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Ortlieb Back Roller Classic Review

This top performer scores well in every category with no apparent weaknesses
Ortlieb Back Roller Classic
Photo: Backcountry
Editors' Choice Award
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Price:  $190 List | Check Price at REI
Compare prices at 3 resellers
Pros:  Durable and waterproof, huge storage capacity, easy and secure attachment
Cons:  Limited pockets and organization
Manufacturer:   OrtliebUSA
By Nick Bruckbauer ⋅ Senior Review Editor  ⋅  Feb 21, 2020
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85
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#1 of 14
  • Mounting System - 25% 9
  • Storage - 20% 9
  • Durability - 20% 8
  • Weatherproofing - 20% 9
  • Ease of Use & Versatility - 15% 7

Our Verdict

The Ortlieb Back Roller Classic earns our Editors' Choice Award once again, pedaling away from the competition with its classic design and high-end materials and construction. The Back Roller scores highly in every category and has no apparent weaknesses. It sets the standard for bike panniers with its obvious burly weatherproof material, roll-top closure, and secure mounting hardware, and includes thoughtful extras like organizing pockets, reflective patches, and an included shoulder strap. This model is perfect for bike tourists and is a staple on many touring bikes across the world. Any rider looking for the ultimate in storage and protection will not be disappointed with this award-winning design.

Compare to Similar Products

 
Awards Editors' Choice Award Best Buy Award Top Pick Award Top Pick Award Top Pick Award 
Price Check Price at REI
Compare at 3 sellers
Check Price at REI
Compare at 2 sellers
$180 List$175.00 at Backcountry$190 List
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Pros Durable and waterproof, huge storage capacity, easy and secure attachmentHighly durable, waterproof, inexpensive, sleek and bright designLarge storage volume, durable, stylish, easy to useInnovative backpack design, comfortable, lightweight, waterproofSolid mounting system, large storage volume, several storage options
Cons Limited pockets and organizationSmaller total storage volume, limited pocket options, only compatible with 10mm racksSomewhat expensive, limited organizational pocketsExtra hardware requires installation, conversions can be tediousExpensive, not waterproof without extra rain cover
Bottom Line This top performer scores well in every category with no apparent weaknessesAn impressively durable and waterproof design that is compact and inexpensive, but is not compatible with all rack sizesA durable and waterproof pannier that is versatile and easy to useA lightweight and innovative pannier design that works just as well on the rack or on your backWith a large overall volume and multiple storage options, this backpack style pannier is our first choice for commuting
Rating Categories Ortlieb Back Roller... Burley Pannier Set Arkel Signature H U... Ortlieb Vario Arkel Bug Pannier B...
Mounting System (25%)
9.0
6.0
7.0
6.0
8.0
Storage (20%)
9.0
7.0
8.0
8.0
8.0
Durability (20%)
8.0
9.0
8.0
8.0
8.0
Weatherproofing (20%)
9.0
9.0
7.0
8.0
6.0
Ease Of Use & Versatility (15%)
7.0
7.0
8.0
7.0
6.0
Specs Ortlieb Back Roller... Burley Pannier Set Arkel Signature H U... Ortlieb Vario Arkel Bug Pannier B...
Volume (liters) 2 x 20 L 2 x 11 L 24 L 23 L 25 L
Dimensions (in.) (H x W x D) 16.5" x 12.6" x 6.7" 14.5" x 10" x 6" 16" x 12" x 6.5" 19.7" x 11" x 7.9" 12" x 18" x 7"
Weight (pounds) 4.2 lbs (pair) 2.1 lbs (pair) 2.3 lbs 2.86 lbs 3.1 lbs
Material PS 490 and PD 620 nylon 500D tarpaulin PVC fabric 1000 denier Cordura nylon Nylon 1000 denier Cordura nylon
Pockets Internal sleeve and zippered mesh pocket 1 main compartment, one small exerior pocket Internal laptop sleeve with zippered pocket, small external pocket Two side pockets, waterproof front pocket, internal tablet sleeve and zippered mesh pocket Two external zippered pokcets, two external bottle sleeves, helmet holder, three internal sleeves
Best Use Touring Touring/Commuting Urban/Commuting Urban/Commuting Commuting

Our Analysis and Test Results

The Ortlieb Back Roller Classic is a go-to bag for our testers and for bike tourists across the world for a variety of reasons. Throughout our series of testing and re-testing, the Back Roller consistently scored at or near the top of the lineup in every rating metric. The classic roll-top design, high-quality mounting system, and burly waterproof materials set the standard to which other models are inevitably compared. If you're looking for a dependable pannier set that is both rugged and spacious, you won't be disappointed with our Editors' Choice Award winner.

