May 07 2011
Some cyclists speak disparaging of motorists as “cagers,” alluding to the steel and glass cages that surround drivers and their passengers. I’ve been guilty of this myself, in fact, though—like most cyclists—I also drive a car. But the same label can be applied to cyclists, too. The water-bottle cage is a ubiquitous (and important) accessory, and most cyclists would look askance at any bike without one. Think of it as the cycling equivalent of the motorist’s cupholder.
I won’t try to push this parallel too far, however. The motorist’s cupholder and its attendant coffee mug are at best a convenience—and a potential distraction. The cyclist’s water bottle, on the other hand, is a necessity on any ride longer or more strenuous than a leisurely half-mile pootle to the local Starbucks. Thirst is a dangerous thing when you’re relying on your own muscles to take you where you need to go.
Still, you can’t hold a water bottle in your hand all the time you’re on your bike, can you? Which is where the water-bottle cage comes in. It’s a surprisingly sophisticated piece of engineering. After all, it has to fit neatly into the cramped confines of your bike’s main triangle and hold a filled bottle firmly in place while you jolt over potholes and judder across railroad tracks, yet release it instantly when you need to grab a drink halfway up a long hill. And then, once you’ve slaked your thirst, you have to be able to slide the bottle back into the cage quickly and easily, without taking your eyes off the road ahead for so much as a second.
These seemingly contradictory requirements have given birth to wondrous assortment of solutions. Here are four (right-click on any photo to see a larger image in a new window):
The leftmost cage in the shot is a time-tested design made of welded aluminum rod. Similar cages are sold by most cycling retailers, though some are made of stainless steel, rather than aluminum. Most of these are cheap, light, and functional, but you’d better check the fit before you buy. The fixed holes for the mounting screws don’t allow you to fine-tune the cage placement, a limitation of particular importance to owners of small frames who hope to mount bottles on both seat and down tubes.
The next two cages, the second and third from the left in the photo, address the problem by substituting slots for holes on the mounting bracket. This gives you some latitude in placing the cage. That’s good. But you may find the clamshell design less forgiving of sloppy handling under way. Welded-rod cages make extracting and inserting a bottle dead easy. Clamshell designs require greater precision of aim, and this may pose an unwelcome distraction if you’re riding in traffic. Not all clamshell cages are known for their tenacious grip, either, and few sights are more disheartening than watching your last full water bottle bounce out of its cage and roll under the wheels of a speeding SUV.
Which brings us to the last example, on the far right in the photo. It’s a clever design, to be sure, employing a pivoting cage to help you remove and replace a bottle when clearances are especially tight:
But this clever trick entails increased complexity, and complexity can contribute to early failure. Moreover, the mounting bracket is rather bulky, a drawback that—to some extent, at least—offsets the benefit of the pivoting cage. That said, it’s worth a try in a tight spot.
Design matters, even is something as commonplace as a water-bottle cage. So choose carefully, paying close attention to fit and function. These trump fad and fashion any day. What do you say? Shall we drink to that? Why not!