Saturday, April 19, 2014

Profile Design vs. Speedfil aero bottle systems

So let’s face it, you bought a TT bike to go faster. You want to minimize your frontal section by squeezing your arms onto the aero bars, you want the aerodynamic advantage of skinny tubes and beautifully-contoured carbon, and you want the aggressive saddle / riding position that lets you eke out every last watt of power.

So the last thing you want to do is to have to sit up and break all of those aerodynamic advantages every time you need a drink!

That’s why recent years have seen an explosion in the use of ‘aero bottles’ on TT bikes, designed to be used without the need for the rider to use his/her hands or come out of the aero tuck position.

Perhaps the most recognized aero bottle design on the market at the moment is the Profile Design system, now available in a growing range of variants.  Newer to the market, and employing a different approach, is the Inviscid Design Speedfil bottle system.

I pitted the two systems against each other to see which offers the better system for triathletes.

FITTING

Profile Design Aero Drinks System

For this test, I used a system originally purchased in mid-2010.  There are some newer variants on the market, but I believe the method of operation and fixing to the bike is essentially still the same.

The Profile Design system effectively enables hands-free drinking in the aero position by fixing the bottle between the forearm extensions of the aero bars, with a straw sticking out of the top.  The bottle can then be positioned, and straw cut to length, to suit the rider – the idea being that you should be able to get to the straw and suck up the liquid without leaving the tuck or using your hands (or, indeed, taking your eyes off the road!).

The bottle can be mounted to the extensions by either a couple of strong elastic bands or via a shaped mount.  I opted to purchase the mount in order to provide a more secure fit.  Fixing the mount was easy, using the supplied Velcro fasteners to keep it in place and minimize any knocking caused by road vibrations.

The Profile bottle comes with two options for the filling aperture – either a gauze / sponge filler (designed to enable easy refills in long distance races) or a flip top rubber cap (which can still be refilled through a scored rubber stopper).

The straw is then inserted into the bottle and can be cut to length, or if you’re clever, bent into shape.

Speedfil bottle system

SpeedfilIn contrast to the Profile system, the Speedfil bottle attaches to the ‘normal’ bottle cage mounts on the bike frame itself (for those of you like me who have bikes without bottle cage mounts on the downtube, there is a version which attaches to the seat tube bracket and uses straps on the downtube – see photo).  A long drinking tube then runs up from the bottle between the aero bars and into a position where you can get to it without using hands or coming out of the tuck.

The bottle itself is a triangular in shape and is designed to be aerodynamically more efficient than your normal cylindrical bike bottle (as of course is the Profile bottle, with its elliptical shape).  Like the Profile system, it is designed to be refilled on the move, through a slotted cap (there is no gauze option).

The drinking tube is enclosed in a neoprene sleeve which has a wire sewn into it – and thus allows the tube to be bent into shape.  It’s not as stiff as the Profile system, and so doesn’t stay as rigidly in pace, but it doesn’t move too much.   Zip ties are included to help fix the drinking tube on its ‘journey’ from bottle to mouth – but I was able to tuck the tube behind various gear and brake cables and get away without the need for the ties.  The tube features an end piece with a bite valve that is designed to keep liquid in the tube between drinks and prevent the liquid draining back down into the bottle.

Fitting the cage bracket for the bottle was relatively straightforward, even on my bike with no cage mounts.  Slightly more tricky is installing and removing the bottle from the cage – though this might be easier on the version that doesn’t require the additional seat tube fixing point. Removing the bottle first requires loosening a thumbscrew on the cage and then prising it apart – which seems difficult at first but is becoming easier over time.

ACID TEST – ON THE ROAD

Profile Design Aero Drinks System

The first thing you notice with the Profile system is that, despite the use of the bracket and Velcro fasteners, the bottle does seem to vibrate and knock about quite a lot, especially if the road surface isn’t that great.  That can be quite irritating when the bottle is just inches below your ears.

Reaching for the straw is easy – assuming you’ve cut / bent it correctly and drawing liquid out of the bottle takes minimal effort.

