Ortlieb Back Roller Classic Review
Compare prices at 3 resellers Pros: Durable and waterproof, huge storage capacity, easy and secure attachment
Cons: Limited pockets and organization
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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.
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.
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.
With over 2400 cubic inches (40 liters) of storage volume in its two full-sized 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.
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.
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.
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.
Ease of Use
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.
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.
Even though the Ortlieb Back Roller Classic is one of the more expensive products in this year's line up, 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.
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