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Ortlieb Panniers and Packs 101 . . . Ortlieb Packs Comparisons . . . and FAQ
If you understand how Ortlieb has named their different pannier models, you will find it easier to tell them apart. Here are some basic facts about the Ortlieb panniers that will help you make your choices. Below the Panniers and Handlebar Bag info you will also find a Frequently Asked Questions section. Once you have read this page, please go back to the Ortlieb Packs Home Page and click on the individual photos and links for more thorough descriptions of each model.
You are welcome to contact me if you have questions this page doesn't answer. It can be a real time saver and help cut down on my email and phone time if you can read this page before you contact me. This page should help answer many of your questions, or help you know better what you need to ask in an email or phone call. Thanks! Wayne
PANNIERS . . .
Ortlieb makes two basic pannier styles - Packers and Rollers. The names Packer and Roller refer to the methods used to close the panniers.
Roller panniers have extra fabric at the top of the bag. To close the Roller panniers, simply squeeze the two sides of the top of the bag together, roll them down a couple of turns and buckle the ends to the shoulder strap. The shoulder strap attaches in a "V" to a hook near the bottom on the front of the pannier. A front strap can be routed over the top and fastened to the top back of the bag. You can also close them without using the shoulder strap. There is a male buckle half at one end of the roll and a female end at the other. Roll the two sides of the fabric down together, loop the two ends toward each other, and the buckle halves will click together. The top of the bag will then be closed in more-or-less of a circle. They sound a bit complicated to close, but with a very little bit of practice, you will find it quite easy to close a roller pannier.
Packer panniers have a double drawstring collar at the top of the bag - and a lid. To close the pannier, tighten the drawstrings, pull the lid over the top of the bag, and then buckle the lid to the vertical front straps. The Bike Packer Plus also has horizontal compression straps that close the lid of the outside pocket and compress the load in the main compartment. These horizontal compression straps are only on the Bike Packer Plus panniers, not the Sport Packer Plus or any of the other Ortlieb panniers.
The larger Bike Packer and Back Roller panniers are generally used as rear panniers. The Bike Packer Classic and all Back Roller panniers (Classic and Plus) have the same rated volume, 40 liters (2451 cubic inches). The Bike Packer Plus panniers are rated at 50 liters after the addition of outside waterproof pouch pockets – not on any of their other panniers. Some tandem cyclists will use Bike Packer or Back Roller panniers as large front panniers, because they need to carry gear for two riders but only have one bike.
The smaller Sport Packer and Front Roller panniers are generally used as front panniers, but also work perfectly as smaller rear panniers. Sport Packers are rated at 30 liters (1831 cubic inches), and Front Rollers are a bit smaller at 25 liters (1526 cubic inches).
All Classic panniers are made of the Classic PVC fabric that looks and feels like the slick and shiny fabric on a river raft, or a rafters "dry bag."
All Plus panniers are made of the Plus "Cordura" fabric that has a more cloth-like appearance. It is a laminated fabric with a highly waterproof inner layer that adds strength to the Cordura. The Plus fabric is a bit lighter in weight than the Classic fabric, but easily as waterproof, and equal in durability. Most tourists think it looks a little better than the classic fabric. Hey! Looks are important!
All Plus panniers use the updated, more adjustable QL-2 upper mounting system. The QL-2 top hooks can be adjusted without using any tools. QL-2 Top Hooks are especially nice if you have racks on more than one bicycle, and are often swapping your bags from one bike to another. You can quickly move the hooks from one set of positions to another. Like the QL-1 hooks, QL-2 top hooks grasp the top rails on your rack, so they will never fall off of your rack while riding.
Both QL-2 and QL-1 Top-hooks are 16mm in diameter to fit 16mm diameter tubes. Both top-hook systems include 8mm and 11mm hook inserts to step the diameter down to fit the most common rack top-rail diameters. Note: most racks are made from 10mm diameter aluminum rods or steel tubes. Add an almost 1/2mm thick layer of paint or powder coating, and those racks have approximately 11mm top-rails.
All Plus and Classic panniers use QL-2 Lower Hooks. QL-2 Lower Hooks can be adjusted without tools by means of a knob that can be turned with your fingers. The QL-2 lower hooks can be pointed right or left - or down. They slide along one of two elliptical rails, and provide many more mounting positions than the old QL-1 hooks, and will fit a wider variety of racks.
All Ortlieb panniers are made with waterproof construction. High Frequency Welded seams and highly waterproof fabrics make them watertight and dustproof -- so watertight that some tourists have been known to do their laundry in their Ortlieb panniers!
The Roller pannier design provides the ultimate in waterproofing. The rolled closure may keep a mountain biker's gear dry, even if the packs get momentarily submerged during stream crossings. Roller panniers might be the best choice for someone who will be riding off-road or through the rainy season in the tropics. And if they fit your budget, Roller panniers are a great choice for any bicycle tour.
