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Close-up of a cyclist’s leg and water bottle in its holster on the bike

How To Safely Drink From Your Bottle While Cycling

We all know that drinking and driving isn’t a good thing. But for the cyclist, learning how to drink and drive is essential.

We’re just talking about a different kind of drinking and driving.

When you’re out on the road, you need a lot of hydration. You should have a few bottles of sports drink and water handy to maintain your fluid levels throughout the ride. But equally important — and often overlooked — is knowing how to stay hydrated while cycling without compromising your ride and your safety. 

If you don’t know how to properly drink from a water bottle when cycling, you’re either slowing yourself down or endangering other riders. A dropped water bottle bouncing haphazardly along the road at 15 miles an hour or more presents a serious danger to you and anyone around you.

That’s why longtime cycling coach Darryl MacKenzie always takes the time to educate his students about proper cycling hydration using a step-by-step process. Lucky for you, he shared his guide with us, too.

How To Stay Hydrated While Cycling in 3 Steps

Pulling over for a drink, while safe, costs valuable time and separates riders from their group. Instead of compromising your ride by stopping to take a drink, Darryl recommends breaking down the cycling hydration process into three phases.

Step 1: Removing the Bottle From Its Cage

In this first phase, you’re focused on getting the bottle out of the cage where it rests on your bike. And here, it’s all about your head and hand positioning.

Your head should be straight up, with your eyes straight ahead. You must learn to grab your bottle without looking so that you can keep your eyes where they should be: on the road. Any head movement can throw off your center of gravity and threaten your balance.

Your hands are equally important. While your non-dominant hand will remain on the handlebars, your other hand will reach down to grab the bottle. And here is where many cyclists go wrong.

“The biggest mistake people make is not grabbing the bottle in a position that makes drinking easy,” says Coach Darryl. “When you lift it to drink, the biggest hazard is having to change your hand position, as that’s when you’re most likely to drop the bottle.”

So, you want to grab the bottle in such a way that you’ll hold it exactly the same way throughout the whole process. Grip it a few inches below the lid with your fingers toward the front wheel and your thumb toward the back wheel, then pull it out of the cage and up toward your body. 

If, for some reason, you do have to change your hand position after you already have the bottle, be sure to rest the bottom of the bottle on your upper thigh while you adjust your grip.

Step 2: Drinking While You Ride

At this point, the way that most cyclists drink puts them in danger of a crash. They often simply raise the bottle right in front of their nose, partially blocking their vision. Instead, you should raise it at an angle, cocked to either side of your face (whichever side you’re holding the bottle from). Place the tip of the bottle in the side of your mouth, not the front, lift to that side, and keep your eyes straight ahead.

If the bottle has a nipple that you have to pull out to open, this positioning is also better because that’s easier to do with your molars than with your front teeth. Open the bottle and squeeze (don’t suck) the liquid out so you can drink quickly and efficiently without interrupting your breathing for long.

Coach Darryl also emphasizes that there should be no need to move your head much, if at all. You can raise it slightly, but you should never have to take your eyes off the road.

Step 3: Replacing the Bottle in Its Cage

Finally, you need to get the bottle back into the cage. Here again, you have to learn to do this without looking, so finding the cage and its opening can be a challenge.

Darryl often finds it easiest to locate the top part of the cage, which usually protrudes above the opening. If you can touch the bottom of the bottle to this, it’s easy enough to slide it down into the cage from there.

Prepare Yourself Step by Step

At this point, it’s probably obvious that proper cycling hydration takes some practice. Darryl always coaches cyclists through several stages here. Practice these in an empty parking lot, away from traffic, and repeat each step until you’re comfortable with it before you move on to the next one.

  1. Looking straight ahead, reach down and pull the water bottle up until it’s almost — but not completely — out of the cage, then slide it all the way back in.
  2. Remove the water bottle from the cage, touch it to the top part of the cage and then slide it all the way back in.
  3. Take the bottle out and touch the top of the water bottle to the top tube that runs from the handlebars to your seat, then replace it in the cage.
  4. Pull the water bottle from the cage and bring it all the way to your face, touch the nipple of the bottle to your chin, then put it back into the cage.
  5. Bring the water bottle all the way to your lips and tilt it up as if you were going to drink, but don’t actually open the bottle. Place it back into the cage.
  6. Finally, once you have mastered all of the above, practice the complete process, removing the bottle, lifting it to your mouth, drinking and replacing it in its cage.

Working through these steps in a single practice session may take some time, but once you’ve mastered it, well, you know — it’s like riding a bike. When you know how to stay hydrated while cycling, you’ll never have to compromise your ride for a drink again.


Look for more insights from Coach Darryl over at his website.

Photo by Simon Connellan on Unsplash