Review of our Ortlieb panniers and handlebar bag

Review of our Ortlieb panniers and handlebar bag

Ortlieb front and back panniers (9/10) and handlebar bag (6/10)

Most cyclists we have met cycling around South America are using Ortlieb bags. They come with a fantastic reputation and quite rightly so. In the past we have tried cheaper products, but often ended up with wet kit, so splashed out on the Ortliebs and haven’t looked back.

At the front we use the Ortlieb front-roller classic. These are roll-top bags, with a PVC outer and inner, and a grey, fabric pocket inside. We love them because they are a great size. Laura uses hers for the kitchen equipment and food, whilst Paddy’s hold our gadgets and tools. We have had no problems with water getting inside, although we did have to cut the pockets out of Laura’s bags as they went mouldy, either because we hadn’t dried the bags out properly after washing them, or because some liquid had got spilt inside, we aren’t sure. Initially we found that the bags did bounce around on bumpy roads and came off a few times, but now we loop the tightening strap through the rack and have no problems.

The bikes loaded with our Ortlieb panniers on the beach in Chile
The bikes loaded with our Ortlieb panniers on the beach in Chile

At the back we use the Back Roller Plus, which have a waterproof, canvas finish. The main compartment is roomy and easily fits all our kit with room for extra food. Inside is a useful grey pocket for holding small items. The bag is closed by two draw strings with a waterproof lid that clips shut over the top. On the front of the bags is a fold-over waterproof pocket, which is handy for storing things we need close to hand, like spare water bottles or loo roll. They too have the clip and hook system, which is fine on smooth, flat roads, but we’ve had a couple of incidents on bumpy stretches of them flying off. Disastrously, in Paraguay one of Paddy’s bags flew off, which we didn’t notice immediately, and was never to be seen again. We now tie the bags onto the back rack using the strap for our tent bags.

Both front and back bags have been extremely hard-wearing and have stood up to being thrown about. The only repairs we have had to do, was sew back on the tightening strap for the front pocket on Paddy’s back pannier.

Ortlieb panniers


  • Waterproof – both the canvas and PVC finishes are fully waterproof
  • Reflective – the bags come with reflectors on the sides which is great for being seen in the dark
  • Roomy – you can fit an awful lot into these small bags, and with the different compartments it is easy to find things
  • Sturdy – they stand up to a lot


  • Expensive – they’re not cheap. Worth putting on a Christmas list or waiting for the sales.
  • Damp inside – because they don’t let water in they also don’t let it out, so you need to keep them dry to avoid mould growing inside
  • Loose clips – the clip mechanism isn’t always sufficient to hold the bags on bumpy roads, it’s worth adding extra straps to be sure you finish the day with all your bags

Ortlieb handlebar bag

Riding along Laura spends a lot of timing dreaming of the perfect handlebar bag. The Ortlieb one is not it, but it’s the best of a bad bunch. Many cyclists don’t bother with one at all, but we like having a place where we can keep all our valuables close at hand and don’t want to wear a rucksack whilst riding.

Paddy's handlebar bag has a split in the lid
Paddy's handlebar bag has a split in the lid

The good thing about the Ortlieb handlebar bag is that it is waterproof. We have cycled through some heavy downpours and our stuff inside has been bone dry. For us, this is essential. Especially remembering the day, when using a different brand, Laura opened up her bag to find it full of water, and her mobile and ipod floating around in a zip-lock bag like goldfish from a fair.

It’s also a good size. We can fit plenty of stuff in there, including sunscreen, cameras, folding bike stands, glasses, snacks, warm tops and phrase books. There is a small grey pocket where you can store valuables such as passports and money. On the sides of the bag there are two little mesh pockets for real ease of reach.

We bought the map case that accompanies the bag, which clips on the top. Although it does fly forwards if the wind is behind you, they have stuck firm in all conditions. We really like being able to have our maps on such clear view.

The reason we aren’t so keen on it is the way it opens and closes. There are two press studs on the back of the bag which are very secure, but they are fiddly to deal with, especially when on the move or wearing gloves. If you have items on your handlebar, like a bell or cycle computer, they can get in the way and make it more difficult.

Paddy’s bag is already showing signs of wear and tear, with a split in the seam between the side and top of the bag. We have fixed this up with duct tape and super glue, but this looks to be a problem that will continue because of where the fault is.

It’s not a sexy looking bag, and although it comes with a strap it’s not the kind of thing you would want to carry with you off the bike. So it goes against the grain of everything you carry having more than one purpose.

The mount for the bag is a little tricky to put on, as it requires winding and weaving wire around the handlebar. However, once it’s on it’s there to stay, and the wire allows the bag to move with the bumps of the road without there being friction between two fixtures, which is great. The only problem is that if you want to transfer the bag to a different bike you will need to buy a new mounting system as they can’t be swapped about easily.

You can lock the bag onto the mount, so that it is secure when you leave the bike unattended. We don’t use this, as we take our valuables with us at all times and we would only lose the key if we did lock it!


  • Waterproof – an absolute essential, no worrying about things inside
  • Space – there is a lot of room in the bag to hold things you need close at hand
  • Sturdy clasp – firm closing mechanism
  • Map case – the optional map case keeps maps dry and is a clear way to see your route
  • Sturdy mount – the mounting system holds the bag well and allows it to move with the road, preventing friction


  • Expensive – not a cheap option, as is usual with Ortlieb
  • Difficult to open and close – the clasp system is difficult to use when cycling or wearing gloves
  • No dual use – the look of the bag makes it unlikely you would want to use it off the bike
  • Wear and tear – the structure of the bag is not as sturdy as it could be and holes can form at the seams
  • Mount – the mount will need replacing if you want to transfer the bag to a different bike
Overall we would recommend Ortlieb products again and again, they are very well-designed and their waterproofing is essential for a long tour. It’s just a shame they can’t improve the handlebar bag.

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