BC Bike Race: Bottles or Hydration Pack?

The question of lugging bottles or hydration pack is an oft-debated topic at events like the BC Bike Race.

Not all the top dogs have gone packing. Rocky Mountain's Chris Sheppard says no way to packs, instead stuffing his jersey with the day's necessities. So far so good. Shep has one stage win thus far, and his second place effort on Monday kept him comfortably in the overall lead with five stages to go. Jason Sumner

Like Sunday’s 26er-v-29er face-off, the question of bottles or hydration pack is an oft-debated topic at events like the BC Bike Race. But unlike the balance found in the wheel-size query, hydration packs are winning hands down at this seven-day cross-country stage race that started Sunday in Cumberland on Vancouver Island and concludes next Saturday in Whistler.

During another unscientific poll, this time conducted during a walk around the start line on Monday in Campbell River just before the gun sounded, the ratio was no less than 80-20. And it might well have been 90-10.

This was not just a case of all the mid-packers opting for packs, and thus tilting the numbers. Indeed, that group overwhelming choose hydration packs, but top racers like Mark Weir, Brian Lopes and even the defending duo-team champs Barry Wicks and Chris Sneddon all were strapped with packs. One qualifier for the Wicks-Sneddon Kona duo, though: Both riders were sporting a modified pack system that Wicks had fashioned himself (see photos).

“I should probably trademark this thing,” Wicks joked. “It works really well and it’s a lot cheaper than the similar options out there.”

So why go with a pack, which is undeniably a heavier choice in a race? It’s a combination of needing to abide to the BC Bike Race’s mandatory gear list, which includes things like waterproof matches and a wound compress, and the fact that this is a pretty burly event from a technical riding standpoint, so best to be prepared with tools and even a few spare parts.

As for your author, I too am a hydration pack devotee, though with stages that have ranged in the 3.5 to 4-hour range, and two on-course aid stations, there’s been no need to top off the bladder. Half way is more than enough.

Here’s a look at some of the packs — and a few of the bottles — that made their way around an exceptionally sweet batch of singletrack on Day No. 2 of the BC Bike Race.