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Meet the Woman Disrupting the Cycling Water Bottle Industry, One Stainless Steel Bike Bottle at a Time

Sep 15, 2023Sep 15, 2023

Bivo’s founder Carina Hamel on how to see open space in any industry, the inspiration to create a stainless steel cycling water bottle with a rubber spout, and why offering a plastic-free hydration option is so important.

Bivo founder Carina Hamel didn’t set out to disrupt the water bottle industry—sure, she had some experience in market research and product creation in the sports industry, and she loved to ride her bike.

But the inspiration to create a stainless steel water bottle with a rubber spout, eliminating plastic from the equation entirely… well, that spark came when she was a new mom pondering why she wanted to avoid plastic for her baby, but she was content swilling sports drinks out of soft plastic bottles herself.

The lightning bolt struck in 2018 when the new mom and her husband—Bivo co-founder Robby Ringer—had cleared space in their work lives to focus on their new baby, and to figure out what they wanted to do next in business. “I knew I wanted to create my own brand, but I didn’t know what that was,” Hamel recalls.

“At the time, our daughter was starting to go to daycare and she refused all bottles. When we were out skiing with friends, talking about my daughter not wanting to take these bottles, we started talking about not wanting to feed her out of plastic. And we realized every time we exercise, we too are drinking out of plastic. That was the lightbulb moment. We realized that there wasn’t a solution in the endurance sports world.”

Where they live in Vermont, gravel cycling was taking off in a big way—and as avid cyclists themselves, Hamel and Ringer realized a non-plastic cycling water bottle was a great product to begin with. It felt right for gravel cyclists, since that sport is less about the grams and more about the fun.

The more they thought about it, the more a non-plastic bottle made sense: Plastic bottles tend to make water taste plastic-y, so there’s a taste component. Plastic bottles are often viewed as disposable, and most cyclists replace theirs frequently, which increases waste. (Hamel does note that plastic bottles aren’t meant to be disposed of, per se: It just tends to be how consumers treat them.)

“We wanted to be able to drink out of something cleaner, and something that we knew is better for our bodies,” she says. “But the other big part is that in my previous job working with brands in product development, I’ve seen a lot of manufacturing processes and practices. It’s scary to see what is used and how things are made in a lot of cases. We felt like we could create something that we were confident in, where we’re really taking ownership of the production.”

But still: Stainless steel water bottles for cyclists who measure the grams that their tires weigh? “We were very concerned about the weight,” says Hamel. “But it was an opportune time to enter the cycling space because gravel was becoming super popular, and people cared less about having heavier things on the bike. Even so, we strategically came out with our non-insulated bottle first, since we could use a thinner gauge of metal and make it as light as we possibly could.”

Ironically, their insulated bottle is now the most popular option they sell. “What we discovered was that weight actually was less important to most cyclists than we ever anticipated,” she says. Now, the bottles are popular not just with the gravel set, but also with mountain bikers and randonneurs. Plenty of Fondo-style road riders will also sip out of Bivos, though Hamel says that she rarely sees one in a road race.

To combat dusty gravel roads and the common issue with dirt getting into the mouth of any water bottle, they even created a rubber dust cap to make it easier to avoid drinking mud.

The other hurdle they had to overcome was flow rate. A stainless steel bottle can’t be squeezed, so how can you maximize how fast you can chug water? Not an issue, says Hamel. “We worked with a former NASA engineer to optimize the flow of water,” she says proudly. “You can empty a 21 ounce bottle in eight and a half seconds, which is faster than you can squeeze plastic. It’s funny, some of the early reviews we got were saying that it was fun to drink out of a Bivo.”

Since their launch, they’ve collaborated with brands like Velocio, they’ve done collaborations where profits were donated to One Percent for the Planet, and they’ve worked with small artists. “Being able to use our bottles as a vehicle to raise money for something that is so true to our values is really fun,” Hamel says. “We also have the artists series collaboration, which is great because we’re using it as a way to represent underrepresented folks in the cycling space. That includes women, non-binary, and trans folks that wouldn’t normally have a space to have an outlet.”Still, you may be wondering how a brand this niche can make it in such a crowded space. That’s not how Hamel sees it, though. “We came into a space that was wide open,” she says. “Sure, there are a lot of water bottle companies, but there wasn’t a metal water bottle. We came from a fresh perspective. And it’s definitely turned heads in the cycling industry, which has been fun.”

The community piece has been a big deal since day one, and even five years in, Hamel and Ringer spent much of the summer traveling around to races with their young kids, working the expo area and talking about Bivo to gravel racers around the US.

“We want to be a positive player in the cycling space and part of the community, honestly, so much of what we love about Bivo is being part of this community,” Hamel says. “I do think cycling can be so intimidating, and that’s even to somebody like me who is a good athlete.” (Hamel is a former professional skier!)

“We like to say fuel more fun. We believe if you’re having fun, you’re going to be successful and live a better life. And so we kind of take that motto into both business and sport, and we hope to share that with our consumers as well.”

Molly writes about cycling, nutrition and training, with an emphasis on women in sport. Her new middle-grade series, Shred Girls, debuts with Rodale Kids/Random House in 2019 with "Lindsay's Joyride." Her other books include "Mud, Snow and Cyclocross," "Saddle, Sore" and "Fuel Your Ride." Her work has been published in magazines like Bicycling, Outside and Nylon. She co-hosts The Consummate Athlete Podcast.

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