Ortlieb Panniers - the best for a cycling holiday?
Expensive but the best?
Imagine the scenario, you're on tour, say somewhere out of the way like mid Wales on a Sunday. It's nine o'clock, it's been chucking down with rain all day, but being well equipped you put up your tent and drag in your panniers. Now you pull out that beautiful down sleeping bag you paid a king's ransom for, all ready to bed down. But what's this matted lump of goose feathers? Yup an ex- sleeping bag - your panniers have leaked...
Now after a few years camping you learn to pack your gear in plastic bags as all nylon panniers leak like seives in really heavy rain. Ortlieb have the answer, pioneers in the field, now much copied, they produce nylon panniers with wealded seams and "canoe" type rolltop closures that are totally waterproof, and recently the nice people at Ortlieb have sent me a set to play with... As advertised these are as waterproof as you can get, you can use them as water carriers after you reach a campsite, they're that good. However as most experienced campers use waterproof lining bags anyway (Ortlieb make them too) The reason is that these 100% waterproof designs do have a tendency to 'sweat'. On a cold morning it's quite common to find the bag lined with dew, and of course your gear damp - the snag being that as the bag doesn't breath that condensation soon starts to get a bit smelly. Ditto putting a wet waterproof, damp washing etc in the panniers will have the same result. Conventional panniers breath through their seams and to be honest providing they are 95% waterproof that's just fine with me. WHATEVER panniers you use, all 'mission critical' kit must be in individual waterproof bags. So if they were poor panniers then the sealing would not be enough to recommend them alone.
Thankfully these panniers, in my case a full set of front and rear Roller Light's with matching frontbag, justified their high cost with excellent design combined with very classy construction, and yes the two don't always go hand in hand... All too often the a good design will be let down by poor build or "penny pinching" when it goes into production. With the Ortliebs you get the impression that they have been manufactured with money- no-object. Every fitting, hook and strap is as good as you can get and it all works so well together. the rack hooks for example automatically clip onto the rail with a satisfying click and release just as easily. The Jack Wolfskin panniers I tested recently had a similar system but the quality, though adequate, was much lower.
The Back Roller's are 40 l a pair, but seem bigger as all the space is in one compartment, and the Front Roller's 25 l, quite a lot for front panniers, and again all one compartment. Personally I like pockets and nets for things I need to get in a hurry, like a tool kit or a banana...
To close the panniers you simply roll the top over itself and fasten a couple of clips, they are a bit of a fiddle to get neat at first, but as the material eases and with practice they look very slick. The strap that closes the bag doubles as a shoulder strap which is surprisingly handy. The Ultimate 2 frontbag is of similar quality, totally waterproof with a classy clip system. It also comes with an Ortlieb map case, which as any orienteerer will tell you is the best in the business with a rubbery feel, but it's clear and doesn't split... At 5 l it's a reasonable size, ideal for cameras and valuables, and of course being watertight will keep everything safe.
Niggles? Well as mentioned, having one compartment means that there are no handy pockets to put waterproofs in (and out... and in...) and the feel of the inside coating is a bit rubbery making sliding things into an already full pannier a bit tricky. If one thing is wet in the pannier it will 'sweat' as the material doesn't breath - this means soon everything will smell damp and musty so that waterproofing can be too much of a good thing. But otherwise they are hard to fault. The full set runs at about 250 pounds which isn't cheap but cetainly the quality justifies this and I'd much rather pay the extra few pounds than have corners cut to meet a price point. If you are a serious tourist and will use them long and hard I think you will find it very hard to better Ortlieb's Rolltops. Highly recommended 9/10 ©Geoff Husband
A Small Favour
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