Bicycle touring panniers are
some of the most important
pieces of gear bike tourists use. These saddle bags need to remain securely on
the bike while keeping your
expensive gear safe and dry on the roughest of roads and in the most extreme
weather conditions. If a pannier fails, it endangers all of the contents in
the bag and can even cause a dangerous crash. In addition to the
camping gear, personal items, and clothes, I also have my electronic equipment
required to keep my mobile business going. Most cycle tourists carry a
camera these days, if not a notebook computer, making the panniers' job of
protecting gear even more crucial.
During my first two years of this trip I used three
different brands of bicycle panniers including Ortlieb. They were all top-of-the-line bike panniers and well recognized
in international bicycle touring circles. At first all three brands of
bicycle touring bags looked to be of equal quality and clever design but
time, sun, dust, rain, accidental drops, and tragic crashes exposed the
differences in the bags and produced a clear superior product line. Please
remember that the pannier failures described below are personal experiences.
I understand that readers
may have different experiences. Failures that I experienced with my
bicycle panniers came in several
areas which are described below:
Bicycle Pannier Failures I Experienced
When I originally started shopping for bike panniers I
concentrated on the bag design and overlooked the attachment system.
Now, with a bit more experience with three manufacturers, I have found that while the bag design is
important, the mounting system is critical.
My set of Vaude bags had a poor mounting system.
From reading industry news publications I believe that Vaude tried to
copy Ortlieb's excellent mounting system but were prevented because of
international patent laws and were forced to come up with their own design.
I tried this brand of bags and mounting system and they slowly but
developed several major problems on the road.
The first problem I had with the Vaude panniers came
before I even left. One of the bag's mounting system cracked and broke in cold
weather. Vaude did warrantee this defective part but I was forced to
carry bulky spare mounting hardware for when/if this problem reoccurred. It is
very frustrating to haul spare parts in the bottom of bags
for equipment that should not require this precaution. The other brands
of bags that I carried did not require so many spare parts.
On two different steep dangerous descents in Ecuador and Peru,
the rear Vaude panniers fell completely off. This
caused all of the gear strapped to the rear rack to detach and skid across
the road, causing a very dangerous situation. In one episode, the rear
bags suddenly flew off when I was swerving around a steep corner. The sudden
weight shift made me lose control of the bike and nearly crash. I had to
hunt around the ditch and bushes looking for my lost gear, then dig through
my panniers for the spares to fix the mounting bracket, all on the side of a
busy highway. After a lot of swearing, I remounted and tried to salvage the
rest of the day's ride. It could have been much worse but I wasn't able to
replace my faulty panniers until I got to a more developed country. I tried
everything to prevent those panniers from falling off but in the end, I
think it was simply a bad design.
A close up of the
attachment system that opened too much which caused the bag to fall of on
fast descents. This required a lengthy stop to remove everything on her
the rack and an agonizing effort to push it back into place.
My rear cloth Cordura bags were not waterproof. In their
defense, they never claimed to be. I initially thought that this was
not important but several days of wet weather in Honduras, Ecuador, and
later in Chile caused several key pieces of gear, including my
shortwave radio to get wet. Fortunately my notebook computer is always kept in a
rubber dry bag but I think that this caused the radio to quit
working. I will never tour with anything but water proof cycling bags
Time and continuous use cause the workmanship and material
selection flaws to surface. I was surprised at how durable some bags
seemed when I bought them and how quickly things went wrong. When
someone tells you that their panniers are "bulletproof," ask how long
they've been using those bags. In my experience, no equipment stays
All of my Vaude bags did the strangest thing. They
bowed around the mounting system which grew worse as the months rolled by.
As they were under warrantee, I was able to get replacements but the same
thing happened to the new bags. This may have cause them
to detach during descents.
My rear Vaude bags developed rips in the seams of the
external pockets. This required constant gluing and re-gluing when
they fell apart again. The replacements had the same flaw.
I was forced to carry tubes of messy glue for the continuous repairs. This
battle with the pockets continued for months in South America until I ran
out of glue and left the pockets in a trash can. What a sad
development for an expensive and important piece of equipment.
My cloth Cordura Panniers developed several rips and loose stitching.
This required frequent re-sewing.
If I would have continued using these bags I believe they would have
completely fallen apart.
My cloth Cordura rear pannier developed faulty stitching that required
constant field repairs.
Sewing the many broken and separated stitches on my rear cloth Cordura
My rear cloth Cordura bags hung too close to the ground and made frequent contact
with the pavement which cause rips and holes to develop.
The Vaude pannier in the bottom of this picture (left hand side of
bike) is bowing out and had to be replaced during a visit to the USA.
Convenience of use,
service, and access to Customer Service:
Most companies in the business of selling high end sports
equipment are very competitive and have similar customer service.
I replaced my Vaude bags on warrantee with no problem and Cordura was always
pleasant to deal with. I never experienced any problems with my
Ortlieb bags so I never needed to request service. To me, building a
quality product that does not require service is the best service of all.
One irritating occurrence in customer service was with my DeTour
(formally Vaude) handle bar bag map case. During my first two years,
from Arizona to Argentina, my map case developed several rips. I
called and tried to buy a new map case. They told me that I would have
to buy an entire new US$100 handlebar bag to receive a new map case.
It does not seem right that a handlebar bag only lasts as long as the
fragile map case.
Bike Bags that had Superior Performance
Cleaning up to look my best for Chinese immigration officials.
