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Bicycle Maintenance 101 with Professor Jim: Loose Bottle Cages

September 2015
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We covered, in the first post in this series, how to clean the bike.  We’re going from easiest to hardest so this next topic, on how to cure a loose bottle (or bidon for the French) cage may seem stupid but one important point in the lesson has a huge impact on every single lesson from here on out, and I’ll let that hang there till later in the post.  A little suspense for an otherwise simplistic post.

I ride with the advanced group, a veritable throng of hammers…  That’s throng, not thong.  Within that throng, on a particular Tuesday night I noticed that one of the racers, vastly faster than I am willing to be, had a loose bottle cage.  It was almost, not quite, swinging in the wind.  It was loose enough that his bottle cage would jiggle every time he hit a bump.  When I had a chance, I pointed this out to him.  His response dumfounded me.  “Yeah, I’ve been meaning to take that into the shop to have it fixed, just haven’t had a chance.”  I looked at it again…  The nuts that held the cage to the carbon fiber frame were tight, it was just a loose bolt, at least from what I could see at 25 mph.

I had a problem similar to this after I bought my Venge.  I took it home, with my new bottle cages and bolted them down.  Three days later, on my first long ride on the bike, the front cage came loose and I had to pull over to tighten it down…  Fortunately I carried a multi-bike-tool.

A few days later it was loose again.  I explained my conundrum to the owner of our local shop and he asked if I’d lubed the threads of the bolts before I installed them.  I hadn’t.  As it turns out, that’s why my cages kept coming loose on me.  When I got home, I lubed the threads on each bottle cage bolt with the American standard, Park Tool Polylube 100 and reinstalled them, never to have a problem again…  The lesson from the shop owner was this:  Always lube the threads on any bolt installed on a bicycle (or bike related product – such as cleats).  It’s counterintuitive, really.  Most people think that the lube will, because it’s slick, allow the bolts to come loose easier.  The reality is that the lube allows the bolt to tighten down all the way.  With dry threads you end up with a “false tight”, so the bolt can work loose.

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In fact, if you look closely at that bottom bolt, you can still see the green lube on the threads.

We’re not done though.  A year later I decided to go with red cages in lieu of the original flat black that I bought originally, to match my red pedals (I’m big on my stuff matching).  I lubed the threads of the new bolts and installed the cages.  Four days later the front cage was loose.  I was absolutely befuddled.  I removed the bolts, lubed them again (one at a time so I didn’t have to hold on the cage), and snugged them up.  That seemed to work and I haven’t had a problem since.  Again.

A week or so later I spoke with one of the mechanics at the shop about my experience.  He’s a young guy but does a lot of the work on my bike because, as a mountain biker working on his pro card and someone who understands “The Rules” and the importance of having a bike set up perfectly (form is an important part of function), he takes care to make sure that my bikes come back to me working properly and looking awesome…  I respect him for that.  Anyway, he said that this happens often with new cages.  For some reason, they come loose once but stay put once they’re tightened that second time.

Thus endeth the second post in this series.

I won’t actually take pictures or reinstall my bottle cages for this post because if you can ride a bike and you own a set of Allen wrenches (and you should, Metric), you can figure out how to lube and tighten a few bolts.  By the way, use a 3mm or 4mm wrench.

Important Terms:

Bottle Cage:  The thing that holds your water bottle on the bike.
Lube:  The stuff you use to install metal on metal parts (or aluminum on carbon fiber but never carbon fiber on carbon fiber) and on bolt threads).

Important Points:

Always lube the threads of bolts to properly tighten the bolts.
Trying to bolt a bike part down without lube on the threads leads to a “false tight” and could fail.
Even when properly installed, bottle cages can come loose after they’re newly installed.

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3 Comments

  1. bonnev659 says:

    when I got my road bike up and running, i went to the lbs, and they show me for 1 of my cages, the other one they let me do it myself and check it out. kind of neat learning the tricks of the trade. cost me a few bucks but well worth it for when i am doing it again when I get the +1 of the N+1

  2. Sheree says:

    Professor Jim

    Not a problem I have had on any of my bikes. But forewarned is forearmed. I’m ready, willing and have Now been properly instructed should this problem arise.

    • bgddyjim says:

      LOL… I did say it was easy. The important point, hidden cleverly in the post I might add, is the lubing of the threads of bolts to get an actual tight rather than the false tight of dry threads… 😉

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