Taking the Cycling Catheter to the Next Level
Often on long cycling races, hydration comes down to a delicate balance between getting enough fluids in, but not so much that you have to stop and pee constantly. Trying to manage this balance is very tricky and, for me, always seems to trend towards dehydration.
But what if there were a better way? What if you could drink as much as you like, and never have to stop to pee?
That idea got me thinking, so I started doing research. I came across an article about using a condom catheter for cycling where the tube sticks out the bottom of your shorts, allowing you 'go' while riding.
The primary issue with a setup like this however, is that when you relieve yourself, the urine will run down your leg and into your shoe......gross. And I'm well aware that there are plenty of cyclists who are happy to relieve themselves as-is and don't mind getting their shorts and shoes soaked in pee. I'm not one of those riders, though, and kept thinking of solutions.
I came up with something better altogether. My system allows the rider to pee without getting any on yourself, or the bike. Instead of the tube running down the inside of your shorts, the tube runs out the top your shorts, under the saddle, and along the seat post and seat stays and ends at the rear axle. This way the urine is expelled at the back of the bike, and none of it gets on you, or your bike.
You'll need a few things for this setup:
1. 1/4" vinyl tubing (approx. 6ft)
2. 1/4" tubing quick disconnect - this one is perfect
3. Male external catheters - I've never used one, but I can't imagine an internal catheter would be remotely comfortable enough for cycling...
4. electrical tape (or similar)
5. Separate jersey/shorts or a trisuit with a fly
Having such a long tube connected to you would be cumbersome and impractical, so the tube is cut into two pieces, one is attached to the bike with electrical tape (and remains a permanent fixture on the bike), the other piece (approx. 6-10") is attached to the catheter. The quick disconnect allows you to connect the two pieces while you're riding, and thus allows the urine to flow seamlessly to the back end of the bike.
As I fixed the tube to the bike, I tried to keep it as low profile and aerodynamic as possible. I feel pretty good about the placement and certainly don't notice and extra drag from the tube. That's not to say there isn't any, but suffice it to say you'd probably need a wind tunnel to discern a difference.
Because the tube has to exit your shorts somewhere near the saddle, you'll either need a separate jersey/shorts combo or a trisuit with a fly (no one piece suits or tall cycling bibs.) The tube connected to the catheter needs to be able to exit your shorts somewhere near the saddle (either at the waistband of your shorts, or the fly.) With cycling shorts, I use an 8-10" tube section, and about 6" with the fly. Either method allows you to tuck the tube away when not in use.
One thing to understand with using the catheters is that they are generally designed to be attached to a bag, vacuum formation isn't an issue with that type of setup, but does become and issue when attached to a tube only. Creating a vacuum in the catheter is not something you want to happen, so to prevent this, you'll need to poke a small hole in the catheter. I use a utility knife to puncture a very small slit near the end of the catheter. This type of puncture generally stays closed, but allows air to enter when a vacuum starts to form. In my experience, hardly any urine gets out of this hole, and if any makes it through, it'll only be a few drops.
So what's it like in use?
It's great. Being able to pee whenever you need to is definitely a game changer. On long rides and races it saves a ton of time, and you never have to worry about the balance between adequate hydration and pee breaks. I've noticed that when I use the catheter, I am able to stay hydrated much better. I used this system on the STP bike ride (Seattle to Portland - 206 miles) and only used one port-o-potty at the start. All the rest of my 'bathroom breaks' took place at 22+ mph on the road. I had no issues staying hydrated throughout the ride and felt great at the finish.
The tube and catheter aren't uncomfortable either, after a couple minutes you'll forget it's there. This can sometimes be a drawback, because you have to remember to disconnect the tubes whenever you come to a stop. The tubes are meant to be just long enough to reach when you're seated, so trying to dismount with the tubes connected would be uncomfortable to say the least.
With regards to other riders on the road behind you, I wouldn't be too concerned with 'contaminating the road.' When the urine exits the tube it's much more of a 'drip-drip-drip' than a stream, and even at moderate cycling speeds, it'll be so spread out that it isn't even very noticeable. On top of that, on a warm day it'll typically be dry within minutes. However, I am careful to make sure there isn't someone directly behind me when I go, though I suppose that could be a good deterrent for drafters.
I think this system would be very beneficial for long-distance triathlon as well. I'd recommend attaching the catheter before the start of the race and wear it through the swim. I have not tested this in the water, though I strongly suspect it will remain secure. Then you'd be able to use it like normal on the bike and totally eliminate those bathroom breaks. Then on the run you could either leave the tube tucked into your shorts, or possibly remove the tube (but leave the catheter itself attached) for a little more comfort. The catheter adhesive is quite sticky and can be uncomfortable to remove, so I wouldn't recommend trying to remove it during the race (unless your goal is just to finish and spending a few extra minutes in transition isn't a big deal.)