What’s the Difference Between Premium Bottle Cages?

In a battle between old and new, carbon and steel, who survives?

CAGE MATCH: CALFEE VERSUS ELITE

There are very few items in the Elite and Calfee catalogs that warrant a head-to-head shootout, but after 75 years of combined experience in the cycling industry, they both released their own updated take on the perfect bottle cage.

When shopping for a bottle cage, we take into consideration style, durability and price. For those only focused on the first two, Calfee’s and Elite’s premium cages offer their own take on performance and style using two materials synonymous with cycling—carbon and steel.     

THE TECH

Calfee: Calfee’s years of custom frame building and pioneering carbon designs lend themselves to the framework of the handmade carbon cages. Drawing inspiration from the classic titanium King cage profile, the Calfee uses a single carbon tube molded by hand and joined to three carbon brackets. The tube-shaped design is unlike common molded-carbon cages; its minimal 39-gram design complements almost any bike. Handmade at the NorCal factory, Calfee charges a premium for the unique cage, ranging from $60 to $75 depending on the finish.     

Elite: The Elite factory is located just outside of Treviso, Italy, and, in addition to their bottle cages, has been a long-time component manufacturer that recently gained notoriety stateside for their range of smart trainers. Although Elite also offers a full range of carbon cages, too, we wanted to see how the old-school steel-wire variety compared. The  54-gram stainless steel Ciussi Inox is their latest cage design, weighing over 20 grams less than the previous iteration of the Ciussi. At $35, the Ciussi seems reasonably priced compared to the Calfee, but cheaper alloy cages are available as well. What sets it apart? For one thing, the history of Elite was that it was the cage of Euro pro cycling for years back in the day. The cage features two anti-slip plastic buttons, which do most of the retention work. The golden-capped buttons are stamped with the Elite logo and work in tandem with the silver gloss finish for an eye-catching look. A single stainless steel bracket is used for mounting. 

THE RIDE

Calfee: The Calfee’s carbon construction proved stiff and secure over almost any terrain. The top bracket is shaped to mate with a deep concave-necked bottle, like those offered by Trek and Specialized. For bottles lacking a defined neck, like an insulated Camelbak bottle, the cage forced the bottle into an awkward position that sat at an angle rather than flat in the cage. However, due to the stiff retention, we never lost a bottle, even in the roughest gravel sections we rode. The carbon top bracket of the Calfee pushes bottles forward into a position discouraging vertical movement. Its minimal flex makes removing and replacing bottles more of an effort than the Elite. 

Elite: Elite uses a retention system that is more universal than the Calfee. The stainless steel is flexible and can be bent to accommodate and properly secure a wide range of bottles. Although, unlike the Calfee, there was no specific type of bottle that worked best with it. Almost every bottle had a noticeable amount of side-to-side play while entering and exiting the cage. However, we never lost a bottle from the Ciussi, so the play is negligible at best. 

THE VERDICT

Both cages have their own respected lineage. The Calfee claims the minimalist style points, while the tradition-bound Elite stands out on any bike. We never lost a bottle through more than a thousand miles of riding with either cage. But, the stiff design of the Calfee had us pushing harder to find the right position, while the looser Elite cage had us wondering if the bottle ever found its proper spot. 

With the right bottle combo, the handmade Calfee design is a worthy mount on nearly any frame. Its sub-40-gram construction makes it a stylish option for weight weenies, too. 

Elite’s Ciussi Inox proved to be a more universal carrier, and we liked that. And the fact that a pair of Ciussis are available for nearly the price of a single Calfee cage makes them friendlier on the pocketbook.

PUNCH LINES

• Calfee nailed the minimalist design 

• Elite works best with a wider range of bottles

• How much are you willing to spend for the right cage?

CALFEE STATS

Price: $60

Weight: 39 grams

www.calfeedesign.com

ELITE STATS

Price: $35

Weight: 54 grams

www.elite-it.com

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