Speedplay Nanogram Carbon Bottle Cage
There is little design variety in water bottle cages. A few ideas gain dominance and most seem to follow. Just about every carbon-fiber and plastic cage on the market contains the following attributes: an L-shaped bottom stop to prevent the bottle from falling down. A tab on top to prevent the bottle from inadvertently popping out, and two arms that squeeze the bottle to hold it in place. Most take their design cues from older designs, which got their cues from older designs still. If you take a look at some of the chromed bottle cages of the 1950s, you'll see similarities to a number of carbon-fiber cages of today.
Speedplay's Nanogram cage has none of these features. We probably should have expected no less from Speedplay. First, there is no L-shaped piece at the bottom to serve as a bottle-stopper. In fact, there is nothing on the base that works as a stopper at all. While the cage seems to have two arms, they are actually part of a single piece of carbon-fiber that starts by the bolts, goes up and around and then down. Finally, there is no tab at the top to prevent the bottle from popping out; tabs at the top are probably found in 99% of all cages. The Nanogram still works. The bottle stop is at the bottom of the cantilevered arms; the arms go down and then the arms meet at a horizontal section that stops the bottles. Because the stopper is part of the arms, it is supported by the entire structure, and should never break. The arms are also part of the retention system. They are tensioned by the act of the bottle being pushed in, and as such the arms squeeze the bottle. Finally, the cage has a tacky siliconized finish that further helps with bottle gripping. The finish looks and feels rubbery.
The Nanogram is also something that few cages are these days; sleek. The arms are thin and swoopy and there's no blocky sections anywhere. We initially thought there was some resemblance to the Elite Custom Carbon cage, but once we had the cages in our hands, we could see it is dramatically different. The arms come out of the back resemble a bird arching its wings for a dive. Striking. And in a world where bulk seems to be necessary to hold a cage, the sleek shape is refreshing. Almost seems to belong more with steel-tubed bikes with their smaller-diameter tubes.
Speedplay nicely includes both aluminum mounting screws and a Specialized wide-mouth bottle with each cage (BPA-free bottle, guess that's nice, but we don't know if BPA was ever in their bottles). We weighed the cages and screws, and installed. One cage weighed in at 28g, one at 29g, pretty much spot on with the advertised weight of 27g. Each set of aluminum mounting screws, anodized Black, weighed in at 3g per pair.
After weighing, we installed, and went for a ride. While we weren't entirely sold on the Nanogram design being able to hold down large-capacity bottles, we stuck them in anyways. The bottles didn't rattle out, but we could see that rough roads were causing the seat tube-mounted bottle to slowly inch up the cage. It would start against the bottom stop, and then after a particularly rough section, we'd look down and see it a cm or two over the stop. We'd push down and then check again after a while. It would be back up.
So no large capacity bottle on the seat tube for us with this cage. Because of the temperature and the time of year, our races only call for standard sized bottles. During our second race with the cages, the person in front of us drove through a nasty pothole. *&%$#@! The Specialized bottle on the seat tube bounced out. Insert punctuation to substitute for swearing here. Then, during our third race, we rounded a fast corner into some potholes, and the down tube-mounted bottle sprung loose. More punctuation!
While we didn't lose a bottle, either small or large, during any of our rides, the second ejection in two weeks effectively killed any practical appreciation we had for the cages. If we can't race them, we're not going to ride them. We know there are plenty of people who ride cages that have been proven to eject bottle or break at inopportune times. You could be one of these people. Far be it for us to stop you. If you want a great-looking cage to complement your ride, we'll agree it's hard to go wrong with the Speedplay Nanograms. But we'd be reluctant to try the Ultras.
Because of the perch on which we sit, we felt it only proper to give a call to Speedplay and ask about this problem. Maybe we got part of a bad batch. Maybe v2.0 is around the corner. We got Richard Bryne, the owner of Speedplay, on the line. Richard is known not only for his pedals, but for his love of ultralight bikes. 14lbs? Too heavy. Try ten.
No, it doesn't seem like we got a bad batch, nor is there a 2.0 on the way. Bryne correctly predicted that we were riding an aluminum bike. He's seen bottles eject from aluminum frames before, even on his own. That the damping properties of carbon can make that much of a difference, we doubt, but maybe he's right.
The reason Speedplay went with the Nanogram design is simple. "A friend designed it. We loved the look. When you get a really nice bike and want to keep it looking good, that's a concern." He sees the Nanogram design as one, "for people who want to keep their bikes as light as possible. They're for people who are looking for the lightest stuff available. Our idea was to have one of the lightest, most functional cages out there, not to compete with a King Cage." He says the Nanograms, "are not for everybody."
Interestingly, Elite, makers of a visually somewhat similar bottle cages, the Custom and Macia, also thought the pictures indicated the design was close. Too close for them. Elite apparently called the design and alleged that the design was a patent infringement. The designer said he had looked into it, and was certain the design wasn't an infringement. They countered with an offer to license the design from him.
When a competitor, especially one as successful as Elite, is interested in the Nanogram cage, you have a good sense that the cage is the good kind of different. Aesthetically, we love what it does. Practically, we're taking them off our bike until we see v2.0 or 2.1 out there. If a couple of extra grams means greater bottle security, we're all for it.