Frank Bretl’s VelEau Bike Hydration System: No More Hydration Pack Back Sweat

“I built prototype after prototype after prototype,” said Frank Bretl, local entrepreneur and inventor of the bicycle-mounted hydration system VelEau.

Bretl dreamed up the VelEau while getting ready for the Cascade Cream Puff, a mountain bike race near Oakridge. “It’s a 100-mile race with 16,000 feet of climbing and descending,” he said. “It’s a tough event.”

It’s tough not only because of the length and climbing, but also because it takes place during the height of summer. This year’s Cream Puff is scheduled for Aug. 3 and 4.

There are several standard options for hydrating on a ride like this, but Bretl wasn’t satisfied with any of them. “I bought this new, beautiful, state-of-the-art bicycle,” he said. “The rear suspension displaced the traditional bottle cage mounts. It only had the suicide mount, so I had this great bike with no usable water mount.”

Another popular option, hydration packs, weren’t any better. “With a hydration pack the rider is the beast of burden. It’s uncomfortable and it’s like you’re wearing a blanket,” said Bretl. “Your ability to shed heat relates back to how many calories your body can ultimately burn. This is why you’ll never see a professional athlete wearing a hydration pack. They can’t suffer that.”

With the VelEau, it takes less time to take a drink of water, and it doesn’t get in the way of—or even touch—the rider. And the VelEau’s bite valve, which is what the rider has to grab to get a drink, is in the field of view. It’s mounted on the handlebar, while the hydration pack itself sits under and behind the rider’s seat.

“It’s very easy to access and use,” Bretl. “Easy means that it’s safe, easy means that it’s convenient, and you’ll use it more often so you’ll stay better hydrated.”

A group of graduate students studying Human Factors at Oregon State University compared the VelEau to conventional water bottles and hydration packs. They found that riders took over 10 seconds to get a drink from a water bottle. Hydration packs took 1.2 seconds, and the VelEau took 1.1.

“The amount of time your hand is off the handlebar can be equated to the amount of risk,” Bretl said.

The VelEau handlebar mount works because of a dynamic tube mounting system. The system uses retracting reels, like those on standard ID badges, and super strong magnets.

“It’s novel in the way that the tube mounts to the bike,” said Bretl. “I thought I had a really original idea. I filed for patents and I found out there were at least a dozen previous patents with mounting hydration with a flexible drinking tube but none of them worked.”

Bretl worked at Hewlett-Packard for 15 years—he’s had a lot of experience with badge reels. “I adapted it,” he said. “It wasn’t enough on its own to control the drink tube so I came up with the idea to put in a set of neodymium magnets. That was the key that made the system work.”

After working on prototypes for a year, Bretl went into business with his friend Mark Proia. VelEau is now sold online through a partner, Portland’s Showers Pass, and at small and large retailers like REI. “Independent bike dealers have been the slowest to pick it up. We sell most of them direct,” Bretl said.

“It takes some time to break a paradigm,” he added. “We’re shifting how people think about hydration on a bike.”

by Lana Jones