Published by Lyn on 1 May 2016
Road-testing the Ortlieb panniers in France, we find they live up to their reputation as the best bike panniers on the market.
There’s not much to say about Ortleib panniers that hasn’t already been written or passed down the cycling grapevine: Ortleib is generally regarded as the standard bearer for bike panniers, and after a year of using my 20L rear panniers, I find it hard to argue.
They are industrial strpghtn – both in material and stitching – and with the solid integration of clips, rack mounts and straps, it’s hard to fault their performance or reliability.
Save for the odd scratch and scrape, they are in excellent shape after a year’s battering. Aside from cycling trips, one pannier is often also used for non-cycling weekends away (a faux pas, I’m told by fashion-conscious people in the know), as the amount of stuff they can carry and the shoulder strap make them an excellent overnight bag option.
Back on the road, mine have been 100% waterproof – as promised – and I have no qualms about taking my laptop or SLR camera and lenses on the bike in all weather (though I need both bags to balance the bike with all that kit).
They’ve been battered by heavy rain in Charente-Maritime, splattered with mud in Normandy, been to a funeral in the Dordogne, and used as a pillow on countless trains across France.
They are quick and easy to mount with Ortlieb's 'QL2.1 mounting system', with the only real adjustment being the need to move the bottom back rack hook along its sturdy plastic railing so you can tailor the positioning to your rack. Once you have the positioning right, though this is a one-time fix.
The top rack clips are open and shut via a tug on the handle and this is a one-second job once you get the hang of it.
They come in a range of colours, all with reflectors.
The only criticism I have is accessibility. I'd love to see a large side pocket so you don't have to unroll and open the entire pannier to access a camera or a sandwich or something else that's too big for your jersey pocket.
And, it’s perhaps more a reflection of my messy approach to travelling than the panniers themselves, but there aren’t enough internal compartments for my liking. There’s a narrow document-size insert (a larger pocket and a smaller netting one), otherwise the panniers are large cavernous spaces that tend to eat whatever and I put in them, digesting it and storing it somewhere close the bottom of the bag until or I need it regurgitated.
People obviously have different styles of cycle touring and different needs, and the open system is likely designed to cater for all types of traveller. With each trip I’m refining my packing and becoming more organised by using using smaller standalone bags to group items together, and splitting content into the right and left pannier depending on whether I expect to access it during the day’s riding.
Yes, they’re expensive, particularly if you need front and rear panniers but, if that’s the case, you’re off on a much longer trip than my regular short hops across France, and you’ll be happy to spend the extra cash for a tried and tested product. (Though we did review the Axiom panniers here – they come with a lifetime warranty and are definitely worth a look).