Once again, the Ortlieb Back-Roller Classic is a well-deserving candidate for our Editors' Choice Award. This model performed consistently across the board and was very clearly designed for repeated use on long, demanding rides. There is a reason you see this pannier more than any other on the racks of hardcore bike tourists; it has set a precedent for waterproofing, capacity, and bombproof construction. It has all the features that we would look for in a well-thought-out pannier design: reflective patches, shoulder straps, organizing pockets, secure mounting hardware, weatherproof material, and a roll-top closure. A true cyclist's pannier, this award winner has everything you'd need and nothing more.
Ortlieb Back Roller Classic Review
Cons: No outer pockets
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Our Analysis and Test Results
Our fondness of the Ortlieb Back-Roller Classic was more than just brand recognition; this is a go-to bag for a variety of reasons. Throughout our series of testing and re-testing, the Ortlieb was a top-performer across all the rating metrics. If you need a dependable pannier that is both rugged and spacious, this is the ticket.
The Ortlieb Back-Roller Classic utilized a very secure hook-and-latch style mounting hardware that we expected to see on user-friendly touring models. The advantages to this style of pannier are easy attachment and removal as well as a very secure hold while on the go. Once you've settled the bag into place and release the handle, a spring-loaded hook will surround the bottom of the rack, completely locking in around the cylindrical aluminum. Additionally, once you're ready to remove the pannier, the hooks will unlock as you grab the handle to lift it off the bike.
We were especially fond of the hook found at the bottom of the bag. It was straightforward to adjust on the fly and didn't require any tools to tighten completely; this is much more convenient than the Seattle Sports Titan that needed an Allen wrench to get completely secure. Furthermore, the hooks at the top of the bag were highly-adjustable which allowed us to find the perfect mounting position that would eliminate heel-clipping while pedaling or work around features of the rack that didn't allow secure mounting.
Our only qualm with the mounting hardware of the Back-Roller Classic was the need to select the correct adapter pieces to fit properly onto your rack. This isn't uncommon with high-quality panniers, as they will function better if they fit snugly onto your rack size. But with three different clip sizes for two hooks on each bag, we found ourselves a tad frustrated digging through 16 little pieces of plastic trying to find the right ones. But again, it's all worth it for a proper fit.
With nearly 2500 cubic inches of storage, there is no doubt that the Back-Roller Classic had the greatest capacity out of the entire review. With two full-size bags, we had little doubt that it would perform well in overall capacity. However, only a single bag was needed to hold all of the gear we had selected for our storage test—a feat that wasn't even accomplished by both bags of the Axiom Monsoon Hydracore.
In all reality, we could have fit more gear into the single packed bag by utilizing the shoulder straps. Ortlieb has a smart design that incorporates the buckles found on the additional shoulder straps (one for each bag) that allow you to close the bag without connecting the opposing buckles on the opening of the bag. In this case, the roll-top design provides a degree of over-packing to cram more gear in the event of emergencies or situations that demand more than most bags can handle.
Even when we didn't pack this model to the gills, it held gear exceptionally well. The roll-top design and angled sidewalls allow you to pack lighter loads while rolling out the excess air before closing. Furthermore, there is an internal zippered pocket and laptop sleeve that help you keep your valuable items separate from the rest of your gear. Our only gripe is that there are no external pockets to 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 very well. The bright yellow material may show signs of wear and tear quicker than a dark bag, but we were ultimately very pleased with how well the pannier's fabric was able to brush off road rash and run-ins with trees.
The only reason the Ortlieb didn't receive a higher durability score was due to some of the materials used in the design. We would have liked some thicker webbing on the handle and closure and more robust mounting hardware. Although the mounting hardware remains secure and we didn't experience any failures, we believe that some reinforcements would help this pannier stand the test of time.
As previously stated, this model of pannier has set the industry standard for weatherproofing. We weren't surprised that it received our only perfect weatherproofing score. Not only did the Back-Roller Classic 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.
Perhaps the lack of external pockets was an intentional design consideration of Ortlieb. Other models that incorporated such pockets were never able to keep their contents completely dry. This way, everything that gets stowed away in the internal pocket of the Ortlieb remained 100% dry even in the wettest conditions, i.e.,very little underwater. Aside from its stellar waterproofing, the Back-Roller Classic also passed our test for weatherproofing, which looked at how well the pannier would function through conditions like mud and silt. After exceptionally dirty rides, we had no problem detaching and re-attaching the Ortlieb. 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 was 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. Fresh out of the minimal difficulty understanding how this pannier was intended to be used. The mounting system was very intuitive, and the only element that needed adjusting before use was the differing hook sizes.
The Ortlieb would have received a higher Ease of Use score had it not required this initial tweaking. But as we said before, this minor inconvenience is welcome if it means that we get a higher overall performance from the product. Once you've got the hook sizes and mounting position all dialed in, there is no need for you to worry about re-adjusting the Back-Roller Classic.
This pair of panniers is no doubt intended for long-distance bike touring. While a commuter may be happy with this model for their daily needs, it is clear that the features are more geared towards a cyclist who will be needing to store lots of gear in wet, grueling conditions.
Even though the Ortlieb Back-Roller Classic was one of this review's most expensive models, we believe that it is a good value. Not only are you getting two bags for the same price as one Thule, but you are also getting a very high-performance, ultra-durable pannier that will offer great utility for many miles to come.
This pannier is a classic for a reason; it's one of the best. The iconic yellow 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 in the game. We never had any doubts about performance, but our extensive testing solidified our opinion of this being 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. If you're looking for an ultra-reliable long-distance touring pannier—or even if you just need a high-performance commuting pannier—you can't go wrong with this model.
— Rob Woodworth