If you ride long or far enough you’ll eventually want–or need–to carry more than will fit in your jersey pockets or under-seat pack. For commuting and extended exploring, panniers offer convenience, security, and the capacity to carry your essentials and much more. Since 1983, Ortlieb has produced what many consider to be some of the best panniers available. The company offers a staggering array of bags, and I spent the past twelve months testing Ortlieb’s Front-Roller Plus panniers.
Constructed from abrasion-resistant Cordura fabric utilizing high-frequency welding, the Front-Roller Plus panniers ($180 MSRP) feature a 25 litre capacity (per-pair) and weigh a respectable 640 grams (each). The QL2.1 mounting system is compatible with racks up to 16 mm in diameter, and can be adjusted without tools. Niceties include padded (removable) shoulder straps, integrated interior pockets, and 3M™ Scotchlite™ reflectors. Like Ortlieb’s other panniers, the Front-Roller Plus comes with a five-year warranty.
Designed to be used as front or rear panniers, I tested the Ortliebs with low-rider and conventional racks from Blackburn, Surly, and Tubus. Thanks to the QL2.1 mounting system’s removable inserts, swapping the panniers between different-sized racks was quick and easy. The anti-scratch mounting hooks lived up to their name, but I found that some strategically placed electrical tape was necessary to reduce rattling/noise on extremely bumpy trails.
During the year-long test period I experimented with front- and rear-mounting positions on my Salsa Vaya and Specialized AWOL Comp bicycles. Neither bike exhibited heel strike with the Front-Roller panniers mounted on rear racks, but I did notice that very heavy loads affected both bikes’ handling. Mounting the Ortliebs on front racks or lowriders resulted in noticeably better handling, especially on unpaved roads and trails. Whether you opt for a front or rear rack, be sure to choose one that’s stiff enough and rated for your intended cargo.
If you ride in inclement weather, you can take comfort in the fact that the Front-Rollers’ waterproofness isn’t some hollow claim–the Ortliebs have an IP rating of 64. What’s an IP rating, you ask? The IP Code–or International Protection Rating–consists of by two digits and an optional letter. It classifies the degrees of protection provided against the intrusion of solids and liquids. In the case of the Front-Roller Plus panniers, the 64 translates to 6 being dustproof, and 4 protecting against splash water coming from all directions. While my testing was hardly scientific, I did my fair share of riding in crappy weather, and I never once detected any moisture inside the Front-Roller Plus panniers.
After a year of steady use the Ortlieb bags show virtually no wear. The stitching remains tight and intact, and all closures and latches function smoothly. Keeping the bags clean has never required more than mild soap and water, and the reflectors are still bright and free of cracking or peeling. Based on my previous experience with Ortlieb’s products, I expected nothing less with the Front-Roller Plus panniers. While not cheap, the Front-Roller Plus panniers provide exceptional performance and durability making them an outstanding value.
Disclosure: Ortlieb provided review samples for this article, but offered no other form of compensation in exchange for editorial coverage.