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Field Test & Review: Ortlieb Back-Roller Classic

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Field Test Ortlieb Back-Roller Classic Panniers - Bicycle Touring Tibet

Field Test Ortlieb Back-Roller Classic panniers while bicycle touring in Tibet

Author:

Peter Van Glabbeek. Decades of experience in bicycle touring, including a 4-year trip around the world.

http://thecyclingfamily.com/

Most Ortlieb panniers are sold as a pair. One back-roller classic pannier has a volume of 20 liters, so 40L per pair. The panniers weight almost 1kg each or 1900g per pair.

I think the two main advantages of Ortlieb bags are that they are waterproof and extremely durable. As the name suggests, to close the bag you have to roll the top. When rolled at least three times, the pannier becomes 100% waterproof.

Review: Ortlieb Back-Roller Classic

 

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Roll the top closure at least 3 times to get a 100% waterproof pannier

The German manufacturer Ortlieb offers extremely durable panniers made of 100% waterproof materials. The most common models are the Front-Roller and the Back-Roller from the Classic line. I think 80% of bicycle travelers have this set-up: two Front-Rollers on the front rack, and 2 larger Back-Rollers on the rear rack. However, many long distance travelers use Back-Rollers on the rear rack as well as on the front rack for additional storage space. Ortlieb panniers are also fantastic for commuting. The Classic has more affordable panniers than the Plus line.

 

Durability over time

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The QL1 system has now be replaced by the QL2.1

During my four-year around the world trip I used the same panniers the entire time. The first year or so they were absolutely waterproof. After that, the bottom started to wear out and tiny holes started to appear. This wearing off was most likely due to pressing the panniers down against the ground over and over while closing them. Although Ortlieb seems to have overcome this issue since 2009 by adding base feet to most of their panniers, I advise to avoid closing the bags on gravels or rough terrain – close your bag inside, or on a smooth surface or on grass whenever possible. That being said, even with these tiny holes, only under extremely heavy rain or while crossing rivers with the panniers partially submerged did I find the bottom of my bags getting wet inside. Later, after years of heavy usage in hard condition, the panniers started to wear out where the hooks are attached.

Mounting System

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The adjustable hooks allow mounting the pannier on virtually any rack

In the past 10 years the hooks that mount the panniers to the racks have improved multiple times. There are 3 different types of hooks, generally called QL1, QL2 (upgraded to QL2.1) and QL3. QL stands for quick lock. QL3 is only used in the city line for commuting, and for single bags like the Vario. QL1 used to be on the Classic line but now, the Plus line as well as the Classic line use the QL2.1 system. QL1 is only used on a couple “City” bags. Here is an article comparing the different systems with demo videos: Difference Between the Ortlieb Quick-Lock Systems QL1, QL2, QL2.1, QL3

My first set of panniers had only one size of hooks that would fit on one rack size (I believe 10mm tubes). More recently hooks are 16mm and come with two types of inserts (8 and 11mm). I had issues losing the insert frequently, but Ortlieb presumably fixed that issue with the newer QL2.1 system as “they are now attached from the sides and are secured by an optimized locking mechanism”.

The adjustable upper and lower hooks have always allowed me to find a way to properly secure the panniers to my rack. CycloCamping.com has an article providing a matrix on which system fits which racks best: MATRIX: Match Ortlieb Panniers And Racks Compatibility

Ortlieb panniers are very easy to mount and remove. It literally takes a second or two. One can remove the panniers by simply lifting the handle; by doing so, both hooks opens up freeing the rack.

Additional Features

All Ortlieb panniers have reflectors that make you very visible on the road. They have spoiled many of my pictures reflecting the flash of my camera, but they also helped me many times to find my tent back in the dark.

Each pannier has a shoulder strap. It is optional, but I use them as well to close the bag.

Conclusion

Ortlieb panniers are a great buy that nobody will regret. No matter if you go touring a week or a few years, you will be glad you invested your money in these durable, waterproof bags. You will use them again and again.

 

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About Stephane Marchiori

Owner of Cyclocamping.com
Bike touring since 2003, including:
a 5-Year Bicycle Journey Around The World!

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