CT Recommends: The best bottle cages
Bidon or bottle? Regardless of what you call them, your bike is designed to carry them with the aid of an accessory.
Choosing a bottle cage should be a simple decision, and for a product that simply needs to carry a plastic liquid cannister, it’s amazing how many get it wrong. Add in the fact that bottle cages can make or break the aesthetic of a bike, and there’s a surprising amount of depth to the discussion.
For this latest instalment of CT Recommends, I asked the extended CyclingTips team what they are using and why, while pulling in some wider-reaching opinions from our VeloClub members. Here’s what we consider to be the best bottle cages.
Five things to consider
1. There’s nothing wrong with a classic: You’ll find a common theme in our picks: they all work with a regular cylindrical plastic water bottle and are bolted to the frame. Cages that use proprietary bottles, or those that combine the cage into the bottle may have merit, but we’re yet to find one that’s better than a regular old cage.
2. Low weight is cool, but it shouldn’t be a priority: There are some very good lightweight cages, and there are also examples that can barely claim to be bottle cages. Our picks below all hold the bottle when you want them to, and let go when asked. Generally speaking, if a cage weighs below 20g, and costs less than $50, it’s going to fail you.
3. Easy in, easy out: Fighting with your bottle is just dangerous. You don’t want a bottle cage that you have to think twice about – it should be easy to use. Likewise, some cages provide options for where they sit in relation to your frame’s bosses, while others allow you to pull the bottle out the side. If frame clearance is an issue, pay close attention here.
4. Rattles suck: Find a bottle cage that holds your bottles firmly enough to not rattle. As a benefit, cages that rattle also cause more cosmetic damage to those on-brand bidons.
5. Matchy matchy: Few things will ruin the aesthetic of your bike more than mismatched bottle cages. Find a cage that compliments the look of your bike, and get two of them (or use one cage; that’s fine too).
Spend more, get less
Like many things in the cycling industry, things that weigh less typically cost more. Where entry-level cages are typically made of plastic, steel or aluminium, premium picks are often carbon fibre, or titanium.
With low weights, classy styling and death grips on bottles, we’ve become partial to a small handful of premium cages. That latter element is key, especially if riding gravel or similar poor surfaces – too many cages, even expensive ones, are bottle rockets.
Receiving the most votes, including from myself, is the Arundel Mandible cage (US$75): a premium bottle vice that weighs just 28g. Our production editor, Iain Treloar, summed it up perfectly: “The Mandible has an elegant form and an excellent grip, and weighs very little. It scratches up my bottles a fair bit on the outside, but I’m not overly precious about that and given how rough my rides can sometimes be it’s a worthwhile trade-off for not losing bottles.
“I like them so much I currently have these on three bikes.”
Iain’s sentiments are backed by VeloClub members Mark Martinet, Dan Tan, Kayce Peters, Rob Wierzbowski, Shayne Vermeulen and Glenn Stegink – who all agree the Mandible is the pick for a lightweight, reliable and good-looking bottle cage that only lets go of bottles when you want it to.
Global tech editor James Huang is another fan of Arundel cages, but prefers the Dave-O (US$65). “It holds bottles extremely well, but yet it’s still super easy to slide a bottle in and out,” said James, referring to the fact the Arundel Mandible perhaps holds bottles too well.
“I find the Mandibles to provide a more secure hold, but given how well the Dave-Os work, it’s basically just overkill at that point,” James continued. “I’ve never lost a bottle with a Dave-O (or Sideloader), including countless hours of trail use with various mountain bikes. I have a pair of made-in-Texas prototype Dave-O cages from the early 2000s that are still going strong.”
Our editor-at-large Neal Rogers and VeloClub member Anders Torger both like the Blackburn Camber cages (US$50). “[I] dig the style and color options, and they work great,” said Neal. “Not cheap, though.” Meanwhile, Anders’ first preference is for cheaper, resin cages (covered below).
Our membership manager Andy van Bergen arguably rides more than anyone else on staff, and chooses the Syncros Carbon 1.0 cage (US$TBC). “I’m not really fussed about the weight, but it comes in at 29g,” Andy said. “What has impressed me is how snugly a bidon sits in the cage, but at the same time there is enough flex in the wings that it’s not difficult to pull a bottle out on the fly. I use these cages on my roadie and gravel grinder, and recently popped one on my hardtail. I’m yet to lose a bidon.”
However, as James points out, the aesthetic of a carbon fibre bottle cage doesn’t suit every bike, and for more classic setups, “it’s tough to beat a tubular titanium cage.” When it comes to titanium bottle cages, there are two clear standouts – the classic King Titanium cage (US$60), or the new kid on the block, the Silca Sicuro (USS$70).