Packer panniers are effectively waterproof in rain, and for splash from passing vehicles -- in other words, they are equal to the rollers in any situation other than submerging your panniers! Water could get in under the lids if the bags were submerged, but otherwise, your gear will stay dry. The lidded design is easier to load and unload, and should provide easier access to your gear during your ride.
Anti-Theft Devices work ONLY with PLUS panniers with QL-2 top-rails. These light weight cables with a loop on the end can be nested behind the QL-2 top rails. Pull them out, loop them around the rack rails, and lock your panniers to your bike rack with mini padlocks . . . padlocks not included.
Knowing the above facts should help you recognize each pair of panniers from its name. For example, I know from the name Bike Packer Plus that they are large rear panniers with lidded closures over drawstring tops. The have QL-2 hooks and the Plus Cordura fabric. Bike Packer Classic panniers are the same basic design as the Bike Packer Plus, but have the Classic QL-1 Top Hooks and the PVC Classic fabric. Remember that the Bike Packer Plus panniers are larger at 50 liters volume than the Bike Packer Classic panniers at 40 liters capacity.
Here is an important additional fact about all Ortlieb panniers. The laterally adjustable top hooks can help provide additional heel clearance for folks who need it. If you adjust the pannier top-hooks toward the rider on the pannier top-rail, and then place the hooks toward the back of the rack, you have just moved the panniers away from the rider's heels. Let me know if you need a more detailed explanation about this feature.
All Plus Panniers have another great feature that can help if you have heel clearance issues. You will find instructions with your Plus panniers that will explain how to tilt the top-hook mounting rails. When the top-rails are mounted at an angle on the back of the panniers, and the panniers are placed on the rack with the pannier top-rails parallel to the rack top-rails, the panniers ride at an angle that holds the bottom of the packs away from the rider's heels. This adjustment is not on Classic panniers.
See the photos below for Plus panniers QL-2 top-hook adjustments. No tools are necessary for the lateral hook adjustments. You will need tools for the tilt adjustment shown in the 4th photo. Classic panniers with the QL-1 top-hooks require an allen wrench for the lateral adjustment. Classic QL-1 systems do not have the top-rail tilt adjustment.
HANDLEBAR BAGS . . .
Ortlieb Ultimate 5 Handlebar Bags are made to match both Classic and Plus Panniers.
The Ultimate 5 Plus Handlebar Bag is a match for any of the Plus panniers. The Ultimate 5 Plus MEDIUM is made in the same Plus fabric as the Plus Panniers, and in the same colors. The Ultimate 5 Plus Large is also made from Plus fabric, but is only available in BLACK. The Ultimate 5 Plus Handlebar bags have small outside mesh pockets that are not on the Ultimate 5 Classic.
The Ultimate 5 Classic Handlebar Bag matches the Classic panniers, and comes in most of the same colors. It also comes in size Large in Black only. There are no outside mesh pockets on the Ultimate 5 Classic.
Ortlieb Medium Handlebar Bags measure about 10 inches wide X 10 inches tall X about 7 inches deep – the forward dimension if the bag is on the bike and you are looking forward down the road. The size Large bags are the same width and height, but are about 8 1/4 inches deeper in that forward dimension.
The smaller Ultimate 5 Compact Handlebar Bag has a more limited choice of colors. The Ultimate 5 Compact is only 7 inches wide X 9 inches tall X 3 inches deep. The fold-over flap at the top is nearly 10 inches wide. I don't have photos of the Compact on my website yet. You can see them online at www.ortliebusa.com.
All Ultimate 5 Handlebar Bags have the same beautifully made Mounting Bracket with a Locking Release Lever. The Ultimate 5 brackets can fit any size handlebar, including the new 31.8mm over-sized handlebar diameter. A Bracket Extender is available for set-ups where you may need to have the handlebar sit a couple of inches farther forward from the handlebar. An optional Map Case or GPS Case can be added to any Ultimate 5 Handlebar Bag.
FAQ . . . Even after reading what I have written above, there are still questions that customers ask about Ortlieb packs. Here are answers to some of my most Frequently Asked Questions . . .
What is the difference between Plus and Classic Panniers? Plus pannier have the Plus Cordura fabric described above. Classic panniers have the Classic PVC fabric. Plus panniers have the QL-2 hook top-hook system that can be adjusted without tools. Classic panniers have top-hooks that adjust with an allen wrench. Plus panniers have QL-2 top-rails that can accept the optional Anti-Theft Device which allows you to lock your panniers to your rack with mini padlocks. The Anti-theft Device does not work with Classic panniers with QL-1 hooks. Plus panniers have an adjustment that tilts the panniers, moving the bottom of the panniers away from the rider, providing additional heel clearance. Classic panniers with QL-1 top-hooks to not have the tilt adjustment. Packer Plus Panniers only (not Rollers) have outside pockets, for carrying or drying small items. Both Plus and Classic panniers have the same QL-2 lower hooks. I have seen no significant durability difference between the classic and plus fabrics.
