Friday, January 16, 2009

Water Bottle Cage Mounts

As much as I love bikes, not everything about them is cool or interesting.

Tubes, for example. They hold air, they come in different sizes, are made from maybe a couple of materials, and they have two valve stem types. Other than that, any tube is pretty much like any other. Tube manufacturers would no doubt disagree, and they're welcome to try to change my mind, but it's pretty well made up on this score.

Water bottle cages are more varied than that, and some of them are elegant and beautifully made, and thus more interesting. But even in their variety, they still all pretty much do the same thing -- hold a bottle. Somewhere between the elegance and diversity of bottle cages, and the raw utility of a tube are water bottle cage mounts.

Most decent bikes have two pair of brazed-on bottle cage mounts (or equivalents, for bikes not made of steel). That's true, at least with modern bikes. But even with decent older bikes, a pair of integral mounts isn't guaranteed. And in the case of Juliana's Fuji, Ava's Trek trailer bike and my Schwinn Sports Tourer, bottle cage mounts are notably absent. My Raleigh didn't have them either, and at the time I recall buying a series of "bottle kits in a bag" -- water bottle, plastic and wire bottle cage and two mild steel band clamps that more or less secured it to the down tube. Not great or aesthetically pleasing solutions, and if you weren't buying stuff like this 25 years ago, just be happy that the norm (much less the state of the art) has progressed substantially since then.

When I first got the trailer bike for Juliana, the lack of bottle braze-ons didn't bother me, but as she and I started riding farther, I realized it was going to become a problem. She was just out of reach of a safe bottle hand-off from the saddle, so we had to stop if she got thirsty. And then at some point we started outranging our water supply (though, in truth, I never reinstalled the largest bottle carrier I have -- a Zefal that allows for carrying 1.5-liter spring water bottles). Even if I had, though, the best solution was for the trailer bike to carry its own rider's water supply.

The frame of the trailer bike is unconventional so my options for mounting a cage were limited. There's no space inside the main triangle to fit a cage, the tubes are fat and ovalized, and a bottle mounted above the top tube would likely have just been in the way. As alternatives to frame mounting, I thought first about a behind-the-seat mount -- maybe even with a pair of bottles back there. Then realized I'd have to be out of my mind to do that. The girls aren't dumb, and they'd probably refuse to let go of the bars and lean behind them to fetch a bottle in the first place, and even if they tried, in the process they'd quite possibly tumble off the bike or destabilize us enough to put us in the ditch. Either would be bad.

So then I thought about those funky out-front aero-bar bottles with the drinking tubes poking out. The girls could lean forward and suck the water out while they rode. Unfortunately, this looked like an expensive path, and would have blocked the locking knob on the trailer bike's folding hinge, as well.

Then while at a local bike shop one day, I found a rack holding a bunch of Minoura handlebar-mounted bottle cage mounts, and I picked one up. And with that, I began a cycle of purchasing, trying and either keeping or retiring bottle cage mounts of all stripes -- learning enough along the way that I thought it worth sharing my experiences.

The aforementioned Minoura is either a BH-60 or another model of the same basic design, and it slipped easily onto the left side of the original BMX-style bars that were on the trailer bike at the time. This mount worked great -- it was stable and strong, and it did its job well for a year or so. Because of the shape of those bars, it angled the bottle inward a bit, but that wasn't a big deal, and Juli was just happy to have her own bottle. Then I got the inkling to reconfigure the Trek with road bars and better components, and I had to come up with another solution -- the Minoura is about three inches wide, and would have eaten a hand position if placed on one side or the other of a road bar. And on the trailer bike, it couldn't be positioned to straddle the stem, or it would have been in the way of the tow bar locking bolt. So I took it off, and it's now installed on Juli's Fuji. It's straddling the stem on that bike, which seems like its intended position in the first place. In any case, it's a great mount if you have space for it.

