By Adam Newman
Handlebar Pack -$130
In the name of simplicity and secure attachment, Ortlieb chose to design its handlebar bag to hang below the handlebars, where it stays put and doesn’t slip or bounce, rather than trying to cantilever it out in front. The laminated, ripstop nylon waterproof body has a roll-up closure at each end and Ortlieb lists its volume at 15 liters. I found it plenty large enough for a lightweight solo tent and sleeping bag. There are a myriad of ways to attach things on the outside too, beyond just the accessories pouch. The compression straps can hold extras like your tent poles or a second stuff sack, and there are some bungee cords on the exterior for a jacket. The attachment system is very secure, with a few foam spacers to make room for your brakes, shifters and cables. A super heavy-duty strap secures it in place and a secondary buckle strap cinches it up tight. The build quality is worth a shout-out, as I never once feared tearing a seam with repeated stretching, pulling, crashing, stuffing and smashing.
Accessories Pack -$75
If you go with the Ortlieb handlebar pack, you should really pick up the Accessories pack too. It attaches with the compression straps from the Handlebar pack and is big enough for several days worth of food. Having my snacks right on the handlebars made them easy to access, and when I needed to hang a bear bag at night I simply detached it and strung it up tire combo in here. It can also be attached to the handlebars on its own as a daypack, or worn around your waist or shoulder with the included waist strap.
Seat Pack -$160
Here Ortlieb chose to refine a common design rather than reinvent the wheel. The volume is adjustable from 8 liters to 16 liters, and it attaches to the seat rails with two quick release buckles and to the seatpost with heavy-duty Velcro straps. At the base of the bag, extending about a third of the way from the seatpost, is an internal cowling that gives it shape and keeps it from bulging. A really cool feature is the addition of a purge valve, which lets you squeeze all the air out of it after it’s been rolled. Getting the seatpack to work well comes down to proper packing. I found that one big item like a sleeping bag worked better than a collection of small items like clothing. Also you need to make sure the contents are stuffed firmly into the bottom of the pack, because otherwise you’re guaranteed to suffer from Droopy Butt Syndrome. After a few days of struggling with it sagging I took better care with packing and the results improved. I also started putting my tent poles in there for more support. One curious design quirk is that even with the bag nearly full I was maxing out the adjustment straps that secure the roll- top, seen here just above the Ortlieb logo. They’re also impossible to tighten while buckled, which makes adjusting them a chore.
Ortlieb has always built some insanely bomber gear, and after working these bags hard I have no doubt they’ll last a while. I would definitely recommend the handlebar pack and accessories pack for their simplicity and carrying capacity. The seat pack, on the other hand, faces much stiffer competition (intentional pun) from designs with rigid frames. It requires careful packing and its massive size is a blessing and a curse. It’s a solid choice but not a home run.
Photos: Emily Walley
Marin designed the Four Corners and Four Corners Elite for the daily commute and the weekend adventure, and it couldn’t be more on point. I’m testing the lower priced model, with an MSRP of $1100. It offers all the bells and whistles for fully-loaded touring in an affordable package. The Four Corners is an all-steel frame with mounts for a front and rear rack, fenders and three bottle cages.
Saddling up, I immediately noticed the upright riding position facilitated by the long headtube. The bars sit higher than what I’m used to and have a 20-degree flare to the drop. On other bikes, I’ve trended toward riding primarily on the hoods and tops, but the Marin’s upright position had me comfortably riding in the drops for long stretches of rolling hills and rail trails—a welcome change. The reach on the size small frame was a little long for me, so I put on a 20 mm shorter stem.
To get a sense of the bike’s touring capabilities, I added fenders and a front rack and loaded it down with gear for a mixed-surface tour from Cumberland, Maryland, to Pittsburgh. The ride included crushed limestone rail trail, rolling hard roads, dirt roads and railroad ballast. I carried my weight low on the front rack and the bike handled very well while weighted down.
On the small-sized frame, I was unable to include a water bottle underneath the downtube because it hit the fender. Though I haven’t tried yet, I’m speculating that the tire will come very close to hitting even a short bottle without fenders. On my trip, I used a stem-mounted cage for a third bottle.
The other two bottle mounts are placed so they’re easy to reach for day-to-day use, but they’re not in an ideal location for a frame bag. I zip-tied a cage lower on the downtube, closing up the unused space and allowing room for my frame bag.
I found the stock Schwalbe Silento 700c x 40 mm tires to be an appropriate spec, rolling well in a variety of terrain and adequately burly, so I wasn’t overly concerned with getting a flat. The Four Corners has clearance for up 45 mm tires with fenders or 29 x 2.1 knobby tires without fenders.
The Shimano Alivio 9-Speed with 12-36T gearing was adequate while weighted down over Pennsylvania’s rolling hills, but I’d go with a lower gear range for an extended, fully-loaded tour with sustained climbs.
I was thrilled with the stock WTB Volt Sport saddle. One of the biggest pains of rail trail riding are the long, flat sections of saddle time. The WTB is comfortable and supportive and I didn’t find myself sitting gingerly.
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There’s a reason Ortlieb is the gold standard in touring panniers, as seen on countless bicycle expeditions around the world for more than a decade. Built to last, entirely waterproof, and available in a few iconic colors, they are instantly recognizable on or off a bike.
But let’s face it, not all of us are going on extended, cross-country journeys—most of our trips are to the office and back, and I would imagine the vast majority of Ortlieb’s products are actually used for commuting rather than touring.
In the past year or so we’ve seen many brands adding more and more reflectivity into their products, and some, including Ortlieb, have gone as far as making the entire product reflective. The new High-Vis series uses the standard reflective patches found on all Ortlieb panniers, but also uses a reflective yarn woven right into the cordura outer to cause the whole bag to pop under a streetlight or car’s headlight.
Since these Back-Roll bags are of course mounted on a rear rack, the huge amount of reflective real estate makes you and your bike much more visible from both the rear and the sides. During the day the neon yellow color is so bright that it’s difficult to photograph, and at night it’s like a pair of glowing orbs floating above the road.
If you’re familiar with the classic Ortlieb roll-top bags, you’ll instantly recognize the main features, including a universal fit that is super-secure on nearly any rack ever made using the QL2.1 fit system.
The hooks come with spacers so they can tightly grip nearly any diameter of rail (up to 16mm)—and they latch on, only to be released by pulling on the grab handles.
Inside you’ll find a zippered pocket that hugs the wall of the bag. It’s a good place to tuck smaller items that would otherwise filter their way down to the very bottom. The outside is reinforced with plastic bumpers on high-wear areas.
Because the body of the High-Vis bags is made from a PU laminated, water-resistant Cordura instead of the PVC-coated polyester, they are actually a bit lighter (850 grams each) than the Back Roller classic bags (1,900 grams claimed weight, per pair). They all share the same 20 liter capacity per bag, and they can be used with the same compatible accessories.
The extra visibility does come at a price. A pair costs $260, compared to $180 for a pair of classic Back-Roller bags. To round out the High-Vis line, a smaller Front-Roll set, as well as a handlebar bag and briefcase are also given the reflective touch. For 2015 they will also be available in an all-black version, if you want the reflective material paired with a more subdued look.