The evening my partner and I cycled off the Spirit of Tasmania to start our two-week cycle tour down the east coast of Tasmania, it absolutely pelted down with rain. We cycled through the dark some way down the Mersey River before making it to our first camp around 11pm. The whole way I prayed that our Ortlieb bike panniers would stave off the rain; and when we dismounted beneath a park pavillion and flung them open, to my relief everything inside was bone dry.
German-designed Ortlieb panniers are the go-to among serious bike expeditioners, some of whom cycle for years on end – take British doctor Stephen Fabes who cycled for six years crossing 75 countries using Ortlieb front and rear panniers. Until last year Ortlieb traditionally made its panniers from PVC – the most environmentally damaging plastic according to Greenpeace – but has since introduced its PVC-free range, which we opted for without noticing any compromises.
With 20L capacity each, the two rear panniers provide ample space for food, cooking equipment, sleeping bags, and clothes. The two front 12.5L panniers provide an additional 25L for personal items like laptops, cameras, or notebooks. That’s more than you could possibly need for a two-week trip. Inside, the front and rear panniers are identical, with a back compartment and zip to organise smaller items or keep documents flat. At the rear of the panniers the plastic mounting system seemed robust, and the panniers seamlessly clicked into place, and most importantly stayed in place once on the move. For the PVC-free range you can choose from turquoise, yellow or black; the fluorescence of turquoise made sure I could be seen, as did the luminescent reflectors.
Ortlieb is known for its signature rolltop pannier design, and it works. The panniers can be compressed down to the size of the load they’re carrying, and the rolltop means less is likely to go wrong with busted zips, or broken clips.
My only qualm is that unless you stand the pannier up against something when it’s off the bike, it tends to topple, spilling its contents. This is frustrating when you’re tired and hungry, and your dry T-shirt topples into a wet puddle. The lack of pockets on the outside might also be seen as a drawback, but for waterproofness and aerodynamics, it doesn’t bother me (though Ortlieb does sell attachable outer pockets).
At $375 for the whole set, Ortlieb panniers certainly aren’t the cheapest, but they are the crème de la crème of bike panniers, and worth investing in if you’re serious about bike touring.
Ortlieb Back-Roller Free. RRP: $210
Ortlieb Sport-Roller Free. RRP: $165