26 Jul 2022

Everything you need to know about Ortlieb panniers

A bicycle is shown inside Abbotsford Cycles in front of a wall of Ortlieb panniers & backpacks and the bicycle has both front & rear panniers from Ortlieb fitted to it in a blue colourway

We love Ortlieb, but their wide range of panniers can be confusing!

So here we are going to try to break down the range into more manageable pieces.


What is the difference between the Bike- or Sport-Packer bags and the Sport- or Back-Roller bags?


These are probably the most obviously different of the pannier options from Ortlieb. The Packer model of bags have a ‘lid’ and buckle closures with the draw string holding the top of the bag closed under the lid. They also have a front pocket & have a shape that is fairly ovalized.  These Packer model’s have been most popular with touring cyclists doing those long trips. We’re talking weeks on the bike. And this is because it’s easy to ‘over fill’ a Packer and jam the lid on top. You will be able to use the buckles to essentially ratchet down the lid and so can more loosely pack your gear.

The Roller model of bags have a roll-closure system where there is stiffening plastic piece stitched into one side of the pannier & you use this stiffener to roll them closed & sealed. This means they are not as easy to over-stuff without sacrificing the waterproof rating on the bag. They also come with buckles to secure the roll-closure down once you have rolled it.

Now we should mention, the roll-closure of the Roller’s means they have a slightly higher waterproof rating than the Packer models. They are both still waterproof in the sense that they are weld seamed & rain, mud & snow will not penetrate the fabric or seams. But if you throw your Packer in the river, that draw string closure can allow water to seep in, where the roll-closure won’t allow it.

So if you plan on swimming with your bike, may we suggest the Roller. For all other purposes, these bags are both as waterproof as you need them to be!


What is the difference between Back-Roller & Sport-Roller?


Back-Roller’s are for the rear rack on your bike, and Sport-Rollers are designed to be run on a front rack or a ‘lowrider’ as the pannier hoops for your front wheel are often called.

Ortlieb used to make this a bit easier to understand by calling the Sport-Roller’s ‘Front-Rollers’, but because you can run them on your rear rack this probably added to confusion.

A rear rack on your bike can carry very large, bulky items. You can put a surfboard on there or a suitcase if you really wanted to. This is because you can push what you’re carrying to the limits of the rear rack to be quite far away from you. Opening up the space for you to carry bigger things.

Whereas front racks, or front pannier carriers like lowriders cannot project things off the front of your wheel. Carrying bags on the front of your bike is also limited by how much this effects your steering, and then how much you are able to turn your front wheel. If you were to run rear panniers like the Back-Rollers on your front rack you would find that turning the handlebars would send the panniers into your knees or into your toes on the pedals.

So panniers for the front end of a bike have to be designed a little differently. Ortlieb does this by making them a smaller profile overall, calling this an ‘optimised shape’. Because they are an optimised shape for running on the front. They also have less capacity overall – we’re talking 12L per bag instead of 20L per bag in a rear pannier Back-Roller model.

But importantly, the way the bag mounts is the same as the Back-Roller models, so you can easily move your front pannier to the back. But you can’t run your rear pannier as a front. (Well you can if you want to but you will have funky steering, toe overlap and a lot of weight on the front end of your bike).

So to summarise, Back-Rollers (or Bike-Packers) are rear panniers & Sport-Rollers (or Sport-Packers) are front panniers that you can also run on the back.


What is the difference between Classic, City, Plus, Free & Urban panniers


These titles primarily refer to the material that the pannier is made from, but they also refer to the features of the pannier. So let’s go through them individually.

Classic – the most recognisable ‘tarp’ looking material, these are the most popular, they come with an internal pocket for organising your small items, and shoulder straps for carrying off-bike.

Free – these are the same as the Classic models but with a PVC-Free material. PVC-Free products are generally more popular in Europe than Australia. Just like the Classic’s they come with an internal pocket & shoulder straps.

Plus – these panniers are made with a Cordura material giving them a more ‘fabric’ look & come in unique colours. These panniers come with internal pockets & shoulder straps just like the Classics & Free models, however due to the use of Cordura they are a little bit lighter. So if you were worried about weight then this is a popular choice.

City/Core – these are the budget-friendly pannier option from Ortlieb. These panniers look largely the same as the Classic/Free models, but without the securing buckle on the center of the bag. Instead the roll closure fixes to the sides of the bag. They do no have an internal pocket, nor a shoulder strap. Though you can purchase a shoulder strap separately & inserts for your pannier to organise your gear.

Urban – the biggest difference with the Urban line is that they are sold as a single pannier rather than a pair like the models above. They are also made from the same lightweight Cordura material of the Plus/Urban bags which has a fabric appearance rather than a shiny plastic look. They come with an internal pocket & shoulder straps just like the Classic/Free/Plus models.

High Visibility – these are sold as a single pannier as well, rather than a pair & are made from a Cordura material so are similarly lightweight to the Plus & Urban models. Unique to these bags is the high luminosity yarn which is woven into the Cordura that makes them ‘light up’ when caught in headlights. These panniers come with the internal pocket & the shoulder strap like the Classic/Free/Plus/Urban bags too.

Finally, all of these panniers are waterproof! Despite the differences in fabric they are all waterproof.


Ortlieb’s High Visibility panniers in action



What is the difference between QL2.1 & QL3.1?


Easily one of the most important differences between Ortlieb panniers is the mounting system used.


QL2.1 features


The most popular mounting system Ortlieb use is the QL2.1 & most people will default to this system. It’s called a Quick Lock system because simply lifting the carry handle of the pannier ‘unlocks’ the hooks from your bike’s rack & releasing the carry handle locks it back on.