Anyway, back to the trailer bike. At Velo-Orange, I found this mount. I'd also seen it on the Nordic Group water bottle cage mount site (a good site and a great resource, and kudos to its authors -- but if you're buying bottle cage mounts, be ready for some trial and error, and be ready to draw your own conclusions about some of these gadgets). I picked one up from V-O for the trailer bike's new configuration. As the V-O site warns, it barely fits over the clamp area on a set of sleeved handlebars, but I made it work in that spot because I wanted to keep it close to the stem and out of the way. It works fine, there, and only interferes with the locking bolt a little -- not much to be done about that, though. And though this aluminum mount looks better than the stamped steel Minoura, I prefer the Minoura in cases where there's room for it.

So that covers the girls' bikes. For the Schwinn, I needed a totally different solution. A handlebar mount wasn't going to work, since I planned to put a bunch of other stuff up in the vicinity of the stem -- a bell, a computer and a handlebar bag and decaleur. The idea of clamping something around the frame tubes wasn't exciting (recalling my experiences with the Raleigh) but short of getting some mounts brazed on and the frame repainted ($$$), it seemed the best remaining choice.

I first found these little stainless steel straps from Velo-Orange. They are attractive and simple, and hold bottle cages securely. But finding cages that they fit well was a challenge. Specialized road cages were close, but the clamping flanges were just a smidge too wide for the clamps' indents (it didn't occur to me until later to just file them down). I used them for a while, and just ignored the mis-fit, as it didn't appear to make the cages wobbly at all. But when I picked up a set of King stainless cages last summer, I couldn't use these clamps anymore. The King cages don't have the traditional flanges designed for the old-style clamp-on mounting, a mounting provision that seems to be fading from many cage designs.

The Nordic Group site speaks highly of some Elite mounts. These are essentially screw-tightened nylon straps that hold a nut that substitutes for a brazed-on fitting. Think of their tightening mechanism as a sort of cross between zip-tie cable ties and metal hose clamps. I liked the look of them because they're low-profile, unlike some of the other models out there, and seemed unlikely to scratch the Schwinn's paint (something that had worried me about mounts with metal straps). I bought three -- two for my Schwinn and one for the Fuji's. Unfortunately, they didn't work well for me. The notches on the vinyl straps proved too soft, and they let go if I made them tight enough that the cages didn't wiggle. And if I didn't make them tight enough, the cages wiggled, then the rubber grips worked their way out from between the straps and the frame tubes, and the mounts, cage and bottle all ended up sliding down towards the bottom bracket. So I took them off the Schwinn and tossed them in the trash, though I left the one I'd put on the Fuji's down tube for now.

As you can probably imagine, by now I was pretty much done fooling with water bottle cages and mounts. It was time for something that was going to work -- never mind the aesthetics. I looked again at reviews out on the Web and found that the Minoura BH-95 was rated pretty highly. They're not pretty or low in profile, but the primary criteria were solidity and functionality, not looks. I ordered two, and once I figured out the installation, I found them to be very secure. And they have stayed where they belong for a half season or so -- so far, so good.

The King bottle cages I picked up for the Schwinn have proven too stiff for road use, though. I'd never really thought about it before buying these cages, but on a road bike, I usually reach for a water bottle from the saddle, in motion. Off-road, on the other hand, I mostly drink from a standstill, with one or both feet planted on the ground. Loose cages work well on the road, but I discovered that with stiff cages, you have to wrestle too much to get the bottles out. Strong cages are less prone to damage and keep bottles from getting lost on the trails, so I get the value proposition -- they're just on the wrong bike. The plan is to swap the cages with those on the Paramount this winter, though I haven't gotten to it yet.

And with that, I hope to not have to worry about water bottle cages and mounts for a while -- at least until the Elite mount on the Fuji lets go.

All for now,


1 comment:

Charles said...

John excellent blog. I'm looking to add another water bottle holder to my Schwinn Comp. I'll check out your suggestions. Great stuff. All the best.