Just outside of downtown Durango, Colorado lies the workshop of a mad genius named Ron Andrews. Andrews isn’t a genius in the traditional sense — no Einstein or Edison. No, Andrews’s genius comes in the form of perfecting an oft-overlooked piece of the bicycle: the water bottle cage.
Most water bottle cages are made from stainless steel, or plastic, or even carbon fiber. Until Ron Andrews made it so, water bottle cages were never made from titanium.
Titanium is notoriously difficult to weld and work with. It’s also more expensive than steel. While steel tubing runs roughly $0.70 per foot, Andrews pays anywhere from $1 to $5 per foot. That’s why, although it’s a great material, there aren’t too many quality titanium bike makers in the US — and no titanium bottle cage makers beyond Andrews.
Andrews has always been a maker. “I took machine shop class in high school and then went with that,” he said. “I have an engineering degree. I put myself through college working at machine shops at the school.” He spent stints at some of the top manufacturers in the industry including Fat Chance, Ibis Cycles, Merlin Metalworks, Joe Breeze Cycles, Ted Wojac Cycles and Yeti. But he first cut his teeth in his material of choice in 1991, while working for One Off Titanium. The idea for his business came on a simple whim, when a customer wanted a titanium bottle cage for his titanium bike. Now, Andrews’s business has grown steadily to the point where he is making around 300 cages per week.
Andrews has three part-time employees. The products he and his team produce are mostly carried by high-end bike shops and are even spec’d by some of the top custom frame builders in the country like the Vanilla Workshop. Sacha White, the man behind Vanilla Workshop and Speedvagen, said he uses Andrews’s cages because they are simply the best available. They’re well known in the weight-saving, ultra-nerdy road cycling community as being the finest water bottle cages on the market.
His basement shop, like that of most geniuses and artists, is a menagerie of little experiments, innovations and creative uses of metal. There’s a jump rope made of scrap titanium that sparks at night. There are belt buckles, flasks he made by welding two sheets of metal and inflating them, and countless other side projects to keep Andrews’s mind sharp and his creative juices flowing. It’s cluttered, but Andrews knows where everything is. There’s a set of bookshelf speakers connected to a host of vintage audio equipment next to a Macbook that does most of the heavy lifting these days. A vintage Coca Cola painting hangs on the wall. Bottle cages hang from everything else.
Andrews buys all of his machines from eBay, and then rigs them to serve the unique purpose of making a water bottle cage. He has jigs for bending and shaping titanium for cages, sanders and drills to shape the weld points, a punch press to make small top cap mounts, and a host of other machines Andrews. There’s even a jig that Andrews made to twist titanium into spiraling chopsticks — one of his more recent side projects.
All told, it takes Andrews maybe a minute to bend the pre-cut titanium tube into the correct shape. With the jigs that Andrews created to bend the titanium into shape, even his most inexperienced workers can shape them with ease. After that comes the welding to tack the additional tabs into place and seal the cage together. That’s where the real skill and work lies. So, if you wander into his shop one day, that’s where you’ll likely find him, either making bottle cages or fiddling with a new project with a joy and dedication that comes only from truly loving the work that you do.