My Favorite Bottle Cages

My Favorite Bottle Cages

It’s rare that I fall completely in love with a product, but it happened with the Nitto bottle cages. Ever since I began cycling seriously, I have been looking for the perfect bottle cages. In the late 1980s, almost everybody used the aluminum TA bottle cages. They were lightweight, but they tended to break after a year or two. Then came a number of welded aluminum bottle cages that lasted a bit longer, but they were heavier and looked clumsy. Plastic cages also were durable, but I did not find them elegant.
When I discovered the American Classic bottle cages, I really liked them. Instead of welds that could fail, these were clamped in an ingenious way by the bolt that attached them to the frame. They lasted much longer than any of the bottle cages I had used before, but being made from aluminum, they turned black and marred my bottles. Nonetheless, I used them for more than a decade, and even stocked up after American Classic stopped making them. My old Alex Singer still is equipped with them.
Over the years, other bottle cages have become available that are durable, but I find most of them too bulky to match the aesthetics of a classic steel frame.
When I built up my Urban Bike seven years ago, I decided to give the Nitto bottle cages a try. They seemed expensive at the time, but they really have delivered on all my criteria. They are made from thin stainless steel, so they look in proportion to the steel tubes of my frame. Being stainless, they don’t mar my bottles. They grip my bottles securely, yet the bottles are easy to retrieve and insert. Over the years, they have proven remarkably durable. They have become the epitome of bottle cages for me.
On my Urban Bike, I use the “R” (racing) model, with two loops that hold the bottle in a spring-loaded grip. The shape allows you to pull the bottle slightly upward (and push downward to put the bottle back in the cage), which makes it easy to get a drink without looking down.
When I built my René Herse, I was trying to keep the weight of the bike as light as possible, so I chose the “R80” bottle cages. They have the same shape, but are made from tubular steel instead of solid rod (photo at the top of this post). The “R80” is 20% lighter than the “R”. At just 40 grams, its weight is competitive with many carbon fiber bottle cages.
For the third bottle cage underneath the down tube, I use the “T” (touring, above). It forms a closed loop, so the weight of the bottle cannot open the cage as it hangs underneath the down tube. Even during the 360 miles of (mostly) rough gravel roads during the Oregon Outback, my third bottle remained secure. You can also use the “T” in a more conventional location, but it requires a little more precision when retrieving or replacing the bottle. (I’ve done it on the move even with the bottle mounted under the down tube, so it’s not a big deal.)
Made by craftsmen in Japan, these are all the bottle cages I’ll ever need. Mine have withstood many hard miles. They represent the finishing touch on a beautiful bike. These bottle cages are so good that we decided to offer them in our Compass Bicycles program.
To go with these cages, we use our Compass water bottles. Made by Camelbak, these are another product we found to be so good that we decided to offer them through Compass Bicycles. We love the ease of squirting a mouthful of water from these bottles, yet they don’t leak significantly, even if you leave the top valve open.
We also offer the Iribe bottle cages, which are silver-brazed from tubular stainless steel by Mr. Iribe, a master Keirin framebuilder. (He was portrayed in the Summer 2014 issue of Bicycle Quarterly.) While these cages are completely functional and superlight, they really are works of art. I love the little reinforcing plates that Mr. Iribe wraps over the joints to act as lugs, since you cannot easily fillet-braze stainless steel. I am glad the Iribe cages exist, but for my own bikes, the simpler Nitto cages are all I need.
Click here for more information on the cages and bottles.

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Comments (41)

  • Michael Goldweber

    Another favorite is the VO Moderniste stainless steel cage. Very elegant, but in a less retro kind of way.

    July 25, 2014 at 4:03 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      I’d rather get the original – the Iris King cage – than the copy, especially since Velo-Orange bottle cages have a reputation for breaking. If your bottle cage breaks miles from civilization, it will be rather annoying…

      July 25, 2014 at 12:02 pm
      • Alex

        I bought six of the VO cages that are copies of the ‘normal’ King Cage, when they were being sold at a discount: worst product I’ve ever bought for my bikes. The three I’ve used have broken after a few rides. And this after decades of using American Classic (the ones Jan describes), and more recently King Cage StSt cages, without a single failure. How hard can it be to build a bottle cage?! VO should have destroyed the lot, taken a loss, but kept more satisfied customers. Extremely annoying.

