Uropathogenic Escherichia coli (UPEC) is a major cause of urinary tract infections. These infections are initiated by adhesion to the bladder epithelium, after which UPEC colonizes and persists in the bladder niche. Hollenbeck et al. find that the E. coli curli amyloid fibres promote bladder epithelial cell adhesion and that phosphoethanolamine (pEtN) cellulose enhances this interaction. The authors used a custom-built live cell monolayer rheometer to directly measure individual and combined contributions of type 1 pili, curli and pEtN cellulose to bladder cell adhesion during high-shear conditions. Using the UPEC strain UTI89, isogenic mutants and conditions that result in the production of the cell surface structures, curli-mediated adhesion was found to be stronger than type 1 pili and this was enhanced by pEtN cellulose, which the authors posit functions as a mortar, increasing the strength of the interaction.