With waterproof Ortlieb Panniers there is no need to remove them during a
bike wash. - Vietnam/China border
Only one brand of bags met my needs and performed
beyond my expectations. I am really hard on equipment.
I'm a big guy and I'm not very careful. Usually my
equipment fails sooner or later. My Ortlieb panniers were the only set of bags that did
not fail at some point. I am still using them years later and believe
that they may last many more years to come.
It's not surprising that these bags are made
in Germany. The Germans are at the forefront of
international travel and the bicycle touring equipment industry. It
must be a very popular sport among its citizens. More than half of
all the international traveling cyclists I meet are from Germany.
Below are the bags that I own, use, and depend on for the
remainder of my tour which includes some of the more rugged places on
Ortlieb Front Roller
Waterproof panniers with a unique roll-top closure. Symmetrical shape allows
more leg room. Not only ideal for use on long cycle tours; they are also
suitable for everyday use as a shopping bag or shoulder bag. Can be used with
the carrying system as a daypack.
High specification design rear pannier made of Cordura fabric with spacious
lid closure and QL2 mounting system. Even fully loaded; the pannier can be
closed and is therefore particularly suited for extended tours. Outer mesh
pocket with zipper (not waterproof) increases packing volume.
Waterproof panniers with a unique roll-top closure and constructed of an
exclusive Cordura material that is completely watertight and welded. Utilizes
Ortlieb's QL 2 Mounting System. Its symmetrical shape allows more leg room.
Not only ideal for use on long cycle tours; they are also suitable for
everyday use as a shopping bag or shoulder bag. Can be used with the carrying
system as a daypack.
Made of durable Cordura(R) nylon with polyester; coated
with PVC for water resistance
With 3D welded seams, these panniers will keep your gear dry
on rainy rides. Constructed with welded seams for strength. Designed with an
easy access, roll-top closure. Replaceable, adjustable, quick-release
security catches mount panniers quickly and easily on racks--also removed
easily. Lifting on pannier carrying strap automatically releases the QL1
system security catches, while releasing the strap causes latches to lock in
place. Please note: This item is sold as a pair.
Constructed with welded seams for strength
Designed with an easy access, roll-top closure
Replaceable, adjustable, quick-release security catches
mount panniers quickly and easily on racks--also removed easily
Lifting on pannier carrying strap automatically
releases the QLR-system security catches, while releasing the strap causes
latches to lock in place
Waterproof Seat Bag:
Ortlieb Saddle-Bag Micro Saddle Bag
After a couple years of bike travel I
realized that waterproof panniers were great but the stuff in my
regular seat bags got wet, stayed wet, tools rusted, and mold grew.
The mounting system is very high quality and detaches from the seat easily
The Saddle-Bag Micro from Ortleib is an ultra
lightweight, waterproof seat bag with a roll-up closure. This size is an
excellent fit for road or mountain racing applications.
* Roll-up closure with elastic bands lets you
cinch down the bag, and offers a tight hold * Polyurethane-coated nylon
waterproof fabric * Simple click mount attaches with 2 screws to seat rails;
mount remains on bike and allows 1-handed removal of saddle bag * Reflective
highlight improves nighttime profile * Protects against dust penetration and
water splash from all directions
Highly water-resistant, with durable welded seams. Lid has
inner stiffener and is easy to open and close with one hand. Lockable
mounting fits up to 31.8mm handlebars. Reflective logo. This versatile
handlebar bag features a rigid lid, a removable shoulder strap, and a
in the rain all day and keep your camera dry with these Handlebar
bags with lid closures, including lockable mounting set, for handle bars
with diameters up to 31,8mm, PU-coated Cordura®, 2 outer mesh pockets (Plus)
with zip, inner pocket, internal dividers, shoulder strap, reflector.
Ortlieb Ultimate Map Case
Mapcase for all Ortlieb Ultimate (L or M) Handlebar Bags
with removable mapcase feature. New version: won't turn yellow over time.
Padded nylon camera insert for Ultimate models (sizes M +
L), with movable dividers for individual adjustment. Also suitable for
Hip-Pack. Not waterproof! Height 7.5 in. Depth 4.7 in. Width 9.8 in. Weight
Ortlieb GPS Cover / Case for Handlebar Bag - Horizontal Model
Details Have your GPS or PDA within the field of vision, and
still know it is protected from moisture, dirt and dust. The ORTLIEB GPS
cover is also a contemporary transport solution on the bike for your mobile
phone or communicator.
This padded Ortlieb sleeve insert protects
laptops with 13 in. and 17 in screens. It provides horizontal storage inside
the Ortlieb Sling-it and Office-Bag, and a vertical fit inside backpacks or
2-way zipper runs along 2 sides for
convenient packing and unpacking
2 outer pockets (1 on each side) hold
accessories; also includes 2 grab loops for easy removal
Please note: The sleeve insert is not
Ortlieb Sling-it and Office-Bag are sold
Features 3M Scotchlite™ reflectors to increase your visibility in poor
light. Made to mount on low-rider front racks or rear racks, these feature
snug-fitting lids that allow for higher load capacity. Outer mesh pockets
are spacious and feature zippers to hold contents secure. QL2 suspension
system holds bags secure and is easy to load and unload. Surrounding
compression straps allow size of panniers to be altered. These panniers are
the perfect size for your daily commute, or to strap on to children's bikes.