        July 25, 2014 at 1:36 pm
      • TobinH

        I’ve had two VO cages break on me. I’ve also had a seatpost break, a bag fall apart, chain rings wear out in under two years… I don’t buy anything from VO anymore. Their strategy seems to be to copy something without making any effort to actually understand it, and wait for their customers to report failures rather than do any meaningful testing.

        July 25, 2014 at 2:15 pm
      • Garth

        I have never regretted anything made by Nitto. I look forward to the day I replace my V-O knock-offs of the TA/Nitto Tourists. I have to regularly Rebend them as the metal is too malleable. They were never properly bent to start with.
        Quality is remembered long after price!

        July 26, 2014 at 3:10 am
      • Frank B.

        The VO Moderniste cage has a “predetermined breaking point”: the weld point next to the center plate, where the two tube ends are connected. Here’s an example picture:
        My VO cage broke at the same location – fortunately it still held the bottle until I came home.
        At this location, forces from holding the bottle are directed to the weldseam, where they may lead to fatigue breaks. It gets worse as one often has to re-bend the tubes a bit closer together because otherwise bottles like the Kleen Kanteen aren’t sitting snugly enough.
        The King Iris cage is constructed in much a better way: For one it has tubes with a larger diameter, that are much stiffer and stronger.. Second: The weld joint where the tube ends meet is located past the mounting bolts and thus in a location where it is better protected from the forces of the bottle. You can see the weld e.g. here: (Titanium cage, but steel cage is the same in this regard).
        In addition to superior engineereing, the King Iris cage also has eliminated the hook at the outer end and moved it to the part near the frame. The advantage is, that it’s not as likely to snag your pants on it when commuting.

        July 27, 2014 at 5:28 am
        • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

          The old TA aluminum cages from the 1980s broke in the same location as the Velo-Orange cage in the photo. It surprises me that people still design cages with the same issue after so many years… (By the way, the classic TA steel cages, which were standard issue from the late 1950s onward didn’t have that problem. They were heavy, but durable.)

          July 27, 2014 at 9:49 am
    • Josh

      I mean this totally non-judgmentally, but I find it incredible and disappointing that people will spend $20 on a Chinese made knock-off of an American made product that sells for $18.

      July 26, 2014 at 10:36 pm
  • Richard

    I too like Nitto cages, but I can’t wrap my head around paying $60-90 for one. I just can’t do it. I know they last forever and are works of art. I appreciate that.
    I’ve been using Arundel stainless cages that go for around $25.00. They’re functional and look great on a classic bike.

    July 25, 2014 at 4:19 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      I, too, was concerned about the cost. However, when you amortize it over many years of enjoying them, they aren’t that expensive.

      July 25, 2014 at 9:40 am
    • Will

      I have both the nitto and arundel cages. I actually prefer the arundel as they grip a wider variety of bottles with greater tenacity, are easier to get a bottle in and out of and they don’t get bent out of shape like the nittos. Oh yeah, and they’re a third of the cost. I haven’t had them for long but I suspect they’ll last just as long or longer than the nitto cages.

      July 25, 2014 at 7:47 pm
  • Adam in Indiana

    While I’ve always loved the looks of the Nitto cages, the price always put me off… I use King Cage on my own bike; I have one each of their standard in stainless steel and their Iris shape in stainless. I love the iris shape; the bottle is easy to retrieve and return, and it’s held straight and secure. They’re not much heavier than the Nitto cages, either (48g), and made in Colorado to boot.

    July 25, 2014 at 8:43 am
  • Andrew Squirrel

    I’ve found the Salsa Nick-less Cage (ha ha) to be a great copy to the Nitto. It isn’t nearly as pretty or well made but it is essentially the same weight and 1/3 of the price.
    I had 3 of Nick-less cages on my Elephant for the Oregon Outback and the cage under my downtube held the water bottle great over all the gravel. Now I just need to find a way to keep the dust and dirt out of my water bottle nozzle.

