Product Reviews June 15, 2014

Ortlieb ‘Classic’ Panniers & Topeak Bike Rack

I don’t know much about touring. I’ve never tried it and as previous articles have indicated, I am not big on camping. As a consequence, I’ve never had much reason to purchase panniers. However, last year my commute changed radically; from 3 km to 26 km. As a result, carrying work clothes and a laptop in a rucksack did not appeal. Considering the bikes at my disposal, the commute matched well with the capabilities of the Day One. With that, a plan was forged.

I was met immediately with the commuting version of 'chicken and egg'. Do you buy the bike rack and then get panniers to fit the rack or do it the other way around? Working on the premise that the panniers were the most important part of this equation I decided to research the carrying system first. I’d then get the rack to fit them and the bike.

There’s an almost limitless list of things related to cycling and panniers are no different. Although I had not researched panniers before, I already had some brand awareness of Ortlieb. Also, every pannier I saw iun use, was, in the main, Ortlieb. This indicated a good place to start.

Back Roller ‘Classics’

Ortlieb are German which is a usually a good start when it comes to consumer goods. There were a couple of iterations amongst their pannier range, but in essence there were front and rear versions. They could also be turned into a shoulder bag by attaching a carry strap to each side. The QL-1 mounting and release system seemed straight forward, operated by the handlebar at the rear of the bag. The roll-top closure system included an additional buckle that went over the top of the pannier. Each pannier had Scotchlite reflective patches on both sides. They weighed 1.75 kilos for a pair and allowed a combined 40L carrying capacity, more than enough for my needs.  The major selling point for me was the conviction than Ortlieb had regarding their watertight credentials. It was even claimed (but not tested by me), that by rolling the top over a number of times to create an airtight seal would result in zero water ingress if submerged. Quite a statement. Off the back of this, it didn’t seem much point to scrutinise other brand offerings. Yes, Altura (and others) offer a number of pannier options at a variety of price points, but I wanted a guarantee my gear would be waterproof. I had that confidence when I read about the Back Rollers. 

Sold.

Orange ones.

Now how where they going to fit to the bike?

Topeak Bike Rack

With panniers purchased, I needed a rack to attach them to the bike. With hindsight I would have purchased a slightly different model of cycle rack (which I will subsequently review) because it was considerably slimmer than the Topeak version and was a gunmetal grey colour. I think that would have looked better with the Day One colour scheme. However, aesthetics aside, the Topeak bike rack does a fit for purpose job. It’s lightweight but sturdy, made out of tubular aluminium. It was easy to fit, bolting onto the bottom of the rear stays and attached to the down-tube with a pair of adjustable metal strips. This allowed a perfect fit with a minimum amount of aggravation. With a width of rack being approximately 140mm it makes it ideal for fitting a top-mounted saddlebag if needed. I reckon it took only 20 minutes or so to fit. The rack is painted black and I suspected it would easily scratch – and it does. This withstanding, this type of purchase means the bike is working for its living – so it's an inevitable consequence. Finally, there is an attachment for a light at the rear of the rack. Whilst I do not have a Topeak light to fit, the Lezyne Zectro Pro easily attaches courtesy of the clip and sturdy rubber buckle.

Mounting the panniers to the rack took some initial patience. The release clips located at the top of the pannier needed to be both aligned correctly and fully attached to the top bar of the rack. This also applied to the auxiliary plastic clip at the bottom (of the pannier). The clip at the bottom stops the bag shifting around, especially when cornering. Getting this ‘just so’ took another 10 minutes but it was a one off set up, rendering the panniers ready for action! 

After my first journey I made a few initial (common-sense) observations.

1. Balance your load appropriately. If in doubt, use both panniers.

2. You are carrying everything you put in the pannier. As a consequence, they can get quite heavy quite quickly.

3. The bike handles differently as the centre of gravity moves more to the rear

4. Check your brakes. As well as you and the bike, there’s all your gear in the back now and you need to know you can stop effectively. 

5. Add more time to your journey. The additional load will sap your legs quicker than usual.

In terms of performance, the Classics have done a great job. They are truly waterproof – and they have been properly tested this winter. The result is I can carry my laptop in total confidence knowing that I won’t find it in a puddle of water in the bottom of the bag. They are extremely tough and I don't expect to replace these for a long time yet. They carry just the right amount of load.  So if you want your bike to become a bit more of a workhorse, the Ortlieb panniers are highly recommended. It might pay you to shop around for a rack that suites the shape and style of the bike though – but in terms of ‘doing the job’, the Topeak rack performs well.  

Ortlieb ‘Classic’ panniers, Topeak bike racks and Lezyne Zectro Rear LED lights can be purchased at all good bike shops and at www.wiggle.co.uk. They cost approximately £95, £30 and £38 respectively.

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