What is the difference between Back Roller Plus Panniers and Back Roller Classic Panniers? They are the same volume and basic design. The Plus version is a little lighter in weight, and the Plus fabric is a little more supple and a bit easier to close in a tight roll. And they have the differences listed one bulleted item above in the Plus vs. Classic description.
What is the difference between Packer Panniers and Roller Panniers? Rollers have the rolled closure. Packers close with a lid over a draw-string top main compartment.
Can I use Bike Packer or Back Roller Panniers on my front rack? Yes you can, but I don't usually advise it. A really large pair of panniers on your front fork might steer you off the road sometime. The larger surface area could act like a sail in a strong crosswind. Some tandem riders do use large panniers on both the rear and front of their bikes. Tandems may be less affected by crosswinds because of their long wheelbase and stable handling.
Can I use Front Roller or Sport Packer Panniers on my rear rack? The only thing that makes these "front" panniers is the fact that most front and rear set-ups will have the smaller panniers up front. They work equally well as smaller volume rear panniers.
Are Roller Panniers more waterproof than Packer Panniers? Yes, if you submerge them when you fall in a stream riding off-road, or spray water up under the lid with a hose – unlikely! For rain coming down or blown sideways by the wind, or splash from passing vehicles, all properly closed Ortlieb panniers are effectively waterproof. I have had many customers brag on Packer pannier waterproofing after touring through weeks of rain in the Pacific Northwest, and places like Vietnam in the rainy season.
What is the difference between the Ultimate 5 Plus and the Ultimate 5 Classic Handlebar Bags? The Ultimate 5 Plus has features that are not on the Ultimate 5 Classic, such as the Plus Cordura Fabric, small mesh pockets on the outside of the bag (visible in the photos on the Ultimate 5 page), and an included X-shaped divider to help you organize the main compartment. The Ultimate 5 Classic is made from the Classic fabric, has no mesh pockets, and the X-divider is optional but not included. The both have included shoulder straps and both will accept the optional Map Case, GPS Case, Padded Camera Insert, and Handlebar Bracket Extender. The Ultimate 5 Plus is the fabric match for the Plus series panniers, and the Ultimate 5 Classic is the fabric match for the Classic Panniers.
What is my favorite Ortlieb touring set? Without a doubt my favorite combination for most tours is the Bike & Sport Packer Plus panniers plus the Ultimate 5 Plus Handlebar Bag with a Map Case. If I need more room on a fully self-supported tour, I will add a Classic Rack Pack - usually in the size Medium. See this combination on my Ortlieb Matched Sets page.
Are the Anti-Theft Devices a good idea? They are an excellent idea IF you don't get a false sense of security when using them. Don't leave your packs out of sight because you didn't want to take the time to unlock them. Sometimes on a tour, especially a solo tour, you will take a calculated risk and leave packs on your bike for a few moments. My best example is probably a restroom break. You are unlikely to want to take two pairs of panniers into a public restroom, so you will leave the panniers outside, and just carry in the handlebar bag with a shoulder strap – with your valuables in the handlebar bag. The locks give you an extra measure of security. They can be cut by someone with the right tool, but they could significantly slow down someone without a tool. Remember that the Anti-Theft Device only works with Plus series panniers.
What spare parts do I need for my tour? It is unlikely that you will have problems with the mounting hardware. The vast majority of my Ortlieb customers never get back to me needing spare parts. It is possible to have a problem from a factory defect. Sometimes a part may not have been sufficiently tightened and is lost. Usually, if a part breaks, there was some memorable event that caused the problem. It is possible to break a pannier hook in a crash for instance, and off-road riders seem to try as hard as possible to break things. If I was going on a very long tour, or an off-road tour where I might be facing tough riding conditions, I would consider getting and extra set of Top Hooks. The top rails on Ortlieb panniers can accommodate extra hooks. Split a pair of top hooks between two individual panniers and you'll have three tops hooks on each pack. Leave a tag end of webbing strap on each extra hook so you'll be able to open and close the hooks. If you crash and break a hook or even two of the three on a pannier, you can move an extra hook over from the other side and be on your way with both panniers safely attached. Off-road riders often like to get an extra lower hook as well for each pannier. There are two high and low mounting positions for the lower hooks. Put a lower hook in each position, and the bottom of the pannier will be extra secure. And if you break a lower hook, you'll have a spare already in place.
What is the Ortlieb Warranty? . . . 5 years against manufacturer's defects. I know, most US manufacturers offer lifetime warranties on just about everything. They realize that most people don't use products for a lifetime, so very few claims will be made after 5 years. European companies are more realistic about warranties.
Which came first, the chicken or the egg? I don't know. If you know, don't tell me. I need to figure this out for myself.
Once you have read this page, please go back to the Ortlieb Packs Home Page and click on the individual photos and links for more thorough descriptions of each model.
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