15 December 2008

bikefix Exclusive Review: Blackburn Switchback bottle cage

All of 15 years ago, before hydration packs took over the mountain bike world and carbon fiber the road world, there were very few options when it came to bottle cages. Most were aluminum, they were virtually all the same shape, and most of them held bottles pretty well. Sure, some were nicer than others (Elite's Ciussi, with it's little non-marring buttons comes to mind), but they all pretty much worked. What on earth happened? Now there are almost too many choices- from material to color to specialized function, there seems to be a bottle cage for every niche.

Well, here's a very good one. Made of 5mm stainless steel rod, Blackburn's Switchback cuts a fairly classic profile- in other words, it looks like a bottle cage. Unlike aluminum, which can leave those unsightly aluminum oxide marks on your bottles, stainless is non-marking. Unlike carbon fiber, it can be bent out of shape (in an accident or to hold an undersized bottle or can) and then bent back into shape to hold bottles again. At 50g (actual), it splits the weight difference between aluminum (around 70g) and carbon fiber (under 40g).

Yes, $15 or so can buy you a near-perfect bottle cage for your ti or steel road bike or any mountain bike. Near-perfect? Because the mounting bracket runs straight from screw hole to screw hole, it won't jump over a front dérailleur. It may also mar frames with flush-mount bottle bosses (most frames' stand proud of the frame tubing by 1mm or so). These won't be problems for most people, though (King Cage's American-made stainless cage does solve both issues- at more than twice the price).

Over the four or so years I've owned this unassuming little guy, I've never lost a bottle, even in some pretty alarming terrain. Having it on the bike allows me to bring a bit of energy drink to go with the water in my hydration pack and extend my range on hot days. It's also proven sturdy enough for headlight batteries. If you're not as hard on equipment as I am and are looking to shave that last 9g from your ride, Blackburn also sell the 41g Chicane, which is identical save for its 4mm construction. Sure, I still have sexy carbon cages on my sexy road bike, but objectively, the Switchback is all I need.



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