    July 25, 2014 at 10:29 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      Those QBP Salsa cages do look very similar to the Nittos! It’s an unfortunate reality in the bicycle world that plagiarism is rampant. When somebody comes up with a great product, it doesn’t take long until somebody else copies it, usually made from cheaper materials and with cheaper labor. Having also saved the R&D cost, they then can significantly undercut the price of the original. It’s a big disincentive to innovation…
      As for keeping dirt and dust out of the water bottle nozzle, fenders and a mudflap do the trick. I had no problems during the Oregon Outback…

      July 25, 2014 at 12:05 pm
      • jimmythefly

        Jan, though I agree with your assessment that Salsa copied the Nitto design, I’d like to be able to confirm that.
        How old is the Nitto design? I know the Salsa goes back to 2006 at least. And there’s a simlar-ish aluminum cage branded Gios from at least 2002.

        July 28, 2014 at 11:39 am
        • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

          I recall that the Nitto bottle cages are older than 2006. I’ll ask Nitto when they introduced them… assuming they remember.

          July 29, 2014 at 8:10 pm
  • Alex Merz

    I have the Nittos on my road bike, but the King cages are as good or better, far less expensive, and made closer to home.

    July 25, 2014 at 11:10 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      The King Cages are an excellent product. BQ contributor Mark uses them on his bike. I find the bottles a bit harder to insert, but most of all, I prefer the more jewel-like aesthetics of the Nittos.

      July 25, 2014 at 12:06 pm
  • David M

    Blackburn Chicane stainless steel bottle cages – 41grammes, nicely made, work well below down tube and above; I’m not sure if Blackburn have copied someone else’s design work, but at $14.99 apiece, they’re hard to pass by.

    July 25, 2014 at 1:32 pm
  • B. Carfree

    Are the Compass water bottles free of Bis-phenol A and B? I get enough estrogen in my ice cream without adding xeno-estrogens from my water.

    July 25, 2014 at 3:30 pm
  • Jon Blum

    I have several old Specialized plastic cages that have performed flawlessly for more than 15 years. Mighty ugly, though. Their newer models look more modern – but still uglier. Even I wouldn’t buy one.
    For those concerned about getting crud onto their bottle nozzles (mud and surface water are not health foods), Nalgene still makes a bottle with a flip-up plastic cover over the nozzle. Not as nice as the Camelbak, but it’s an option, if that’s your need. A plastic sandwich bag and a rubber band also works for a bottle not in active use.

    July 25, 2014 at 7:51 pm
  • Tim Evans

    One of the nice traits of the Nitto R cage is that it can be slightly bent to accommodate slightly varying bottle diameters. Can the Nitto R80 tubing be bent at all?

    July 25, 2014 at 8:09 pm
  • Champs

    I replaced my Camelbak Podium bottles with Specialized Purist. It’s a satisfying squish with a pull-up nozzle that can’t trap any gunk when it’s closed.

    July 26, 2014 at 9:43 am
  • Philip Williamson

    I’ve had a Nitto cage on my Quickbeam for almost 10 years. I wouldn’t have bought it for myself, at $45, but it was a gift. Even though I could sell it in minutes at its original price, I never would. It’s worth more than $45 to me. Tellingly, I’ve only ever seen a few people sell their Nitto cages.
    The Nitto can be easily squeezed or spread to fit different bottle sizes. I usually use the hard Camelbak colored bottles, and the Nitto holds them easily.
    I recently bought a King Iris cage, an elegant, beautiful design, but the tubing is much fatter than the Nitto, and it doesn’t handle bigger bottles as elegantly. It’s on a mountain bike, and I’ll probably buy more of them, but the Nitto is still 3x nicer in my estimation.

    July 26, 2014 at 10:54 am
  • Steve Palincsar

    One thing about the Nitto R cages: do not use them with oversize stainless steel bottles: Patrick M did it and broke the cages. They’re too nice and too expensive for that!

    July 26, 2014 at 2:28 pm
  • Dusty Purcell

    There are two other styles of cage built by Mr. Iribe shown on the Cycles Grand Bois website. Do you import these, too?

