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The best panniers for touring, hands down

Alia Parker's picture
Which are the best cycle touring panniers on the market?

When it comes to bicycle touring, you need to make sure you have a pannier that can take a true beating. Can it hold its own against torrential rain, scrapes from rocks and branches, harsh sun, cold conditions and everyday use, over and over again?

There's one pannier brand that seasoned cycle travellers have come to reply upon and that's Ortlieb, and the Ortlieb 40 litre Backroller Classic in particular. I would say about 40% of bicycle travellers I've met use them (based on a very unofficial poll I just ran in my head).

Now that's not to say that it's the only decent pannier out there, but when it comes to longevity and ease of use, this bag is my favourite.

My husband and riding buddy Simon and I have cycled about 7,000km carrying two different panniers: Simon used the Ortlieb Backroller and I carried an Axiom model that's no longer available, but very similar to the Axiom Tempest and Monsoon series.

Axiom bags are good quality and mine has survived a thrashing, but they have one major disadvantage to Ortlieb and that is the mount.

Ortlieb Panniers review, majority of pannier bags out there have stationary mounts and these are fine if you happen to have a rack that fits the pannier's design, but this is often not the case and I had to come up with some pretty complex rigging to keep my Axiom panniers in place. This made them rather impractical whenever I wanted to take them off the rack, or put them back on.

Simon on the otherhand wasted no time at all with his Ortliebs. The mount on the Ortlieb Backroller is not only adjustable, fitting all racks, but it is also quick release, so all you need to do is lift up the back strap and it unclips from the rack in one smooth action.

The panniers are made from a strong PVC-coated polyester fabric that has stood the test of time. We took them on the 4,432km (2,754 miles) Great Divide mountain bike trail from Canada to the Mexican border, and beyond, and the Ortliebs almost look as good as new. The Axiom have held together, but look at little shabby and the zipper on one of the front pockets has busted.

The Ortlieb's design may look simplistic – it doesn't have any outer pockets or hoods – but that's the beauty of it: there's less things on it that can break and fewer places for water to seep in.

The roll-up design is also clever, allowing you to cheat (on days where there's no chance of rain) by placing more in the bags and rolling the top down less, or as I've seen some do, not at all!

In two week's time I'll be riding a short four-day route out between Mittagong and Young in NSW (keep an eye out for the upcoming review in Cycle Traveller) and I've just upgraded my panniers to the Ortlieb Backroller Classic – a bright yellow pair! In my opinion, they can't be beat if you're looking for durability, waterproofing and ease of use.

The Ortlieb Backroller Classic rear panniers retail for roughly around $170 a pair (depending on the store you go to). You pay a premium on other brands, but one that is well worth it.

Images: 1. Cycling near Bannack Ghost Town on the Great Divide, Montana, with Ortlieb panniers. 2. Ortlieb Backroller Classic. Images source: Cycle Traveller, Copyright.

Got a pannier you prefer? Tell us about it!


VelophileAustralia's picture

I half agree.. I own a pair of the Back Roller Plus panniers and I think they are worth the extra coin. Much lighter and PVC-free. I only paid around $140 AUD for the pair too, imported from the UK.

The lack of pockets is annoying though. My solution is to use mesh stuff sacks to separate your gear.

I've cycled through serious downpours while touring with my Ortlieb Plus panniers (both front and rear) and can say for sure that they keep all the water out providing they are rolled up and buckled correctly.

Happy cycling!

Tsuny's picture

I agree that Ortleib roll tops are possibly the best option. Previously I used Ortleib Front and Rear Paniers. I recently watched a You Tube on touring gear where they used the Eage Creek Cube system (very light) to organise their gear inside the paniers, and just lifted the 'cube' out of the panier when they needed something. Seemed like a good solution.
This time I will be touring on a Greenspeed Magnum Recumbant Tryke... which has 20" wheels so I have opted for the ABUS Touringbag Pro system. Again, not cheap (about 245.00) but the rear bag which sits accross (and joins onto) the rear rack and panniers has ample room for my clothes and more. The paniers themselves are not deep like the ortleibs, but have plently of room for utility items (such as duct tape). They even have a pouch for a d-lock such as the ABUS or even the Kryptonite lock... Not as waterproof as the Ortlieb, but they do come with a rain cover...
One of the things that attracted me to the ABUS system is the large flat area (with cargo net of sorts) on top of the rear bag which is ideal for solar panels....

Paul62's picture

hi, have owned both the Ortlieb front and back Rollers for about 10 years now. Have fitted external pockets to the back ones (for tool bottles etc) which adds to ease of use. I have a tendency to overfill the panniers and this has led to the roll on top to not be 100% waterproof , but I do use plastic bags to store gear in. So now I am using less gear and finding them to be great , I reckon they will outlive me. One other thing, buy yourself an Ortlieb patch repair kit it is a must have item. I have had to repair my roller duffle after it copped a beating. All in all very pleased with the purchase of Ortlieb , proven much stronger than any of the other panniers I own or have owned over many years.

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