Your water bottle is the last thing you want to lose on a grueling mountain bike ride. Hydration is key to keeping yourself pedaling on tough courses, especially over long distances. Getting a bottle cage that secures your bottle through the most difficult sections of gravel, roots, drop-offs and glacial till can give you great peace of mind while riding. The best water bottle holders will adequately secure your hydration source so you can concentrate on the terrain and natural beauty as you ride.
Water Bottle Cage Materials
Some of the best mountain bike bottle cages are usually made from steel. Since steel is malleable and holds it's shape, you can bend a steel bottle cage to match the shape of your bottle. giving you the best grip for off-trail riding. Aluminum cages can fail to live up to the same standard, since aluminum is not as ductile and will break when bent too far. Carbon fiber cages, while ideal for road cyclists, can splinter and crack when exposed to the rigors of mountain biking.
Bottle Cage Shape
The traditional bottle cage shape can be OK for some basic trails, but more mountain bike companies are selling non-traditional bottle cages that have built-in notches for Velcro straps that tighten down on water bottles, tool containers or dry-bags to give you a completely secure system on your cage mounts. These cages are still made from stainless steel, and are usually built with a more rigorous eye to quality and design than a traditional all-purpose water bottle cage. They're also larger, and can accommodate much larger water bottles or other similarly shaped objects.
Water Bottle Mounting
Traditionally, most mountain bikes have bottle mounts along the top of the downtube and the inside of the seat tube. However, the increasing popularity of bikepacking has given rise to bikes that have significantly more bottle mounting options. Mounting points along the underside of the downtube are frequently appearing on rigid steel frames, and bottle cage bosses on the front fork allow the attachment of cages along either side of the front wheel. The fork mounts are ideal for distributing weight along the bike, but the increased movement of the fork makes the Velcro straps on advanced mountain-specific cages a must.
Other Hydration Options
While the fork-mounted over-sized bottle cages are the best for mountain bikers, many have chosen to switch to hydration packs for carrying water on especially punishing terrain. A hydration pack with a sternum strap and waist belt, along with a low center of gravity along your back is the most secure method of carrying water, since the pack moves with you as you negotiate larger obstacles. These packs also often have room for an extra layer of clothing, a few energy bars and several tools, which can be essential items in your kit if you're off the beaten path.
Max Roman Dilthey is a science, health and culture writer currently pursuing a master's of sustainability science. Based in Massachusetts, he blogs about cycling at MaxTheCyclist.com.