Our editor-in-chief, Caley Fretz, and roving reporter, Dave Everett, would both choose the King Titanium cage if budget wasn’t a concern. “Secure-hold, great looks, and you’re supporting a small business,” sums Caley.
VeloClub member Paul Duren was previously a fan of the Blackburn Camber cages, suggesting they never once dropped a bottle, however, now chooses the Silca Sicuro cages. The reason for his swap was simply that the Blackburn cages would marr every single bidon, something both Neal and Anders mentioned of their choice.
“I’ve had King Cages in both titanium and stainless steel (US$18); the grip of the titanium ones is better and they don’t mark bottles,” said CT production editor Iain Treloar. “The stainless steel ones aren’t as strong-gripping, but I cold-set them every once in a while which helps, and I’ve never lost a bottle from them either. Plus, they’re about a third of the price of the titanium ones.”
Iain may not have lost a bottle with King Stainless cages, but I certainly have. I’ve also found they need much-too-aggressive bending to prevent issue – my vote is to splurge for the titanium.
VeloClub member Tom Galbraith recommends the Arundel Stainless cage (US$30). At nearly double the price of most stainless cages, and the heaviest (51g) in this category, it won’t be for everyone. But still, it’s one of the most secure cages offered by Arundel, and its classic styling would suit a number of metal bikes.
While these cages may be widely loved, none of them come cheaply. As Iain suggests, “neither the Mandible or either variety of King Cage is what I’d call ‘cheap’, but I think they are reasonably good value when you consider they’re the kind of item that I move from bike to bike over years rather than just replacing each time I upgrade.”
Finally, if you’re a weight-weenie, there’s one obvious choice – the CarbonWorks Bottle Cage. Weighing between 5-8g, and priced at EU€90, it’s certainly made for a select few.
Low cost, no fuss
For those on a budget, the general consensus is that resin (plastic) cages are best. They’re often comparable in weight to carbon, offer a secure hold, are super durable and are available in a variety of colours. And of course, they’re cheap.
Both James Huang and Caley Fretz feel the Bontrager BAT cage is one of the most underrated cycling products on the market. “My bargain choice is the Bontrager BAT cage, hands down,” said James.
“It’s quite inexpensive (US$15), pretty light, and offers a truly rock-solid hold,” he continued. “It’s so secure, in fact, that I often spot it on pro riders’ bikes at cobbled classics like Paris-Roubaix. Multiple mounting holes allow you to position it just right on your frame, too, and Bontrager is now even making these from reclaimed fishing nets.
The other resin cage to get a number of votes is the Elite Custom Race (US$20) — a stylish, Italian-branded option that comes in a ridiculous number of colour combinations. Personally, I’ve used these for years, but now only bolt them to road-going bikes; I’ve experienced a few too many ejected bottles on gravel and trails to trust them on rougher terrain.
Dave Everett’s budget pick is the BBB FlexCage (US$TBC), citing that he’s used them extensively on road and gravel bikes and is yet to lose a bottle. Similar to the Elite Custom, they’re available in a myriad of colours and can often be found on sale.
Our managing editor Matt de Neef and video producer Phil Golston both prefer generic alloy cages (under US$10) which can be bent for a more secure hold. “They keep my bottles on my bike and that’s all I really care about” — a fair point from Matt.
Also accessible on a budget is the previously mentioned King Stainless cage. This cage is comparable with the Blackburn Chicane ($15) and King Iris (US$18) – products that were also suggested by CT staff and VC members.
Best for small frames and limited access
Got a frame with a tight clearance that forces you to run smaller, or no bottles, at all? A side-access bottle cage may be the perfect answer. As you’d expect, these let you place and remove a bottle from the side. While more commonly needed on full suspension mountain bikes or smaller-sized road bikes, there are other times where these come in handy – such as when you’re wanting to run a 1L bidon on your seattube or when bikepacking with a frame bag.
Just be warned that most are directional so if you want to buy a matching set to use on your downtube and seat tube, you’ll want to buy one “left”, and one “right” version.
James’ favourite is an item from Arundel, the Sideloader (US$65). “[It] holds nearly as securely (as the Dave-O), but offers easier access from the side,” he said. “And yes, of course, being made of carbon fibre, they’re extremely light as well.” Alternatively, the American company has a new side-access version of its Mandible cage called the DTR and STR – they look great, but we haven’t used them yet.
Personally, I’ve had great luck with a number of cheaper resin/plastic options, including the Bontrager SideSwipe RL (US$25) and Specialized Zee Cage II (US$25).
So what’s your pick? Are there any bottle cages you’ve found that do their relatively simple task perfectly? What about the ones that have failed you?