16 November 2014

With Or Without Cage

Unless you’re a purist who keeps your fixed gear bike NJS-compliant or someone who doesn’t ride much beyond your neighborhood, you use some sort of hydration system. 

Some of you use “Camel Back” type backpacks that hold bladders.  I did when I was doing a lot of mountain biking, although I’ve never really liked carrying anything on my back when I ride. But now I, like most of you, use a bottle-and-cage system.  For all of the diversity of cage materials and designs, most bottles marketed for use on bicycles fit on most cages.  That means you can buy a cage from someone who makes cages, not bottles (like King, who made the stainless steel cages I use) and not have to worry about whether your bottle will fit into it.

Most bikes sold today have threaded  bits on the downtube (and, sometimes, the seat tube) for mounting cages.  But, back in the ‘70’s Bike Boom--around the time I became a dedicated cyclist—most bicycles didn’t have them.  In fact, about the only bikes that came with such provisions were made by constructeurs and other custom builders.  Even top professional-level bikes like the Raleigh Professional and Schwinn Paramount didn’t have bottle mounts.

That meant you needed a pair of clamps—which, in those days, were usually supplied with the cage.  Some would argue that a true “vintage” restoration should include a cage with such clamps—unless, of course, the frame is from a constructeur or other custom builder.  If you look at racing photos from before the early ‘80’s or so, even the top professional riders—including Eddy Mercx on his sunset-orange De Rosa—you can see the clamps.

It was during that time that a few enterprising companies—some of them in the US—came up with some interesting ways of mounting bottles on bikes.

One-clamp cage from Specialites TA, ca. 1975.

Specialites TA of France, which made the cages most racers and high-mileage riders used in those days, made a single-clamp cage.  I mounted one on my Romic and never thought about it:  Like TA’s other cages, it held the bottle securely while allowing easy removal and was all but indestructible.

A Tennessee-based company called Hi-E, which made ultra-lightweight (for the time, anyway) hubs, pedals and other components, came up with their own version of TA’s cage.  Hi-E made their cage from aluminum alloy and it was fixed to the frame with a stainless steel hose clamp.  American Classic would later make a similar cage in Ohio, along with its own lightweight components.

Others found ways of doing away with the cage altogether.  Rhode Gear came up with what was probably the most popular of them.  Their bottle had an extrusion with “tracks” on each side that fit into grooves on the plastic clamp mounted onto the bike.  It was actually quite good—I had one on myPeugeot “fixie”—and became very popular with club cyclists.  Other companies imitated it.

Rhode Gear bottle, ca. 1978

Its advantages were its simplicity and (if you’re a weight weenie) the elimination of 100 grams or so of steel cage and clamps.  Also, it could be mounted on the seat tube of a bike with short chainstays and little clearance between the tire and seat tube.  In fact, I put another Rhode Gear bottle on my Trek racing bike, which had water bottle mounts on the down tube but not the seat tube.

Plus, after a while, they were made in a bunch of colors as well as basic white and black.  The white ones could be had with the logos of a few large bike manufacturers (I had one with a Peugeot emblem) or, for a time, with club logos or other custom designs.

The disadvantage, as you may have figured, is that it was a proprietary design:  You could only use the bottle designed for the system.  At least the bottle was easy to use and sturdy:  I never heard of one cracking or springing a leak, though a few wore out at the tracks, albeit after a lot of hard usage.

Cannondale made a bottles that attached to its “mated” holders with Velcro.  I never tried such a bottle, but a few riders I knew liked them.  The best thing about them, it seemed, was that the bottle could be put into the holder from any angle.  As one fellow club rider said, “When I’m tired, my aim isn’t as good.”  While riding, he could put the Velcro-coated bottle back in its holder without looking at it.

Cannondale bottle and "cage" with Velcro

One other cageless bottle I used had indentations on its sides designed so that the bottle would “snap” in between the seat stays of most bikes. Most bikes at that time had parallel stays of more or less the same diameter placed more or less the same distance apart.  Of course, such a bottle wouldn’t work on many of today’s bikes, including those with monostays.  Also, as you might expect, the bottle was small:  less than half the size of a standard water bottle.  It did come in handy, though, especially on a training ride on a hot day.  

I don’t know what happened to that bottle.  I think I stopped somewhere, drank from it and absentmindedly left it.  When I realized I no longer had it, I couldn’t find another:  Apparently, they were made only for a year or two. 

As water bottle cage fixtures became standard features on mass-produced bikes, the demand for cageless bottles and single-clamp cages fell off.  By the late 1980s, it seemed that no one was making them anymore. 

RDR Bologna bottle

 However, a few years ago, RDR Bologna made a water bottle with a slot in the rear that’s designed to slide directly onto the water-bottle braze on.  I haven’t used one, and don’t know anyone who has.  But, from what I can see, it has all of the advantages and disadvantages of the Rhode Gear bottles I used back in the day.


  1. Very informative read. I recently had to remove my Velo Orange bottle cage because my pant leg caught it while pedaling and it snapped. Now I'm just using a plastic cage that came with a platic squeeze bottle and my trusty Klean Kanteen. Not as pretty, but it works.

  2. Jake--As much as I like the asethetics of cages like the ones Velo Orange offers, I'm not a pedant. If something else is more practical for you, use it!

    Annie--You're welcome. It's a pleasure.