Performance Comparison


The Back Roller Classic is indeed a classic and is the standard by...
The Back Roller Classic is indeed a classic and is the standard by which other touring panniers are judged.
Photo: Nick Bruckbauer

Mounting System


The Back Roller Classic comes with Ortlieb's QL2.1 hook and latch style mounting system, which ended up becoming our favorite mounting system because of its security, adjustability, and easy attachment and removal. To mount the bag, you simply grasp the handle to retract the lower latches, load the adjustable hooks onto your bike rack, and release the handle to allow the spring-loaded latches to lock into place around the rack. Once you're ready to remove the pack, you lift back up on the handle to release the latches and lift the pack off the bike rack. A large adjustable lower hook helps secure the bottom of the bag to the rack.


Nearly every piece of the Back Roller's QL2.1 mounting system is easily adjustable. The hooks on the upper hook and latch system can easily slide back and forth along their track, with just a flick of a switch and without any tools. The lower hook can also slide back and forth along its track, and rotate in a circle without any tools, allowing the pack to easily accommodate different rack shapes or different mounting positions. Even the entire upper mounting track can be adjusted to different angles to adjust the pack's mounted position, to help eliminate interference with your pedaling motion.

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge

The final pieces of the mounting system that help dial in a perfect fit to your bike rack are the small adaptor brackets that clip inside the upper mounting hooks. Each bag comes with three differently sized sets of clips to accommodate racks with differently sized bar diameters. While it was a little bit tedious to sort through a bunch of little plastic adapters, once we found the right size, it was a simple click into place, and we never had to worry about it again.

The various sizes of additional adaptor clips that are included help...
The various sizes of additional adaptor clips that are included help ensure a perfectly snug fit on your bike rack.
Photo: Nick Bruckbauer

Storage


With over 40 liters of storage volume in its two full-sized 20-liter bags, the Back Roller Classic is one of the largest models in our line up and helps set a benchmark for storage capacity in the pannier marketplace. One of only a few models we tested that comes standard with a pair of bags, we knew the Back Roller would perform well in our storage testing. Ideal for hauling big and bulky loads on long bike tours, the cavernous main storage compartment easy is to access and easy to load and unload.


Another unique design feature of the Back Roller Classic is that the roll-top closure can be closed and secured in several ways, with its center buckle and cinch strap, opposing outer buckles, and included shoulder strap. With a normal load, the center buckle can be cinched down tightly with the outer buckles clipped together for an extra snug closure, similar to a dry-bag for canoeing or kayaking. Alternatively, the center buckle can be secured a bit more loosely, and the shoulder strap can be attached to the outer buckles. This allows the bag to be secured with a little extra volume in the case you overpacked or if you need to cram in some extra gear in an emergency situation.

Demonstrating the different closure methods, including connecting...
Demonstrating the different closure methods, including connecting the side buckles to each other (left), and connecting the side buckles to the shoulder strap (right). Both methods are equally effective at keeping a waterproof seal, and depend only on your preferred carrying method.
Photo: Nick Bruckbauer

Even when it's not packed to the gills, this model holds gear exceptionally well. The roll-top design and angled sidewalls allow you to snugly pack lighter loads while rolling out the excess air before sealing it shut. Further, an internal zippered pocket and laptop sleeve help keep your valuable items separate from the rest of your gear. The only thing we think could possibly improve the design would be an external pocket to easily stow items like maps or snacks that you may want to grab from the saddle.

