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Punish Stuff: Ortlieb Panniers

If you pay attention to the panniers that most epic touring cyclists use, you’ll see a lot of Ortlieb. Further, if you commute or tour enough in all weather, eventually you will probably end up with Ortlieb panniers. There are very few undisputed “best” items in the bike world, but Ortlieb panniers are certainly a contender for the least-disputed of the “best.”

ORTLIEB FRONT-ROLLER CLASSIC (PAIR)

SUMMARY
• PRICE: $143
• PROS: waterproof, best attachment system ever, repairable.
• CONS: no internal pockets, slightly clumpy off the bike.
• WEBSITE: ortliebusa.com

Ortlieb makes a bunch of bike-related baggage—rear panniers, front panniers, handlebar bags, seat bags, back packs—and they’re all mostly good. But the Front-Roller Classic panniers may just be the perfect daily-driver commuter pannier.

The naming of the “Front-Roller Classic” refers to the fact that the sizing is more appropriate for front low-rider racks. But the Rear-Rollers are too big for most daily commuters. The “roller” part refers to how the bag closes: you roll the opening and buckle it. The “classic” part means that it’s not the fancy “plus” version. The plus version has a slightly better hook system to attach the bags to your bike.

There are a number of features that make Ortlieb panniers the best ones out there. Here they are.

WATERPROOF: I can’t find the word “submersible” on the Ortlieb website, but I’m thinking you could just about submerse these guys and keep the contents dry. The buckled, roll-top closure, combined with super-tough rubbery fabric provides more insurance than any cyclist can ask for against leaking water. There is a reason just about every cyclist in Seattle packs his or her laptop in an Ortlieb. Ortliebs are truly waterproof.

CRAZY-PERFECT ATTACHMENT SYSTEM: You just have to mess with every other stupid claspy hook system to appreciate how well engineered Ortlieb’s attachment system is. When you buy the Ortliebs, you only need to spend 10 minutes or so adjusting the hooks to fit your rack perfectly. Once you do that, you’re golden: yank the loop handle to open the top hooks and slide the bottom hook onto the rack and the pannier is attached to the rack. Really attached. You can pick up the bike by grabbing the pannier and the pannier will stay attached. To release the hooks, grab the handle and yank the pannier off the bike. Do it for a week and you’ll be a pro: on and off in seconds.

DURABLE AND REPAIRABLE: I have a buddy in Seattle who commuted daily with his Ortlieb panniers for ten years before one started to show some fabric wear. There was a small hole emerging near the bottom of the bag. Using the Ortlieb repair kit, he patched the hole, and he has another four years on them—and they’re still going strong.

CHEAP: What? You say $143 is not cheap? Read the previous paragraph again and do some math.

SMART FEATURES: Shoulder strap, huge reflector, backpack feature. These probably don’t sound that smart. But they are. The shoulder strap also acts as an additional tie-down for the roll top. And if you don’t want the strap on there, the resulting buckles provide the additional tie-down. The reflector is a huge 3M triangle fused onto the fabric. It won’t fall off, break or degrade. The backpack feature is an add-on ($38) that transforms the pannier into a passable backpack, which provides you with a waterproof backpack in non-biking scenarios.

THE CONS
A couple things aren’t great about these panniers. First, some people like pockets. If you like pockets, you may not love the Ortlieb panniers as I do.

Secondly, off the bike, these panniers are a bit clunky. Both sides of the bags have plastic hooks that like to gouge into your side if they’re weighted and hanging off your shoulder. That’s it though for “cons.” Really.
So the bottom line: if you need panniers, don’t bother with other brands. Just get Ortlieb.

About John Speare

John Speare grew up and lives in Spokane. He rides his bike everywhere. Check out his blog at http://cyclingspokane.blogspot.com.