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Tuesday, September 13, 2022

Review: Ortlieb Backroller Pro Plus Panniers

 I'd been using my Robert Beckman panniers since 1995, when Eric House told me those were the ones to get. The elastic holding the straps to the hook had long been dead, and I'd repaired holes in the panniers using superglue, as recommended by Robert Beckman himself. I probably could have kept using them, but the compartments were getting annoying, and with the kids growing, those panniers were simply too small. I found a pair of Ortlieb Back-Roller Pro Plus panniers on sale, and every review I found online said that those were too big for a typical bicycle tourist. But I'm not a typical bicycle tourist --- I ride a triplet with 2 kids, and for this tour, I needed plenty of volume though I knew I was going to shave every ounce off the bike that I could.

The panniers came in a tiny box, flattened down, and when I took them out they weighed 1920g for the pair without the straps, which was lighter than my Robert Beckmans weighed which was 2640g, a 720g savings! The straps would bring the panniers up to about 2000g for the pair, and was worth it as I shall describe later.

Unlike any other panniers in Ortlieb's line, these panniers have an external mesh pocket, which is perfect for stowing stuff you need access to in a hurry, or clothing that didn't dry overnight. This organizing feature was very helpful and I was very grateful for it. The mounting system is a pair of hooks on the top rail which are adjustable without tools, and a bottom retaining clasp that is also adjustable without tools. The top hooks have a strap attached to them that serve to unlatch the panniers from the bike, but when the panniers are laden those straps will not hold the weight of the panniers, which is what the external shoulder straps are for! I've had a few incidents where the strap would somehow wrap themselves inside the pannier hooks while placing the panniers and prevent latching, or where the hooks themselves would come off the rails if the pannier was too heavily laden. None of that ever happened while riding, but it convinced me that bringing the shoulder straps (which have a dedicated stowage hooks embedded in the bottom of the panniers) was a good idea and I learned to use them whenever possible.

Ortliebs are famous for being waterproof, and these live up to that reputation. On the Fluela pass ride, we had so much water that there were puddles on the top flat section of the panniers when we came out of the cafe to start riding again. We flapped the panniers so the water came off and everything inside the panniers stayed dry. I expect these to stay dry through anything the original PVC ones would, including river crossings.

The straps that come with the panniers are great. You tuck them into special loops at the bottom of the panniers (two each), so they don't flap around and get caught while riding, and when you're done for the day you lift the handle straps to release the panniers and use these shoulder straps to carry the panniers. They won't make the panniers as easy to carry as a backpack but they work well. They're well worth the additional 40g each.

As far as organization goes, the one compartment panniers are much more efficient than the multi-compartment ones. They're not as good for being able to get at stuff in the middle of the day, but there are actually 2 side pockets inside where you can put tools, medicine, or something else, in addition to the outside mesh pockets, so I never felt as though I spent lots of time digging through the panniers for stuff. What I ended up doing was thinking ahead a little, and if there was likely to be rain, I'd layer the rain gear on top. If there was likely to be a need for swimming, I'd layer the swim wear on top. When we had shoes, we'd put the shoes on top since it was the most likely thing you wanted to change into at the end of the day.

These panniers worked great in conjunction with the Arkels on the ebike. The ebike had a spring loaded centerpiece on the rack. I would first adjust the Ortliebs to fit on the ebike's rack (thankfully, the tubing diameters were compatible with the Bruce Gordons on the triplet), then I would mount the Ortliebs. Xiaoqin had come up with a way to use the velcro attachment system on the Arkels so they could be gripped by the centerpiece spring loaded flap. So I would use that for the Arkels, layering the Arkels on top of the Ortliebs. This worked much better than having 2 sets of Ortliebs, though I suspect with how flexible the Ortliebs were I could have made that work as well.

Panniers are kind of an old fashioned item nowadays, since most people use bike-packing style systems, which are more aerodynamic. On the other hand, with 3 people on the bike there was no way to fit in all our gear otherwise. These are easier to use, more waterproof, and lighter for more volume than my much more expensive Beckmans, and are an upgrade in every way. I highly recommend them.

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