After a couple of weeks with my new bike and then also using it in combination with trains to do longer tours I knew I needed something more than just backpacks for carrying stuff around with me. I started looking around and eventually decided I wanted some dedicated bike bags that are easy to mount and unmount, weather-resistant, and flexible. If possible, these should even offer storage comparable to a medium or even large suitcase so that we could use them for extended stays or even replace other kind of luggage for trips where we wanted to have our bikes with us.
A small disclaimer: The setup that I’ve decided to go with is not cheap! When I’m finally done I will probably have spent around €500 in total for two bikes (or one bike with two setups covering commuting and travelling).
With that out of the way, let’s continue…
More looking around led me to order a pair of Ortlieb Back-Roller Classic pannier bags which are mounted around the rear wheels and have a storage capacity of around 25l per bag with a rolltop system so you can get a bit more into them if needed. I also looked at some of the larger options but eventually decided against them simply because I thought 2x25l would be enough for travelling (in combination with classic backpacks for things like laptops) and 1x25l would be enough for commuting.
On our trip to Lindau this worked quite well but a bit more space would still have been appreciated. More on that at the very end of this post. But first to the two pannier bags themselves:
I really like the build quality! They are sturdy yet light and completely weather resistant if folded enough. The shoulder strap is used as a mechanism to lock the rolltop by hooking into a small notch on the lower half of the bag. This also has one disadvantage, though: There is no quick access to anything within the bag unless it is located at the very top. For anything deeper you have to unhook the should strap to open the rolltop properly.
The clamps themselves feel slightly on the cheap side but they have worked surprising well so far! For the shoulder strap, though, I would have preferred a wider strap and more sturdy clamps.
Mounting works extremely well and feels very solid. You first hook a little clamp onto the side of the rack (for stabilising) and then use a handle for lowering the rest of the back onto the top edge of the rack. Once you release the handle, small claps close around the poles there and the bag is secured. Un-mounting means just to pull the whole bag up using that same handle.
Transporting off the bike
While the strap is useful when you need to transport the bags for a couple of meters it is by no means comfortable. The strap is just too thin and the padding not existing. I’ve now put a Timbuk2 Super Strap Pad over the regular one to see if this improves the situation. That being said, I also have Ortlieb’s new carrying system which converts any pannier they have into a backpack. This is much better but more on that accessory later. But even with that, these are no replacement for “normal” messenger or backpacks simply due to the lack quick-access pockets. If you don’t need those, though, then the panniers also work fine!
While looking through my options I noticed that Ortlieb also offers tons of accessories that can be used no matter which size of their panniers you get. I was extremely motivated and went all in getting inserts as well as a carrying system which converts a single pannier into a backpack!
In order to better organise the inside of the bags, Ortlieb offers some Packing cubes which are really nice to separate different clothes but also for quickly reorganising them inside the bag. These are really nice for the travelling setup, are very lightweight yet feel well-made.
For commuting there is the Commuter insert which offers a wide laptop compartment (15”+) as well as pockets for water bottles, keys etc. The sides of the laptop compartment are padded so I have a really good feeling carrying my laptop with me this way!
After the first couple of trips with the bags I noticed that the straps simply didn’t work for me. I usually only have one bag with me while commuting and so I decided to also buy the new Carrying system which allows me to convert a single bag into a backpack.
This system reused the same hooks that are also used for mounting the bag on the bike and feels quite solid. The strap that usually secures the rolltop is additionally hooked into the shoulder-straps of the backpack which feels weird at first but helps balance the weight quite nicely!
Conclusion and next steps
So far I’m really happy with the build quality and how much thought obviously went into designing these bags, the mounting system and the carrying system. The whole setup has made commuting much more comfortable and also enabled us to travel more with our bikes.
That being said, I think for travelling I will need to get larger bags while keeping the Classics for commuting. At the moment I’m considering getting a pair of Ortlieb Back-Roller Pro Plus which offer 35l per bag and also have a small outer bag for quick access.
With these I can hopefully avoid the large 40l+ backpack I had to carry alongside the panniers last week, perhaps just needing a small and lightweight one.