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Water : Carrying larger quantities on a bike

Grace Newhaven

Water must be the single most essential item for any bicycle camper - you literally canít live without it, especially in remote areas. The camping cyclist must always carry some water, and will sometimes need to carry a considerable further quantity. For expedition purposes particularly, the long distance cyclist should have a flexible capacity to be able to carry extra quantities easily and securely if and when required. Achieving this without carrying clumsy rigid containers can be difficult.

 Each litre of water is 1.0 kg, so the total can be quite a load. The usual two bidon cages fittings on most bikes can be supplemented in various ways - it's possible to find surprisingly good quality 1000 ml "sports" bottles in supermarkets, and they may be cheaper than bicycle shop "brand name'" bottles that are usually only 750 ml.( Look for screw top rather than snap-top, as the screws are more robust.) You can also use the "third" cage position, below the down tube, but - apart from likely clearance problems with the front wheel - the bottle gets dirty down there, making it unpleasant to drink from - and there is a much better use for that space ! (see my Toolbox article) .

 However, to carry more water can make things difficult, as you try to pack heavy containers without upsetting your steering and handling, and without stressing your racks or panniers with the extra weight. Rigid containers, such as narrow necked bottles, are also inconvenient to carry even when empty, as they are bulky and waste a lot of space when you are not using them.

 One way to avoid these problems is to carry the extra load suspended from the top tube. That way, it's the whole bike frame supporting the weight, which is also automatically balanced within the main frame. This is not an original idea - readers of The Bicycle & the Bush will remember illustrations of shearers' bikes set up like this last century. We made a more or less square outer bag ( picture below) from quick drying nylon ground sheet fabric, but you could use other materials. You may need to account for the space available given your bike's frame dimensions and the angle of the head and down tubes; as well as the possible effect on the position of the bottle on the down tube. However, this is not insurmountable in practice.

 For the inner container, you can use wine cask bladders, perhaps with a couple of spares, in case you hole one, or PET bottles, and can easily carry an extra few litres without any loss of handling, or balance problems.

 Another major advantage of the bag is that you can use it for other things, or fold it away, when it's not needed for water. In Vietnam, we used ours when we bought tiny bananas by the dozen at roadside stalls - no need to find a place to pack them away on the loaded bike, so clumsy when stopped - just pay and away we went ! In the tropics, it was a good place for a wet raincoat as well - rather than, say, back in a handle bar bag with things that need to be kept dry.

 Make sure you use good quality clips (quick releases are useful) to attach it to the bike, but the whole thing is easy enough to make on a domestic sewing machine with the right needle (try a "ball point" needle).

I'll be grateful to hear any feedback on this idea, and especially your suggestions for improvement.

For a graphic of rigid tanks, see: picture of water bottles

Grace Newhaven

Adelaide, August 1999

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