The Best All-Round Pannier: Ortlieb Back-Roller Classic Riveue

Best Bicycle Panniers: At A Glance
Best Bicycle Panniers: At A Glance

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Ortlieb Back-Roller Classic Panniers

Take a load off your shoulders with the best pannier bags for touring and commuting.

Panniers are a utilitarian solution for carrying luggage on your bicycle. Allowing the bike to take the weight rather than your shoulders, they’ll also allow you to carry far more in terms of both weight and volume compared to using a backpack.

They can be used alone or as a pair, ensuring you arrive fresher at work or helping you haul your camping gear with you on holiday;. However, if you’re carrying lots of weight, you’re best spreading it between two (or even four) for the sake of balance.

Jump Best panniers at a glance:

  1. The top all-round panniers: Ortlieb Back-Roller Classic: RRP £120
  2. The top budget panniers: Elops 500 Waterproof Bike Bag: RRP £24.99
  3. Best large volume panniers: Thule Shield : RRP £130
  4. The top retro and repairable panniers: Carradice Super C: RRP £135
  5. Best mid-priced pannier: Overboard Classic waterproof: RRP £54.99
  6. The top pannier that’s also a backpack: Blackburn Wayside Backpack Pannier: RRP £74.99
  7. The top functional waterproof: Arkel Dolphin 32LRRP: £175

How do cycle panniers work?

Most panniers work on a basic and near-universal system of attachment. A pannier rack bolts onto fixing points on your bike; the panniers then hang off the rack via a series of hooks.

Mounting can be either beside the back wheel or on the front fork. Most riders prefer to start at the rear before loading up the front of the bike, although more experienced cyclists often prefer the handling afforded by placing more weight over the front wheel. Traditional touring bikes are designed with pannier loads in mind.

Panniers tend to be designated as front or rear-specific. The main difference is that smaller front panniers won’t risk dragging on the ground when fitted beside the front wheel. This means you can also use most front panniers on the back of the bike, but not vice versa.

How much should I spend on panniers?

Panniers range in cost from around £50 a pair to several hundred pounds. As you spend more you’ll get tougher materials, waterproofing, and replaceable fixings.

Racks themselves vary in cost from around £20 to £100, with specific models for disc brake bikes, or to fit with very wide tyres.

Ortlieb Back-Roller Classic Riveue

£120 pair

Capacity per pair: 40L

Rugged, waterproof and easy to repair, the Ortlieb Roller Classic bag is popular with travelers from around the world as well as actual German travelers.

Made from durable nylon reinforced material, the bags get their name from the way they close. The simple roll-up top makes them waterproof, while also allowing for easy adjustment of the 20-litre capacity.

Backed by a 5-year warranty, all fixings are easily replaceable and widely available. With interior pockets and shoulder straps as standard, Classics are the most popular in Ortlieb’s extensive product line.

You might imagine that reviewing saddlebags would be quite simple:
Will they keep my things dry? Correct. Have they been together the whole time? Yes – Excellent, five stars. Except it’s not so simple, because there’s more to the bag than just hardware and buckles, and the Ortlieb Back Roller proves it. If you are familiar with Ortlieb panniers, the high-visibility model may surprise you at first sight. The hard plastic is gone in favor of a thick, 100% waterproof cordura fabric with reflective thread woven into it, so when hit by headlights, the whole thing lights up like a Christmas tree.

The old mounting system has also changed:
The pins still fall on the bracket and there are still hooks to hold everything in place, but you no longer need tools to adjust it. The panniers lock onto the rack with 8 to 20 mm tubes via a series of adapters.

The main body of the pannier is 20L (ie a pair of 40L) and apart from a small bag for small items, there is only one large compartment inside so I recommend dividing your belongings into waterproof bags. The rear roller is a roll-closed type, with almost perfect water resistance. Simply roll the top three times and clip it together. If you don’t have much to fill your saddlebag with, you can use the shoulder straps to tie the two sides into a more compact package. The weight of the whole set (which doesn’t really matter) is 1680g.

Putting them to the test

The only way to test travel gear is on a hike, and it’s best in bad weather. Luckily, the opportunity arose late last year so a few friends and I went to Kielder for a few days of cycling. What we did was huddle around the fire and hide from the untimely horrors unfolding outside both places.

On the last day, the weather briefly worsened and we rushed to the station to try to get to the station and get home. We had gone only five miles when the wind picked up and the heavens opened. The wind was so strong that I was thrown off my bike twice, once into a small quagmire. The weather was against us and we covered the 35 miles in six hours. Through all the wind, rain and bumps, the Ortlieb Back Rollers did the two things I asked for: they kept my stuff dry and they stayed on. Great, five stars.


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Top Mid-Priced Pannier: Overboard Classic waterproof