems are invented, people always come back to it.
Turns out, there was testing in the late 1980s on water bottles and cages. At that time, just about everyone had been removing their cages and riding without water for time trials. It was part of the ritual bike-stripping that went on before a TT. When a bike with a bottle and cage was tested in a wind tunnel and then compared to a bike without, the bike without was faster.
Not surprisingly, those interested in aerodynamics tried to come up with solutions. Campagnolo had a pretty aero-looking bottle, the “Biodinamica.” Others were interested in trying other positions.
This bias against the frame-mounted bottle continued into the twenty-first century, and you’ll surely hear experts spout off about this today. New evidence indicates the assumption that frame-mounted water bottles slow you down is wrong. Testing hasn’t changed. Bikes have.
John Cobb has both an explanation and a test posted on Slowtwitch. The digest version is that when frame tubes were made of steel, they were much smaller and thus the bottle had a different effect than when mounted on large-diameter and shaped aluminum and carbon-fiber frame tubes. Thanks to this test, the assumption is that a single round bottle on the seat tube is fast, a single round bottle on the down tube is ever so slightly faster, and two bottles, one on the seat tube and one on the down, is slightly slower than no bottles at all. The Profile bottle (don’t know what it looked like in 2003, but today, it looks a lot like the Arundel or vice versa), is faster than the round bottle, and behind the saddle bottles are slow, the Hydrobak in 40 ounces is the slowest. Unfortunately, they neither tested an empty water bottle cage, nor ran aero bottles against each other. And the test is from 2003, so it might be time to revisit the subject, as frame design has evolved since then.
So, if a round bottle is fast, is an aero bottle faster? Once again, the people in the know are saying little. Lance Armstrong’s aero advisors certainly looked into it, so Trek probably knows, as have the folks at tech-oriented companies Specialized and Cervélo. Cervélo integrated a bottle into their P4, but the bottle can’t be used at the ProTour, so the Cervélo test team riders use Elite’s aero-shaped bottle. Both Specialized and Trek are boasting that their aero bottles are fast, and they look very much like the Arundel Chrono.
We asked our sources at Cervélo to see if they could reveal anything. Naturally, they recommend their P4 with the integrated bottle. Short of that, they think that with their frames, bottles are fastest when either at home or round and laying between your forearms. But, of the bottles they tested, they found the Arundel to be the best, and better than a round bottle. No way to know how this translates to other frames.
Arundel sponsors a number of pro teams. The Garmin squad runs their Chrono bottles on the seat tube, whereas Team UnitedHealthCare runs theirs on the down tube. Both positions seem to have been decided by where the manufacturer has water bottle mounts. Looking at pictures from the final time trial of this year’s Tour de France, it seems like there is no widespread agreement on bottles, though the only team running bottles behind the saddle were on Giants; their tt bikes might not have cage mounts and their saddle sponsor has a bottle cage integrated into some saddles.
Bike Tech Review has a member-created test on the aerodynamics of the Chrono. Turns out, the Chrono is faster than no bottle on the test bike. Hardly conclusive, but food for thought.
We figured the Arundel Chrono bottle and cage couldn’t hurt. It looks fast. While the shape is aero, Arundel claims the shape was made both for aerodynamics and for ease of removal and installation. We weighed the bottle at 80g and the cage at 35g. The stainless bolts are another 3g apiece. The capacity of the bottle is 20 ounces.
In terms of operation, the bottle is very easy to use when riding tucked into the aero bars. The oblong shape is easy to grasp. The plastic is stiffer than a round Specialized bottle, but because it is designed to be grasped on the long sides, the bottle flexes very easily when squeezed. The raised Arundel logo might be helpful in terms of maximizing grip, but we don’t often find bottles slippery. The nipple itself has two ridges along the outside diameter with the nipple slides into the cap that effectively give the nipple three positions. The first helps lock the bottle shut. The second is an intermediate position where the fluid can come out, but not too much at a time. Pull it out all the way, and the flow is a gusher.
Back to the question at the opening. It’s not really a question. It’s a jape. If people can buy speed, great, let them do it. As we then can buy speed and train, and we’ll be even faster. Or so we like to fool ourselves. The Chrono seems like it could be that speed, and more importantly, even if it isn’t, it still fulfills the function of a water bottle and cage very well.