As I race standard distance, rather than long distance, I opted for the ‘fixed’ plastic cap top on the bottle – yet a lot of liquid did seem to escape from the top of the bottle whenever I hit a bad patch of road. This invariably left me with sticky carb drink on my legs and arms, as well as the bike itself.   On a subsequent ride I tried taping the lid shut and this did prevent most (but not all) spillage – but obviously also meant the bottle could not be refilled.

The second – and perhaps for me, more serious – problem with the Profile Design system is the straw itself.  The version I tested has quite a thick and strong straw – presumably so that it stays in position during a race etc.  However, I did have a couple of nasty experiences when I hit a bad bit of road while trying to take a drink – I might be over-exaggerating, but I can imagine someone getting quite hurt if they hit a pothole and the straw was forced up into the mouth while trying to get a drink!


Speedfil bottle system

Heading out onto the road, the only thing you really notice about the Speedfil system is the drinking tube, which can flop around a little but didn’t really bother me personally.  The bottle cage seems as secure as you’d expect and I didn’t notice any additional noise.

Despite using a similar cap system to the Profile bottle, I didn’t experience any problems with spillage from the Speedfil bottle. Despite hitting some pretty broken sections of tarmac, my limbs and bike frame remained thankfully free of sticky liquid!

Getting the position of the drinking tube right is a matter of trial and error and will take a few rides to accomplish. I did experience a problem with the bite valve in early rides (including the Dambuster Duathlon, unfortunately), where the valve wasn’t sealing properly and thus the liquid was draining back into the bottle – forcing me to suck out all the air each time before getting to any liquid (not fantastic mid-race!).

However, a quick email to Inviscid Design and a reply less than an hour later identified a couple of potential causes and the issue now seems to be fixed (the plastic wasn’t quite sitting in place correctly).  One thing I definitely do like about the Speedfil is that the drinking tube is more flexible and feels like it wouldn’t do you any harm if you hit a pothole while mid-drink!

CONCLUSION

First things first – both systems work.  You can hydrate while staying in an aero tuck – so that’s a good thing.  Some people might argue the detail of which option actually provides the least drag, or whether having the additional weight lower on the bike aids handling etc – but in use I didn’t personally find the bike any harder to control, or faster/slower with either system.

I would advise that, whichever system you opt for, you pre-mix your drink before adding it to an aero bottle.  Neither design really makes it easy to shake / mix up carb powders stuck at the bottom – so you’re best off doing this in a normal bottle and then pouring into the aero bottle.

Which one you go for will probably largely end up a matter of personal choice, but here are some closing thoughts which might help you reach a decision.

Profile Aero drinks system

Pros
- Easy to mount, no routing of drinks tube
- Can see liquid level easily
- Achieves aim of keeping rider in aero position

Cons
- Liquid spillage, even with cap in place
- Straw stiff and could hurt!
- Noisy if road surface less than idea

Inviscid Design Speedfil

Pros
- No liquid spillage
- Drinking tube more flexible (bite valve good when it works!)
- Less intrusive design (can’t see or hear it)

Cons
- Potentially more difficult to refill on the move (I tried on turbo and had to either stop pedalling or adopt a very ‘wide’ right knee)
- A little tricky to remove and install bottle in cage (with thumbwheel version)
- Drinking tube can move around a little and could need repositioning

Having tried both systems, I’ll be sticking with the Inviscid Design Speedfil bottle for the time-being.  I personally prefer the drinking tube, the lack of noise and the fact that I don’t get splashed with liquid whenever I hit a bad section of road.  As a standard distance triathlete, I don’t need to worry about refilling the bottle on the move, so that’s not an issue for me.

A long distance triathlete might take a different view – or even perhaps use both systems in parallel! There’s nothing to stop you mounting the Profile System on the bars and running the Speedfil on the downtube – giving you double bottles (with different liquids) both accessible from the aero tuck.

But for my money, the Speedfil currently edges it over the Profile system.

I hope this has been a useful review – and if you have an experience of these systems that either confirms or contradicts my view, please feel free to add your own comment below!