Ortlieb make their mounting hooks quite large, and supply every pannier with a set of inserts that you will need to fit into the hooks depending on your rack’s tube diameter. Don’t be intimidated by this, you simply take the hook inserts & sit them on your rack to see which one fits. And generally speaking it will be the 10mm version as most racks in the world are made with 10mm tubing. You then press these inserts into the hooks (you can’t get this wrong, they only go in one way) and now they will fit snugly on your rack without rattling.

The lower portion of the QL2.1 system has an anchoring hook which can pivot along its mounting rail, and this is used to ‘wedge’ against one of the stays on your rack. This will prevent your pannier from swinging outwards as you take corners on your bike. And it will also prevent the pannier from sliding along the rack rails when you accelerate or decelerate.

You will also be able to unclamp & slide the mounting hooks along your pannier to find the perfect alignment that stops the pannier from shifting forwards & backwards on the rail.

And if you ever break or lose any part of the mounting system, Ortlieb sells these as spare parts for decades after production so you will be able to replace them.


QL2.1 System from Ortlieb
QL2.1 System from Ortlieb
QL3.1 features


The QL3.1 system is a minimalist system in that instead of having projecting hooks on the back of your pannier, most of the mounting tech is left on your bike’s rack.

This system was made with commuters in mind, where you might need to carry your pannier off-bike for longer. And you don’t want hooks projecting from it making it difficult to carry as a cross-shoulder bag.

So you will find the QL3.1 system is on bags that are styled as briefcases like the Office-Bag or Commuter-Bag. But Ortlieb also offer it on their popular Backpack/pannier the Vario too.

The QL3.1 system is a commitment to one side of your rack though. Because the pannier will come with all the mounting hardware you need to put it on one side of your rack. The mounting hardware is a type of frame which your pannier will hook onto in a similar locking fashion to the QL2.1. However the carry handle is a simple cable to reduce the amount of ‘stuff’ on the back of your pannier.

You can choose to buy an additional QL3.1 mounting system to fit it on both sides of your rack if you like though. Because Ortlieb sell spare parts & replacement parts. You can also fit the mounting system to another bike so that you can carry your pannier on more than one bike.

Traditionally the side people choose to run their pannier on is the side which is closest to traffic. So in the case of Australia this would be the right hand side. Because Ortlieb panniers will generally come with a reflector on the side of the bag it’s handy to run this on the side exposed to motorists.

The QL3.1 system is also more expansive than the QL2.1 system, because the hardware is a little more complicated. And while it is simple enough to fit the mounting system to your bike at home, we can also help you with it when you buy your bag.


QL3.1 System from Ortlieb


Will an Ortlieb pannier fit on my bike?


Probably one of the most common questions we hear in the shop is this one. We assume it’s because there are panniers out there that only work with particular bikes. But Ortlieb panniers are universal.

They fit just about any rear bike rack in the world. And that’s because of their mounting hook system with the inserts that we mentioned above.

Because the only real difference between racks for bikes is their tubing thickness. Most racks work the same way in that they are designed with tubular rails for hanging panniers.

There are racks out there with 12mm thick tubes, and 8mm tubes. And these are the most common alternative sizes. So Ortlieb include hook inserts with their panniers that are 8mm, 10mm & 12mm.

Now if you have a bike that has a rack with even thicker tubes then there is a solution.

Some ebikes are designed with racks that are part of the frame of the bike, and so are 20mm thick.

Ortlieb’s QL2.1 mounting system is replaceable and the mounting hooks with the attached carry handle are removeable from the pannier. So if you need 20mm hooks, you can simple unclip the standard mounting hooks from the pannier & buy the larger hooks.


Are all Ortlieb panniers waterproof?


Yes, all of Ortlieb’s bags are waterproof. It’s very much their field of expertise.

They use an international rating system from the electrotechnology field to measure just how waterproof they are.

This ‘ingress protection rating’ is seen as two letters & two numbers, where the higher the number indicates a higher protection against moisture ingress. So you will often see IP54 or IP64, IP67 on Ortlieb bags and panniers.

This means they are rain proof, mud proof, dust proof & submersible when it comes to the higher end. And that’s submersible up to 30 minutes at depth!

And this is why you will see Ortlieb Duffle bags on yachts & kayaks, because when they are zipped close they are ait-tight & fully submersible.

So never worry if your pannier is going to protect your laptop in the rain, as long as you have closed it, it’s waterproof!


Do you need panniers on both sides?


No you don’t! Ortlieb sell most of their panniers in pairs, however they do offer the Back-Roller Free, and the Back-Roller Urban in singles for those who just need to carry a laptop & their lunch & change of clothes in to the office or just a few things to work of a day. There is no need to run both panniers on your bike if you don’t need them. You will naturally account for the uneven load on your bike with your own balance & you cannot damage your bike in any way by running just one pannier on one side of your bike. Many people run a single pannier because it is easier to lock up your bike against a pole or with another bike and others use their panniers reflective qualities on the right side of their bike to provide added visibility to motorists.


Are Ortlieb panniers just for bike touring?


Ortlieb panniers are designed primarily for bike touring and bikepacking, but they can also be used for other purposes such as commuting, shopping, and general transportation. Ortlieb panniers are known for their durability, weather-resistance, and ease of use, making them a popular choice among cyclists who need a reliable and practical way to carry their gear on a bike.

While Ortlieb panniers are often associated with long-distance touring, they can be used for a variety of purposes and are versatile enough to accommodate different types of gear, from clothes and camping equipment to groceries and work supplies. Additionally, some Ortlieb panniers are specifically designed for commuters, with features like reflective detailing and laptop sleeves.

Overall, while Ortlieb panniers are particularly well-suited for bike touring and bikepacking, they can also be used for a range of other activities and are a popular choice among cyclists who value high-quality, durable gear that can withstand the demands of regular use.