After buying my Brompton and using it on few rides with the London Brompton Club, I came to the conclusion that for the longer rides, I would need to get myself something to drink from - I'd already got myself a white O bag to match the Brompton, thanks to one of the Brompton owners selling one. However, whilst the bag is handy for carrying my tool kit and inner tubes, it's not that helpful for holding a drink for easy access.
I therefore needed to find something that I could easily use. Unfortunately, the Brompton suffers from an inability to use a standard bottle cage, because of the folding nature of the bike. There are places out there that sell cages that will fit the Brompton, however, these only carry the one bottle and I know I can get through quite a bit of water on my rides. In addition, when I first started on the Brompton, the twitchiness of the ride would mean that I didn't want to take my hand off the bars to have a drink.
This left me with only one choice really - a backpack mounted bladder system. That’s what I ended up going for in the end, a Camelbak.
I've tried some cheap drinks bladder systems before and I've been impressed. I'd started with a Platypus years ago when I did hiking. However, I also needed a backpack for the bladder as well and I couldn't see the Platypus ones that came in bags anywhere for sale in the UK. However, I'd also had bad experiences with unnamed companies in the past as well, with one I'd bought from Wiggle for mountain biking to be terrible and leaked everywhere. So I narrowed the choices down to Osprey and Camelbak really.
I know I carry the majority of my gear in the O bag, but I also considered that this would be used whilst cycle touring. Therefore, I looked at getting a larger bag than perhaps just the bag that would take the water bladder. The intention was I could use it as a day bag when hiking, as well as when cycling. I ended up getting the Camelbak M.U.L.E. as this seemed to be a good compromise between the size and storage space.
Camelbak are probably one of the most famous brands for bladder systems so I thought I would be in good hands and I wasn't wrong. I've been using this now since February and it's accompanied me on some long rides, so I thought I would write up my thoughts on it now.
I'm not entirely sure if the M.U.L.E is an acronym for anything, but that's how it's marketed by Camelbak. Anyhow, it's an 14L backpack with 3L of that taken up with the water bladder itself. It contains the bladder pocket, which has a hole at the top of the bag to allow the water tube to get out the bag and run down one of the straps holding it to your back. In addition, it has another compartment as big as the bladder pocket, for storage of items. Then on the front it has a smaller pocket, what Camelbak call a "media" pocket (designed for your phone or MP3 player) and then the expandable pocket.
The expandable pocket is open and doesn't have a zip - this is purely for storage of a coat or jacket really it seems. Roll it up and put it in here and it's out the way and isn't taking up room inside the bag. It can also be used for storing bottles of drink (see the St Cripsins Day Night Ride for example) fairly safely! However, as it's open to the elements, anything in this pocket is likely to suffer from them if the weather turns. It's not the end of the world, and personally I'm happier to have a smaller bag that can expand like this when required, rather than a larger bag that doesn't shrink down.
This makes the bag the same capacity pretty much as the Mini O bag that Ortleib and Brompton sell - however, I'll tend to use both bags when riding the Brompton for club rides. I prefer having stuff not on my back when cycling but the requirement for water overrides that. So most of the time I'll fill the O bag with what's needed and the Camelbak is for bulky items (such as my jacket) or for items that wont fit within the Mini O bag.
The bladder itself holds 3L of water. This is adequate for a days worth of cycling with the club. I've only done one ride where I've had to refill this along the route and that was the recent ride with the Brompton Club on the St Crispins Day Night ride, and that was due to the long nature of the ride.
Overall, the MULE gives a good backpack and easy way of storing water for rides on the Brompton. There are other drinking solutions available but in my opinion, they're inelegant and can potentially affect the fold (or at least provide an additional step before the fold). The backpack provides additional storage for rides where you might require it and can negate the need for additional storage.
I realise it's not for everyone and if possible, I would prefer not to have the backpack but it is needed for drink.