By TOM PUZAK
The new $80 hydration system from Showers Pass struck as extremely quirky the first time I saw it. Called the VelEau, this was an under-the-seat reservoir setup that promised bite-valve accessibility to water as well as two “patent-pending retractable magnetic reels.” Huh?
But as I stood in my garage installing it, the product’s utility came into light. It seemed well thought-out and I began to consider in earnest whether it could be what the company claims: “A breakthrough cycling hydration concept that promises to change the way cyclists think about drinking fluids.”
In the end, I am not sure it measures to those lofty claims. But after using the system on a six-hour adventure race this month, I found it to be overall a neat way to add water capacity to your bike.
To install the system, I spent 15 minutes routing the VelEau’s ratchet strap through my saddle rails then hooking up the mysterious retractable hose reels. I filled it using two water bottles, as the reservoir holds a respectable 42 liquid ounces.
Carrying enough fluid to stay hydrated while adventure racing or during a long road race is a challenge. I wear a hydration pack on rides during which I need more water than what my two bottle cages can carry. But with the VelEau, I can leave a pack behind and the weight is on my bike instead of on my back.
Showers Pass touts easier drinking via the VelEau. But I was not looking for an easier way to get hydrated on the bike — I’ve never complained of the difficulty of drinking from a water bottle. The thing the VelEau did allow was for me to drink even during technical sections of a ride or while reading a map as I navigated during the adventure race.
The system positions its bite valve right next to the handlebars. To drink, I would lean down and suck, leaving both hands on the bars and riding as normal. If I dropped the hydration tube out of my mouth, it never went low enough to get in the way. This is where those retractable cords come into play: The system works with a magnet placed on the top tube of the bike and the cords (which are spring-loaded and automatically retract).
You can pull the bite-valve up for a drink, and when you drop it the cords retract and click the hose back stealthily in place with the magnet to lay flat on your top tube. It feels overbuilt at first, but in my test the system worked great.
Under the hydration reservoir, there’s a zipper pocket. It is big enough to carry a spare bike tube, a multi-tool, tire levers, and a CO2 cartridge.
The VelEau reservoir alone weighs 11 ounces, and the entire system weighs almost an even pound, so the weight penalty is not bad. To compare, two bottle cages and two empty bottles weigh about 9 ounces on my bike.
There were a few things I didn’t like. The water flow is too slow. The bite valve is similar to Platypus’ bite valves, and they are fine but I don’t like them as much as some of the competition. I love Platypus bladders, but I often replace the bite valves with CamelBak valves to improve flow. (I made this upgrade on my VelEau, but it still didn’t quite get me the flow I was looking for.)
Even with the improved CamelBak valve, the VelEau’s tiny vent hole caused vacuum pressure to work against me, sucking water back into the reservoir. I drilled mine out to get the VelEau working the way I like it. Further, the water in the reservoir and in the tube for this system gets hot quickly. I prefer my insulated bottles to keep fluid cooler on the hottest days.
In the end, I liked the VelEau but I wouldn’t say it’s a revolution. For most cases, water bottles still work well for me. But with its extra capacity, hands-free safety, and its convenience to the hydration-pack alternative, I see the Showers Pass system finding a market with bikers looking for more water than two bottles can offer on a long ride.
—Tom Puzak is a member of Team GearJunkie/YogaSlackers.