Balls and Racks

Over the last month or so I’ve been toying with different methods to carry gel on my bike.  While this may seem like a relatively straightforward concept – it turns out it’s really not.  At least not once you consider the quantities of gel required for a 5-6 hour ride.

Up until this point I was using liquid based nutrition, which has many merits – but also some disadvantages.  For me, the biggest was that I just wasn’t enjoying the taste of it – and thus probably limiting my intake unknowingly.  When you’re at the 4th hour on the bike in an Ironman, you can’t have any mental blockers to taking in critical nutrition.  So, I switched to using EFS gel for both the bike and the run.  Previously I was just using it for the run.

EFS gel comes in two basic containers – a big one that you self-serve.  Or a little throw-away one.  I simply buy the big jugs because it’s cheaper and I’m not wasting little disposable bottles.


Anyway, the problem here is that I essentially need one bottle per hour – or about 5 bottles in total.  You may remember my first attempt at bottle storage back at the Chesapeake Man Aqua-Velo.  This involved taping a bunch of them on my top tube:


(Some folks do similar things with gel packets, but EFS doesn’t provide gel packets)

This worked well for about 3 feet, before the whole thing started unraveling. Despite my mid-flight bottle rearrangements, the whole thing was a huge mess with bottles flopping everywhere.  As the water and gel mixed with the tape, things became worse.

Now, I also had a Bento Box on there too – which in theory can hold two bottles. But in reality, the bottles are too tall, and stick out the top.  While functional, it’s again not ideal and not ‘clean’.  I define clean not by how much stuff gets everywhere – but rather by how low maintenance and susceptible to failure the system is while racing.


Moving onto the next weekend I tried putting two bottles up front on my aero-bottle.  While actually fairly functional, it is highly susceptible to massive structural failure on behalf of the rubber band.  This could potentially cause me to lose hours worth of nutrition – which is essentially a day ender.  Plus, I still had to find a place for the other three bottles.


It was while finding some extra storage space for some spare gel packets that I got my next idea.


See, EFS doesn’t come in little gel packet sizes – and honestly I find those a PITA anyways.  But, what if I could stick my little bottles in a big bottle?  Like a little Russian Wooden Doll. Well, turns out the little bottles didn’t fit into the top of any of the 30+ water bottles I have (read the end of that post for details on that!).  So I started poking around a bit..and found a solution. 

Thus…I present you…solution:


Tennis balls you ask?  No, gel holder I say.

See, I simply add two reusable standard 5oz gel bottles into each one.


Oh, and for those curious – I also picked up racquetball ones, but they only hold one gel container.


Then I stash these on my back rack system.


They fit very snuggly.  In fact, I’m relatively certain that if I endo on my bike, this will be the one part that won’t go anywhere.  Wheels will snap well before these containers dislodge.  Oh, and some of you may remember the issues I had with the entire cage following off.  Well, I fixed that with a trip to home depot.  These cages ain’t goin’ nowhere now.


(I added a MASSIVE washer where there wasn’t one at all before)

Finally, while I lose some hydration space on the back racks, the reality is I never have put pure water bottles back there during a race anyways.  They were always reserved for holding my liquid nutrition.  So I’ve simply just swapped one nutrition type for another.  Water goes up in the aero bottle – which holds a little over 40oz.  And then I have the cage bottle down below for bottle swappage through the aid stations.


So…there ya go – my current (and hopefully final) plan.  Oh, as for that last and final 5th bottle?  I have no idea where it’s going to go.  Perhaps a tri-top jersey pocket.  Same with the tennis balls…shrug.

Have a good weekend all!


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  1. Anonymous

    Have you looked at bike flask holders from Gu, Fuel Belt or Ultimate? link to

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  2. Ha! Nice system setup :)

  3. Nice set up! Now you need a dog to play fetch with all of those balls! lol!

  4. RWJ

    Glue it atop your helment.

  5. genius, pure genius. as for the extra balls? you could take them with on you ironman for ammo against kids riding bikes in your way…or bees!

  6. Use the tennis balls for mini massages. Stand w/ your back to a wall and put the tennis ball between the wall and your shoulder blades. Move around until the tennis ball hits the sweet spot that has a knot the same size and you’ll be in heaven. Roll your feet over them to aid sore arches. Cheaper and works about the same as the Trigger Point Massage ball. Also good for hammies and butt cheeks but I usually use a foam roller for those spots.

  7. …I’m going to poo poo the gel flask holders from fuel belt etc…they functionall are a good idea, in practice they flop around. Hey Ray, why didn’t you just put the gel into a water bottle and mark off the increments of hourly needs? Didn’t you do that on last weeks long ride? And out of curiosity, what IM are you doing this fall that you are still doing so darn much training? FL or AZ or something else?

  8. Dude…what an event (searching for a way to carry gel). I usually use two of theses on my long bikes along with shot blocks. I have one on the stem and one on the frame…not sure where you would put 5 though…could help with that last bottle you need to find a home for…

    link to

    I saw someone use this holder during the marathon a few weeks ago, looked secure. I may try it becuase gel is my staple for the first 10-13 miles.

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    ps…love the excel sheet in the last post! ass still on bike…normal man thinks about dinner…hillarious!

  9. 1 – I love the title of this post *smirk*
    2 – I love that I can come here and get all these great ideas, tips etc.
    3 – ingenious solution – but I’m wondering, how easy is it to get your hand in there and pull the bottles back out – especially while rolling down the road?

  10. Neccessity is the mother of invention but yeah wouldn’t a big water bottle just be easier?

    So many balls jokes so little time!

  11. If those things won’t come out even if you endo, can you pull them out while riding?

  12. Jen

    I know the regular pop-up nozzle water bottles are a problem with gels, since you wind up not being able to push the nozzles back down after a certain amount of viscous stuff passes through them. But I’d be very curious to know if the flexible, one-way valve on Camelback Podium water bottles (along with the twist-lock) is a good match for mass quantities of gel.

    Eagerly awaiting your empirical results…

  13. Anonymous

    Don’t IM’s have aid stations?

  14. As for not using a big bottle, I tried it last weekend and I found that the gel was slow moving enough that it was difficult to see exactly how much I’d consumed. My margin of error was greater than +/- an ounce or so – which is too great if you start adding up all those errors.

    As for aide stations, they have them – and I use them for swapping out water bottles. But with the exception of Gatorade, the nutrition piece is pretty much on your own. Though some stations have Gels. Either way, with so many different races using different products, you really just want to train and race with the same thing. Everyone uses something different depending on a ton of factors (weight/size, what you like taste-wise, number of calories you need, electrolyte consumption, etc…). For example, if some gels/nutirtion doesn’t have enough electrolytes to properly absorb the water. So if you intake the water, but don’t intake enough salt to absorb it…you’re SOL. :)

  15. Why not just use a clear big bottle? You should be able to see it. If it moves too slowly add some water to it. You will still be able to hold more than the tennis ball holder.

    You could even put black marker levels on it to see how many ounces you’ve gone through.

  16. I was laughing at swim practice the other day – a fellow one lane over had one of those bear-shaped honey bottles and was squeezing honey into his mouth between sets!

    Ray, drop me a line if you are ever in NY and would like a guest pass to Chelsea Piers…

  17. Hmm, why not put the 5th bottle in the bento box? One bottle can lie flat so you don’t have to worry about it sticking out the top.

    I’m curious too…what are you training for?

  18. I use tennis balls for my fist drill swimming. You could have a pair and “The Girl” can have a pair.

    Tennis balls are also great for trigger point massage and rolling in the arch of your feet.

    Oh, and they do make good dog toys as well.

  19. obviously: juggling.