There is nothing worse than getting to the bottom of a descent, reaching down to grab your bottle and discovering it's no longer attached to your bike. There are plenty of excellent bottle cages out there, but there are even more that are absolute bottle rockets.
Depending on how much you have to spend, there are bottle cages ranging from simple resin designs to futuristic carbon options and some that don't even utilise a cage at all - each of which has been designed to hold your bottles firmly in place.
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BEST BOTTLE CAGES FOR MOUNTAIN BIKING: EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW
Bottle cages come in carbon, plastic, fibre-reinforced resin and metal. There are good and bad options in all three versions; however, the material will influence the price and weight. Carbon and titanium cages will cost a pretty penny, while plastic and resin cages are cheaper.
2. Weight and grip strength
When looking at bottle cages, counting grams should be pretty low on your list of priorities — even the heavy ones aren't all that heavy. Especially mountain biking, a bottle cage needs have oodles of grip strength so as not to send your bottles flying the first time you hit a bump. There are great lightweight cages out there, however, don't expect a cheap cage to deliver low numbers on the scale and have much holding power. At the same time, the cage needs to release the bottle when you pull on it.
3. Top load vs sideload
Bottle cages come in top and side-load versions, and what's best for you will depend on your frame. If there is tons of room in your front triangle, a top-load cage will work just fine. However, as most full-suspension frames possess tight clearances, a side-load cage will make your bottles more accessible - however, you'll only be able to access from one side.
While the cageless designs are great looking and solve some of the frame clearance issues with full-suspension bikes, they often require proprietary bottles. Everybody has their own preference when it comes to bottles, and there is something to be said for the near-universal compatibility a standard cage affords.
THE BEST BOTTLE CAGES FOR MOUNTAIN BIKING
Compatible with Specialized's SWAT tools, the Zee Cage II is a side loader made from a reinforced composite material that weighs about 43g.
It's available in a range of colours, comes in both left and right varieties and has kept bottles attached to this writer's XC bike for years.
Hand made in Durango, Colorado, the design of the King cage hasn't changed since the '90s; however, they continue to be some of the best you can buy.
Available in stainless steel or titanium versions both weigh less than 50g, and won't chew up your bottles. The design has attracted plenty of knock-offs and copy-cat versions but the King Cage is known for little if any bottle ejections and worry-free riding.
The injection-moulded plastic Bat Cage has been around since 1997, however, just this year Bontrager announced it would be making this time-tested bottle holder from discarded end of life fishing nets. This comes thanks to the brand's membership in Nextwave; a cross-industry coalition of companies working to reduce plastic in the environment.
Beuro, a company specialising in collecting and recycling fishing nets, processes the nets into tiny plastic pellets which can be used for injection moulding, perfect for the Bat Cage. The design hasn't changed, just the plastic, which is projected to take 44,000 square feet of discarded fishing net out of the ocean this year.
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I purchased a set of Blackburn Camber bottle cages with my very first race bike in 2009, and that same set has graced road and mountain bikes for a decade and are currently bolted to a test bike. The hold is superb even after all this time, and there are no cracks despite years of no-look bottle loading thanks to the flared opening.
At 30g they are pretty light, but they do mark severely mark bottles. Blackburn also backs them with a lifetime warranty, though it's probably a claim you'll never have to make.
Fidlock makes magnetic clasps for everything from backpacks to helmets straps, and the Twist is a magnetic base plate which works in conjunction with either a proprietary 400ml or 600ml bottle or a Boa based bottle connector.
When you need a drink, you twist the bottle, and it releases from the plate; to reconnect just pop it on and let the magnets do their magic. The downside to the system is that you'll either need the proprietary Fidlock bottles or purchase the Boa Connector, which also limits how much you can squeeze the bottle.
Based roughly on the popular Mandible cage, Arundel adapted the design to work as a side loader. Technically these are two difference cages; DTR stands for Down Tube Right, and STR stands for Seat Tube Right. Most full-suspension mountain bikes don't have seat-tube bottle bosses, so the STR can also be bolted to the downtube.
According to Arundel, these cages were developed over a two-year period and tested with MTB World Cup riders. At 25g the DTR and STR have plenty of hold, but command a pretty hefty price.
For most full-suspension MTBs space in the front triangle is limited and, if there happens to be bottle bosses at all, you'll most probably need a side-load cage. While it's only a minor inconvenience, the clever folks at Elite designed a side load cage that allows you access to the bottle from either side.
The Cannibal XC is made from reinforced fibreglass, the wide opening allows you to basically throw the bottle in from any angle. The elastomer in the middle of the arms provides some purchase and allows the cage to adjust to different shaped bottles.
Made from a blend of polyamide and glass fibre, the Tacx Diva has a tenacious hold and is surprisingly light on the scale. Weighing in at 32g, its cylindrical shape holds on tight through rock gardens and drops alike.
There is a full carbon version too, but the cheaper polyamide version is less than half the price, comes in 13 colours and offers the same bottle hold.