Some things I set myself up to find for my bikes are extremely rare! Patience, and keeping one eye constantly on the internet, is the only way to secure these hard to find parts.

One such item is the type of water bottle seen handed out at feed stations and kept in the water bottle cages of the likes of Joop Zoetemelk and the rest of the TI-Raleigh team during the Tour de France of the late 1970s and early 1980s. You can just about make them out in the images below, the white bottle with blue labels and black writing.

TA and Contrex Tour de France TI-Raleigh SBDU SB4059 Race Images
TA and Contrex Tour de France TI-Raleigh SBDU SB4059 Race Images

In order to hold that bottle on the frame, you need a bottle cage, and the bottle cage of choice was the steel TA cage. Made by Specialites TA in France, this cage was chosen by many because it held the bottle tight! It is made from steel so you sacrifice a little bit of weight but gain security – the bottle is not going to jump out of one of these cages. These cages typically came with a chrome finish and either a black or white plastic cap. The images above show the white cap type.

Now these cages aren’t difficult to find. The problem is generally condition… they rust badly. I’ve been holding back from buying one until I found a good condition example, but that simply wasn’t happening; I’m convinced there are no New Old Stock (NOS) cages out there, so I went to my spare parts box and pulled out the TA cage I got on SB7660.

TA and Contrex Tour de France TI-Raleigh SBDU SB4059 Rusted Specialites TA Cage
TA and Contrex Tour de France TI-Raleigh SBDU SB4059 Rusted Specialites TA Cage

That is a poor example of a TA cage. It is dirty, rusted and covered in sticky black tar – I don’t know what the previous owner did with it but it was nasty! If you have read my blog posts about my Team Pro 753 SB4059, you will know that I don’t fit anything to that bike unless it is either NOS or in pristine used condition. This is clearly none of those but I wanted to try and clean it up.

The white plastic cap was treated to a steam bath to remove grime from the inside and outside surfaces and then put through a couple of cycles of the dishwasher – it came out very clean. Cotton buds soaked in soapy water were great at getting to any remaining dirty areas on the inside of the cap. The chrome was a different matter. There is a myth that Coke Cola works a treat at removing surface rust, so I promptly bought a bottle of Coke and soaked the cage overnight. It actually worked, and a little light rubbing with a cloth the next day took most of the rust off. I then used a sharp knife blade to lightly scrap the remaining rust off before using some fine wire wool. I used some metal polish to bring some shine back to the newly cleaned steel.

TA and Contrex Tour de France TI-Raleigh SBDU SB4059 TA Bottle Cage
TA and Contrex Tour de France TI-Raleigh SBDU SB4059 TA Bottle Cage

It isn’t 100% perfect but I’m happy to fasten it to SB4059 and it will more than do until that mystical NOS cage with perfect chrome turns up.

Now I had the cage, I could source the bottle. This turned out to be a massive coincidence because after five years of looking for a bottle, and after only recently getting the cage sorted, a bottle in near mint condition turned up for sale on the internet. This never happens! Actually two turned up for sale but one was very tatty, and being made of plastic, it would be very hard to clean or even make look good enough to use as the plastic surface gets scuffed and the dirt gets ingrained into the plastic.

TA and Contrex Tour de France TI-Raleigh SBDU SB4059 TA Contrex Bottle
TA and Contrex Tour de France TI-Raleigh SBDU SB4059 TA Contrex Bottle

I couldn’t believe it when it arrived today from France. It looked as though it was in good condition and very clean from the pictures I had seen, but it was actually better than I had expected. A gentle rub down with soapy water and it was ready to use.

So what are these bottles…?

Each year, the Tour de France would have a beverage sponsor and during the period of TI-Raleigh, it was usually Contrex. This is a little bit of text I found on the internet regarding Contrex from velo-pages.com

“Contrex itself is a brand of mineral water from the world renown spa of Contrexéville in the Vosges region of France – the very first mineral spa in Contrexéville was constructed in 1774 under the direction of Dr. Bagard, personal physician to King Louis XV, and since that point in time, Contrexéville water itself was recognized as a Natural Mineral Water by the French Government in 1861 and thereafter first offered for sale in bottled form in 1908 – the branded Contrex beverage is a highly mineralized water boasting an extremely potent Calcium content as well as being rich in Magnesium and Sulphate, absent all but trace elements of Sodium, Chlorides, or Nitrates, and having only a modicum of Bicarbonate – as the official beverage sponsor of the Tour de France for several years during the 1970’s and 1980’s, bidons emblazoned with the Contrex logo were made available at feed stations to each and every Tour rider during those corresponding years – and while its logo and associated graphics changed in subtle manner over time, the specific iteration of genuine TdF issued Contrex water bottle seen here dates from 1976 through 1978 exclusively – genuine TdF issue Contrex water bottles are considered particularly collectible (…some years and styles more so than others) and are VERY difficult to source in unblemished state, or anything near same)”

For a little more reading on the subject of bottles supplied during the Tour de France have a read of this blog from velosvintage “Bidons sur le Tour de France” which gives an account of 100 hundred years of tour bottles from 1903 to 2003.

TA and Contrex Tour de France TI-Raleigh SBDU SB4059 Top Cap
TA and Contrex Tour de France TI-Raleigh SBDU SB4059 Top Cap
TA and Contrex Tour de France TI-Raleigh SBDU SB4059 Bottle and Cage Fitted
TA and Contrex Tour de France TI-Raleigh SBDU SB4059 Bottle and Cage Fitted

My 753 frame only has one set of bottle bosses. It was an option from the SBDU at Ilkeston to have either one set or two fitted on a 753 frame. Thankfully, whoever spec’d my bike saved me the task of finding another bottle and cage, not to mention the money!

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About the Author Neil McGowran

Blogger of all things to do with the Specialist Bicycle Development Unit (SBDU) and TI-Raleigh Ilkeston.

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