A fully opened Back Roller pannier (left) demonstrates the huge...
A fully opened Back Roller pannier (left) demonstrates the huge overall storage volume, which can be cinched down as tightly as desired.
Photo: Nick Bruckbauer

Durability


With a fully-coated front and back panel, the Back Roller Classic is built to handle abuse. Not only is the reinforced nylon impervious to mud and rain, but it also withstands scuffing and abrasions quite well. The glossy material and some of the bright colors that we tested may show signs of wear and tear quicker than a more muted bag, but we were ultimately very pleased with how well the fabric can brush off road rash and run-ins with trees or bushes.


While the Back Roller Classic is one of the burliest models we tested, we would have appreciated some thicker webbing on the handles, shoulder straps, and closure system. Although we didn't experience any failures or wear during our testing period, it seems that a product with such thick and robust body material deserves to have some equally thick and robust handles and straps.

The heavy-duty coated nylon material of the Back Roller is...
The heavy-duty coated nylon material of the Back Roller is incredibly durable and sets a benchmark for high-quality materials and construction.
Photo: Nick Bruckbauer

Weatherproofing


As we've previously stated, the Back Roller Classic has set the industry standard for weatherproofing, and of course, is a top scorer in our weatherproofing ratings. Not only did the Back Roller keep our gear dry during wet, muddy rides and an overnight soak in the rain, but it remained completely dry after a 15-second dunk in a river eddy. In our experience, it only took two rolls of the roll-top closure to achieve a completely watertight seal. It was so watertight, in fact, that we couldn't even squeeze the air out of the bag after closing it.


While an external pocket on this model would have been convenient, other models that incorporated such pockets were never able to keep their contents completely dry. With one single compartment securely sealed shut, everything inside the Back Roller Classic remained 100% dry even in the wettest conditions. Aside from its stellar waterproofing, this model also withstood some harsh conditions during rides through mud and silt. After some exceptionally dirty rides, we still had no problem removing and re-attaching the pack. Even when the mounting hardware was completely caked in dried mud, everything worked as it should, giving us the confidence to take this pannier out even in the most uninviting conditions.

We were so confident in the Ortlieb's waterproofing that we sent it...
We were so confident in the Ortlieb's waterproofing that we sent it for a ride down the creek.
Photo: Rob Woodworth

Ease of Use & Versatility


There is no doubt that the Back Roller Classic is designed to be user-friendly. Features like reflective patches, multi-functional shoulder straps, and zippered internal pockets lead us to believe this pannier was built by and for hardcore cycling tourists. The mounting system is very intuitive, is easily adjustable on the go, and only needs minimal customization with the different hook sizes. With the single storage compartment and simple roll-top closure, this pack is easy to load and unload as well. Our testers agreed we would use this for any and all adventures, errands, or commutes in need of a little cargo room.


While we certainly appreciate how the mounting system is very intuitive and easily adjustable, the many moving pieces do make for a slightly more complicated system than some of the more basic mounts with fixed hooks. As we've said before, though, this minor inconvenience is welcome if it means that we get higher overall performance from the product. Once you have the mounting system properly adjusted for your bike, there is no need for you to worry about re-adjusting the Back Roller Classic.

The Back Roller Classic is easy to use, and has just the right...
The Back Roller Classic is easy to use, and has just the right features that you would expect from a tough and dependable touring pannier.
Photo: Nick Bruckbauer

Value


Even though the Ortlieb Back Roller Classic is one of the more expensive products in this year's lineup, it provides a great value for the right user. Not only are you getting a pair of panniers for the same price or less than some other single panniers, but you are also getting a model that consistently tops the charts in every rating category. The high performance and excellent durability will provide great utility for many years and many miles.

With a pair of bags for one price, the Back Roller classic is the...
With a pair of bags for one price, the Back Roller classic is the longtime standard for touring panniers and a great value.
Photo: Nick Bruckbauer

Conclusion


This pannier is a classic for a reason; it's one of the best. The iconic, brightly colored roll-top bag has been emulated by many brands but replicated by none. Because of their excellent construction and waterproof design, Ortlieb has created a name for themselves as one of the most reputable bike pannier manufacturers around. We never had any doubts about its performance, but our extensive testing solidified our opinion that this is one of the best-performing panniers out there. Durable, functional, completely waterproof, and easy to use, it's hard to think of any other pannier that we would recommend before the Ortlieb Back Roller Classic, our well-deserving Editors' Choice Award winner.

Nick Bruckbauer