I sat down with Salsa Product Design Engineer Sean Mailen and P&A Product Manager Andy Palmer to get a glimpse into how the Anything Cage HD came to be.
Mailen: I find that my best product inspirations come when I'm out riding. When those two wheels are spinning, my mind seems to wander to that perfect spot where dots connect and cool stuff happens. In 2011, my mind was exploding with ideas when I returned from bikepacking the Tour Divide route. 2,800 miles gave me not just plenty of time to contemplate life, but also to think of new bikes and stuff I wanted to ride and use.
Thinking time on the Tour Divide Route…2011…
I had designed the Anything Cage a year earlier to match our new Three-Pack mounts and give riders a completely new way to carry gear. During the trip, my friend Brett and I both used them and loved their ability to carry water, or, well…anything.
The original Salsa Anything Cage remains available…
I really liked the Anything Cage but wanted more out of it; more locations to run straps through it, and flexible enough to literally grab whatever gear you had in it while still being rigid. My engineering head makes me believe that even if something works well, it can always be better.
I studied a variety of plastic water bottle cages because of their incredible toughness, ability to last for years, and their flexibility around the bottle. Beyond bikes, I sought out inspiration from things like V-blocks and their ability to hold many objects of different diameters. I even looked at sneaker laces seeing how one strap crisscrossing back and forth makes a strong and flexible net that can hold just about any shape. I also noticed the versatility in flatbed semis and how the drivers can literally strap down anything and haul it across the country. My thinking was that if we could add additional strap points we could hold objects more securely. The gears in my brain were spinning.
Palmer: I’d been watching from afar as Sean was tinkering with various versions of the cage in a variety of different materials. When I moved into my role as Salsa P&A Product Manager, I learned that all the development that Sean was doing was in his “spare time” at work. I say “spare time” because it was all taking place in that last ten minutes before a meeting, or as an idea popped into his head while working on something else. Basically, it was a low-priority item, but I was able to change that.
The NEW Salsa Anything Cage HD…
Mailen: We had our objectives but needed to decide on the material. Making a list of advantages and disadvantages, I began to explore the idea of injection-molded plastics. I felt it could give me infinite options for design and provide the toughness we were looking for. Personally, I find it best to explore ideas by sketching before moving to 3D. It's a lot of fun to start carving away in 3D to create your idea, but if you don't really know where you are going you'll never get there. Sketching solves this by playing out most of your ideas simply and quickly while still finalizing direction. This is something I've learned from the industrial designers I work with.
Palmer: A real kick in the pants to get the project moving came when Sean mentioned a cheap water bottle cage he used to have. It just so happened that for the last eight-plus years, I’ve used that same cage on my bar-cruiser bike.
This particular bottle cage was friendly to my then college budget, has been smashed and crashed about 20 different ways, and still does a great job to this day. If we could bring some of those attributes to the Anything Cage HD, we would have great product.
Mailen: I finished the first 3D model in the car on my way back from a family trip in 2011. I almost made myself carsick but I really wanted to get it done so I could prototype it. With each 3D sample I‘d learn more about what could, and more importantly wouldn’t, work. With the design goals and literally hundreds of plastics to choose from, narrowing down the list was difficult. Katie, our Industrial Design lead, and I would sit and discuss different 3D prints we had each designed and what the advantages could be or what might leave the consumer wanting. The Salsa team also weighed in with good questions and valuable feedback. I even used some of the 3D printed prototypes for as long as I could to learn how loads reacted while riding. At the same time I learned about the complexities of injection molding: minimum draft, proper thicknesses, two-piece molds, slides, and all the other injection-molded nerdiness that we take for granted every time we use something made of plastic.
Salsa Anything Cage HD backside…
Palmer: It’s always a bit of a gamble when you try and update an iconic product, and it’s doubly so when it’s an all-new material, but the seeds of this project were already planted within our brand team. Sean was also doubly excited to lean about injection molding, so this all came together very well as we got the needed resources to bring this product to market.
Mailen: The Salsa team wanted to make sure we got it right and I wanted to make sure I designed the best cage possible while learning and understanding the manufacturing process. I think its pretty cool to see the graveyard of 3D prints that developed into the Anything Cage HD. Each prototype over that solid three-year development time guided us to the final production version.
The Anything Cage HD achieved my design goals with multiple tie-down points, and some inherent flex to help grab a load while adjusting to the tension of straps when pulled tight. It has been tested rigorously for months and months, and has surpassed our very ambitious goals.
Palmer: Now that the design work is done and the product has come to life, I’m really excited to see these cages pop up in trip reports from around the world and earn their place on future adventures.
From the graveyard of 3D prints arises a new champion…
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I had to live on both coasts a couple of times to realize that maybe being born in the Midwest wasn’t just arbitrary. I’m drawn to the terrain here, and if you catch me with one of this region’s supreme IPAs in hand, I’ll talk your ear off about my favorite spots. I’ll always take every opportunity though to explore every nook and cranny anywhere I can on a bike, because that’s what makes me feel most alive.