Introduction: Milk Crate Bikepacking Cage for Cycle Touring
The Anything Cage HD made by Salsa is a great product and a clever way of carrying things on a bicycle for rough road/mountain bike touring. I wanted to make my own, and thought about various ways of making one. A walk around the house looking for inspiration led to the solution that I describe here.
I hope that this will be of use to people looking to try bikepacking on a budget, or even looking for a self-contained project that can be easily and quickly completed and leads to a high-quality outcome. I have found this to work well at carrying a tent, sleeping bag and/or mat and large water bottles. The cages perform particularly well with rectangular/square objects; I did a three day tour with a Tupperware container strapped to one of the cages.
Disclaimer: Milk crates can be purchased cheaply from moulded plastics suppliers (about AUD18). The crates you see outside of supermarkets (and in your mate's house) remain the property of the milk company. Fines and other penalties can be imposed for their theft. Note that not all crates will work for this project, as they do not all have the same layout.
For more information about the Anything Cage HD, check out this article on Salsa's blog: https://salsacycles.com/culture/product_process_the_anything_cage_hd
- Milk crate
- Bicycle fork with two-bolt or three-bolt cage mount bosses; or
- Hose clamps sized for bicycle fork (ideally M5 studded band clamps)
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Step 1: Cutting the Crate
First, a crate must be found that will be appropriate for this application. As the key requirements are for a stiff, reinforced base capable of taking a load, combined with upper areas for fastening straps etc., a crate that can be cut leaving a suitable base is ideal. Shown is an example of a crate that works well for this application.
Next, either mark out or mentally note what material you want to remain. The design of the crate will likely dictate a suitable cutting distance; crates have edges that act both as a cutting guide and a reinforcement. In this case, each straight edge was about 85mm and the base formed a triangle between these two sections, with a small cantilever that was set by the location of the nearest stiffener. Some cantilevering is acceptable and often unavoidable, depending on where the reinforcing material is located. The height to which you trim the cage will depend on your fork; I have found it necessary to cut off the top 75mm.
Cutting through the sides of the crate is straightforward; however, cutting through the base requires care and patience, as it is easy to remove too much material and render the piece useless. The section where the base meets the vertical edges of the crate is the most challenging and is easy to ruin.
Note that scores and gouges, while not immediately critical, will shorten the useful life of the cage.
At the end of this step, you should have something resembling the images attached.
Step 2: Drilling the Cage
In this step, you will be drilling the cage to mount it to your fork. If you are using a fork with cage mounts, or using studded band clamps, you will need to do this step. If you are using standard hose clamps, it is possible to skip this step.
Standard water bottle cage mounts are spaced 2.5 inch apart (63.5 mm); this spacing also holds for three-bolt cages. By eye, decide on a height at which you want the cage to run on your fork. Important considerations include access to brakes, quick releases/axle bolts etc. At this stage, also inspect the back of the cage and how this will interface with the fork; trimming of support material will likely be required to allow the cage to mount flush against the fork.
If you have a cage with either two-bolt or three-bolt cage mounts, you are constrained/guided in your choice of location. Select the height and mark out where you will drill.
A choice must be made whether to drill through the diagonal formed between the two vertical surfaces, or along one of the vertical surfaces. In all of the photos shown I have drilled through the diagonal.
Drilling through the flat
If you drill through the flat, you can use a relatively large washer, and the risk of the bolt pulling through is negligible. You will likely have to do more trimming for flush mounting of the cage to the fork.
Drilling through the diagonal
If you drill through the diagonal, be aware that you risk bolts pulling through, as it is difficult to use a large flat washer. I have looked for an off-the-shelf 'corner washer' for this application, but have not found it (yet). Mounting the cage without washers works fine for multi-day tours, but is not strong enough for long-term touring.
The obvious solution (that I haven't yet tried) is to cut and drill or 3D print a small 90 degree 'wedge' with a clearance hole for an M5 countersunk bolt. I will do some tests with V-brake alignment washers and see whether these are sufficient. A plate on the inside corner would act as a good bearing, though would slightly increase the weight (these tip the scales at 150-175 gram each).
Step 3: Trimming the Cage
Material will likely need to be removed to allow the cage to mount flush against the fork. This is very dependent on both the crate and the fork. Attached is an image illustrating the trimming that I had to do for a satisfactory outcome on my fork.
Step 4: Mount and Ride!
Mount the cage to the fork with the relevant method depending on your fork/clamps etc. Some threadlocker (eg. Loctite 222) can be used when mounting the bolts, but shouldn't be necessary.
Happy riding! Long-term testing is currently being performed across Central and South America by my friend, some of whose photos are shown above.