    July 26, 2014 at 2:59 pm
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      We don’t import the other Iribe cages right now. Our margins on these are low – we mostly import them because we love the idea of a craftsman making them. Keeping one model in stock is hard enough!

      July 26, 2014 at 10:43 pm
  • Michael

    The King Iris cages are my favorite. Elegant and affordable.
    Nitto also makes a spare tube cage, that’s just as bilingual as the bottle cages.

    July 26, 2014 at 8:43 pm
  • Michael

    Blingy I mean

    July 26, 2014 at 8:43 pm
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      We don’t sell the spare tube cage – most of us carry our tube(s) in our handlebar bags or other luggage. As far as “blingy” goes, I don’t think that something that is simple, elegant and well-made by craftsmen is blingy.

      July 26, 2014 at 10:51 pm
      • Michael

        By blingy I mean silvery and shiny. Not derogatory at all.

        July 28, 2014 at 10:54 pm
  • stevy

    I bought a pair of the model T cages as I was worried about the long term durability of the model R. Seems I shouldn’t have been concerned. The model T’s work fine once you get used to them and with no moving parts they should outlast me.

    July 27, 2014 at 3:11 am
  • vitaly

    Jan, sorry to say, you sacrifice a lot of credibility with a post like this. The prices of these cages are absurd.

    July 28, 2014 at 1:12 pm
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      I am not sure how my credibility is affected by my preferences in bottle cages… In the last ten years, I spent less on bottle cages than I have spent on the apple juice that went into the bottles. (The water fortunately usually is free.)

      July 29, 2014 at 8:08 pm
      • Michael

        Ah-ha! So it’s apple juice! very cool. I have often wondered what was in the bottles as it wasn’t the usual drink colors one sees.
        You drink it full powered or cut?
        Is it a good , lower sugared Gatorade replacement?
        I’ve been looking to ditch the sugary drinks for something less fattening.

        July 30, 2014 at 10:22 pm
        • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

          I usually dilute it 1 part juice with 2 parts water, depending on temperature. (More diluted if it’s colder out.) It’s a great electrolyte replacement. Not sure about the calories, but I need those while riding anyhow.

          July 30, 2014 at 10:31 pm
  • Michael Goldweber

    I did not mean to stir up a fire storm over the VO Moderniste. When I purchased a pair of these cages (back in ’08), I was unaware that they were based on the King Cage. Regardless, I have had zero failures with these cages over these past six years, over many tours and many thousands of miles, on my touring bicycle.
    While I have no association with VO, I nonetheless wanted to chime in with a positive usage report to balance the negative ones above.

    July 29, 2014 at 6:58 am
  • David Pearce

    Thank you for your thoughtful insights into bottle cages. However, I want to offer a shout-out for the Camelbak / Compass water bottles. I love them!
    At first, I was snobbish about “plastic” water bottles. Plastic, on my metal bike? ….Ugh! But just as you say, we should use what works well, without preconceived notions. If only I had had that opinion BEFORE I jumped on the ridiculous bandwagon of all those metal water bottles: In reality, metal bottles rattle, you can’t see how much is in them, you can’t squeeze them, and they are heavier.
    I do love squeezing a “burst of hydration”, as I call it, into my mouth, and the dripless feature is so excellent. Yes, you can lock the bottle completely closed, but if you forget, and you put it into your gym bag or library bag, chances are your items will not get wet at all. I carry that bottle with me everywhere, in the car, in the grocery store, etc. It’s fun, and it reminds me of bicycle when I’m off the bike. I have to thank Compass Cycles for this one–they completely changed my mind.

    July 30, 2014 at 10:15 am
  • TimJ

    The Nitto cage is beautiful, a work of art. But the price…I only have one and it doesn’t look good on a bike with 2 other, lesser, cages.
    My current favorites for my racing bike are neat, low key, one piece aluminum cages from Unbreakable, non-marking, 33 grams, euro 4.50. I can get 20 for the price of one Nitto R80…

    July 31, 2014 at 6:19 am

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