Arkel Signature H Urban Review
Cons: Somewhat expensive, limited organizational pockets
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Our Analysis and Test Results
The Arkel Signature H Urban Pannier grabbed our attention from the beginning with its stylish design, high-quality materials and construction, and surprisingly large carrying capacity. Without any glaring weaknesses, the Signature H continued to impress us throughout our testing period with its simple and effective mounting system, handy storage features, and multiple easy to use carrying methods. Continue reading to see why it's our Top Pick for Urban Panniers!
The Signature H comes with Arkel's simple and effective Cam-Lock mounting system. Constructed almost entirely out of aluminum, this is one of the most durable systems we tested. The spring-loaded cams connect to a comfortable handle and have a rounded shape in order to firmly grasp any sized bar diameter without any adjustments or extra hardware. The large hooks are easy to slide onto the rack and can be adjusted side-to-side to find a perfect mounting position. Finally, a padded velcro can fold over the mounting hardware to hide and protect it while you're off the bike, and can easily be stowed out of the way while the pack is mounted to your rack.
One minor weakness with this bag's mounting system is that it doesn't have any type of latch, hook, or strap near the bottom of the bag for an additional lower attachment point. Because of the short vertical height of this bag, this didn't cause us any issues during testing, but we noted that the bag is not quite as secure as bags that have an additional secondary attachment point.
Since this bag does have a wider horizontal profile than most other bags, it is possible that some riders could have some pedaling interference depending on their bike and rack geometry. We had no trouble adjusting the mounting position with the adjustable Cam-Lock mounting hooks and were able to prevent any conflicts with our pedaling motion.
With one of the largest listed capacities out of any single-bag pannier in our lineup at 1460 cubic inches, the Signature H impresses on the scoresheet and in the field.
The Signature H has a cavernous main storage compartment with a wide roll-top closure that can be opened up completely and carried like a giant tote bag with its grocery bag style handles. Loading it this way, we were able to fit the groceries from two standard paper grocery bags inside, and still buckle the closure strap (though we weren't able to roll the top to keep it watertight). Whether loaded up completely full or just partway, this bag can comfortably be carried by the grocery bag style tote handles or with its adjustable padded shoulder strap.
Inside the main storage compartment with its waterproof liner is a large laptop sleeve that is padded on both sides, with an adjacent zippered storage pocket. The laptop sleeve is large enough that it was able to fit our ancient behemoth of a 15.6" laptop! Most modern laptops should have no trouble fitting inside the sleeve. Once the bag is loaded up with a computer, books, lunch, and some school or office supplies, the roll-top closure can be rolled tightly and buckled shut and can be comfortably carried like a traditional messenger bag by its carrying handle or shoulder strap.
The Signature H rounds out its storage capabilities with a small external pocket near the bottom of the pack on one end. While we found this pocket to be a bit small and awkwardly located, depending on which side of your bike you mount the bag, this pocket could be easily accessible from the saddle to keep a wallet, keys, or cell phone nearby.
The Signature H surprised us with its durability, especially considering its stylish design aimed at urban cyclists. The 1000 denier Cordura nylon body is thick and durable to the touch, and held up perfectly throughout our testing, while the waterproof internal liner adds an extra layer of security. All-around craftsmanship is high-quality, and the mounting hardware is made from aluminum, while most competitor models are made of plastic.
We have no reason to believe that this pannier won't last for several years, even with daily use and abuse. While it scores slightly lower than some other heavy-duty touring panniers with burly coated nylon construction, we are very impressed with the build quality of the Signature H. Each model is handmade in Canada with a tag that is personally signed by its maker, and comes with an impressive guarantee.
With its durable 1000 denier Cordura nylon body, laminated TPU waterproof liner with fully taped seams, and roll-top closure, the Signature H scores well in our weatherproofing ratings but falls just short of the top-ranked competitors.
One minor weakness that the Signature H shows in this category is that its roll-top closure isn't able to achieve as tight of a seal as what we've found on other models. Since the width of this bag is wider than most other bags, and the roll-top closure is only secured by a single closure strap in the center of the bag, the result is that the outer edges aren't secured as tightly as the center is. Because of its wider dimensions, additional closure straps along the outer edges would be useful. We also found that the Cordura nylon material has a little bit of a rough texture, and doesn't roll quite as tightly against itself as other models with smoother nylon materials.
While it may not provide a perfect seal, the classic roll-top design is still effective, and the waterproof liner will keep the internal contents protected from rainfall and road spray under most riding conditions.
Ease of Use
From its easily accessible storage compartment to its simple and effective mounting system, to its various carrying options, the Signature H is a very user-friendly pannier. Whether hauling groceries, beach or picnic supplies, extra clothes, or school supplies, the wide roll-top closure makes it easy to load and unload the huge main storage compartment, while the padded laptop sleeve and zippered storage pocket allow you to organize and protect your valuables.
Once the bag is loaded, the different carry options make it easy to haul around, whether it's fully loaded like a tote bag, or it's rolled up tightly like a sleek messenger bag. The tote handles, regular carry handle, and adjustable padded shoulder strap are all convenient and comfortable to use. The Velcro flap that covers the mounting hardware is a nice touch to provide a bit of extra comfort while carrying the bag, and also helps clean up its aesthetics a bit. Other small touches like reflective accents and a small external pocket add to the user-friendly design.
The Signature H is a little on the expensive side of the lineup, especially for a single-bag pannier, but it provides a unique and versatile design not easily replicated by other models. One of the only messenger bag style panniers that we tested, this model can also be carried like a large tote bag, and it provides a large and efficient storage volume with high-quality materials and construction. Riders who are simply looking for any type of utilitarian bag to schlepp their groceries or gear around town will probably find less expensive options that meet their needs. But users who will appreciate the stylish design, high-quality materials, and versatility will find that this represents a solid value.
The Arkel Signature H Urban Pannier made its mark on our lineup with its impressive all-around performance, versatile storage and carrying capabilities, and stylish design. Combining the abilities of a messenger bag and tote bag in one, this pannier is set to become an instant classic and will help you get around town in style with its padded laptop sleeve, zippered storage pocket, and huge main storage compartment. A new favorite model of our testers, the Signature H wins our Top Pick Award for Best Urban Pannier.
— Nick Bruckbauer