As someone who loves cycle touring when Rutland Cycling gave me the chance to try Ortlieb’s Back-Roller Free their newest waterproof panniers, I was happy to get a chance give them a try. While cycling across Canada a lot of cycle tourers we met were using them, and they seem to be the panniers of choice for tourers and commuters around the world and I was keen to find out why.
My first impressions of the Ortlieb Back-Roller Free panniers were good. When I took them out of the box they had a solid feel despite being thinner than I expected and as a bonus, they were also lighter than I expected (65.3oz/1.85kg each). I noticed thoughtful features such as an outer hard plastic edging to protect the lower inner corners from damage and the reflective details. The bags feel like they are high quality, they’re sturdy, and the waterproofing seams are so well done they are invisible. The quick release pull for putting the bags on and off the bike was intuitive and easy to use, they are a favourite feature for many and I can see why.
My first attempt at attaching the bag to my bike did leave me a bit confused. It was obvious how to attached to the top of the rack with the quick pull hooks, but the correct position for the bottom bracket (used to stabilise the bag) was less intuitive. After a few rides, I’ve since figured out what works best on my rack.
The panniers seem to have a lot of straps and hooks, not all of which I could see any obvious benefit. When using the over the shoulder strap to secure the bag shut I found it made it difficult to quickly access the inside of the bag due to the extra faff of the strap dangling and the hook needed to secure the strap. As well, the fact the strap isn’t connected to the pannier means it’s pretty likely I’ll loose it. In the end, I decided to store it in the handy internal pocket for the times I might need it and just clip the buckles together over the top of the bag like my Crosso Panniers. When I’m touring, I rarely take the panniers off my bike, so the strap is most likely to be used when running errands or commuting.
Ortlieb is an outdoor company, and they consider the environment when manufacturing their products. Part of that consideration is making products that last. These bags have a 5-year warranty, but as I’ve seen and heard in my travels, they last well beyond that. The materials used are also part of the company’s thoughtfulness for the environment, for this particular bag the Free in the name of these panniers refers to being PVC free.
My overall impression of the Ortlieb Back-Rolller Free is very good. The only thing I would change is the shoulder strap closure; I would do away with the hook on the front of the bag used to attach the strap and have the strap include it as an add-on accessory. To me, it seems an over-engineered way to add a shoulder strap to a bag.
I would highly recommend the Ortlieb Back-Roller Free if you are looking for a hard wearing waterproof pannier with a large capacity (they expand up to 40L).