Hill & Ellis's Duke Bike Bag is a beautifully made, high-quality leather pannier. If it suits your needs in terms of volume and size, and fits your rack, there's very little to fault – and a lot to love.
- Pros: Superb quality, gorgeous look that'll only get better, the smell...
- Cons: Heavy, waterproof cover doesn't match the bag for looks, no horizontal adjustability of hooks
The Duke is handmade in leather, in this one cherry red and brown colour only, and the quality of construction really is excellent. The stitching is strong, every bit of metalwork is firmly attached, and though a few scuffs have appeared at the bottom corners, everything looks like it'll last, and in terms of looks the whole bag will probably just get better with age.
Inside, the bag is lined with Hill & Ellis's 'signature' stripy cotton print. There's a padded compartment big enough for a 13in laptop according to Hill & Ellis, though a 15in will squeeze in, with a leather tab that poppers into place to hold it in.
On the opposite side of the bag, which is also padded, there's a zipped valuables pocket (the zip having a leather surround), and a leather fob so you don't have to fumble about for your keys.
The bag is rigid and holds its shape whether full or empty, standing on five metal feet when not on the bike. With an internal capacity of 15.5 litres there's plenty of room for far more stuff than I tend to carry on my daily commute, and there's no cinching it in to reduce the size if it's not full. It is quite a bulky bag, measuring 47x33.5x13cm, and I'd suggest you check how much you really need to carry regularly on your bike before you buy.
It has leather carry handles, which popper together with a bit of effort – for some reason I always find the popper on our test bag quite reluctant to snap together, and then it suddenly does after a few attempts. The handles are stitched into the perfect shape for carrying and come to the hand very nicely I must say.
There's a detachable shoulder strap too. Again, I find it quite hard to attach the hooks for some reason, then they'll suddenly snap into place and I wonder why I was having a problem. It does suggest they're secure though. It's not the most comfortable strap for carrying a heavy bag – a padded section for your shoulder would be nice here – but again it seems top quality, with faultless stitching and strong buckles. It's adjustable too.
One thing I really like about this bag, on top of the quality, look and smell, is the way the rack hooks can be hidden away under a zipped flap. Zipped up, it looks like an external pocket, and no one in the boardroom would know it's a bicycle pannier...
On the other hand, it also gets a bit mucky from spray when in use, as it sits open over your rack. It's lined with a nylon fabric you can wipe clean, so not exactly a huge problem.
The whole bag can be kept clean by wiping with a damp cloth, and Hill & Ellis recommends using a good quality leather balm once a month to clean and protect the leather.
If conditions dictate, you can also bring out the disappointingly unglamorous waterproof cover – an elasticated, bright yellow, nylon ripstop number that fits a bit loosely around the bag, though it does the job, with reflectives frontish and rearish.
For much of the test period the roads were so grotty that, rather than cycling around with a stylish looking leather case on my bike, I found myself transporting my things in a big yellow flappy thing, all elegance hidden underneath.
It does seems a shame that, with so much thought and craftsmanship having clearly gone into the bag itself, the waterproof cover isn't a slightly more appealing design.
On dry days, with the leather on show, you can make use of the two reversible tabs front and rear: on one side, leather; on the other, reflective. Nice. At one end you'll also find a small zipped pocket, again lined in the stripy fabric.
So far, all so good.
However, although one of the features Hill & Ellis highlights is the patented hooks, which adjust to fit racks with tubing between 6mm and 16mm in diameter, there's no horizontal adjustment. Every pannier I have ever used has hooks you can slide along to fit the spaces on your rack and let you position the pannier where you want it.
My custom-made Paulus Quiros bike has a custom-made rack, and the Duke bag sat too far forward on it, so my heels would catch on it. This could be partly because the frame is quite small; on a larger bike, I'd imagine the bag would sit higher and further away. I tested it out on some off-the-peg racks and on most it was a better fit, but not all. The only way I could get it to fit far enough away from my heel was to position the rearward clip at the very end of my rack, beyond any widthways struts. It stayed in place, but doesn't seem ideal.
Helping it stay on the rack is a clever but very simple little fold-out clip, which stops you – or opportunist thieves – quickly hoicking the Duke off your bike.
This lack of horizontal adjustment was my biggest grievance with the bag. I'm not sure positioning it further forward makes it more secure, but I can't help thinking it shouldn't have to sit so far back. If it fits your rack, though, it's academic.
Its near-2kg weight empty is also something to consider, depending on where you live. If your commute is shortish and flattish it's less of a drawback than if you have a hilly, seven-mile ride home, for example.
The other grievance you might have is the price, but I was rather surprised to find that the £255 Duke sits at the more affordable end of the leather pannier market if Brooks England's selection is anything to go by, where you can be looking at upwards of £300 or £400 for similar-style offerings.
A leather pannier you can take into a City boardroom isn't going to be for everyone, and for me if I had the cash I'd probably go for a smaller design, in a different colour to match the leather bar tape and saddle of my bike, like the Professor reviewed by Simon last year. But as I said at the start, if the size suits, the weight isn't a problem for your commute, and it fits your rack, it's a beautiful bag you'll be delighted with.
A high-quality and elegant pannier that's likely to just get better with age
road.cc test report
Make and model: Hill & Ellis Duke Bike Bag
Size tested: Dimensions: 47cm (W) x 33.5cm (H) x 13cm (D)
Tell us what the product is for
Hill & Ellis says: "So many great Dukes - "MarmaDuke", "Duke Ellington", "Sir Duke" and the "Duke of Wellington" this bike bag is named after all of them. Made from luxurious cherry brown leather, this bike bag is trimmed with dark brown leather and all the metal detailing has an antique bronze finish.
"With adjustable patented pannier clips which easily attach to pannier racks between 6mm-16mm in diameter and come complete with a central security tab to secure the bag on the bike, the hook mechanism can be zipped away once off the bike, so they are hidden and comfortable to wear. It also comes with a waterproof bag cover for rainy days and reversible reflective detailing for night-time visibility, a protective bar to stop the bag rubbing on the bike and an adjustable shoulder strap. Internal features include bike key hook, inside zip pocket and a protective 13 inch laptop sleeve.
"This bag is perfect for the bike to boardroom transition."
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
Hill & Ellis lists:
Dimensions: 47cm (W) x 33.5cm (H) x 13cm (D)
Capacity: 15.5 litres.
This bag has a padded 13" laptop sleeve, and will fit an A4 Booklet, iPad, trainers, novel, iPod (to listen to Stevie Wonder) A4 file, phone, and a lunchbox. Or a combination of similar items (although we maintain Stevie Wonder should always be with you.)
Made from luxurious cherry brown leather and contrasted with dark brown leather detailing this bag is also lined with a signature printed striped cotton and finished with antique brass look metalware.
The patented pannier clips are German manufactured by one of the industry's best pannier hook producers. They are designed to adjust to 99% of pannier racks from 6mm - 16mm in diameter. If you have any queries about this please do get in touch.
It's very good if it suits your needs, with just a few niggles.
Probably needs a few more years' use to determine how durable it really is. I'll report back...
It ain't light: close to 2kg, before you put anything inside.
The carry handles are lovely and soft in the hand; the shoulder strap could do with some padding.
Handmade leather bags don't come cheap, but a quick glance at Brooks England's page of leather offerings suggests Hill & Ellis is at the more afforable end.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
If it fits your rack and the size suits your needs then it serves its purpose very well as a high-quality, high-class pannier. The fact that you can't adjust the clips horizontally and the lack of choice in size and colour limit its versatility and its potential audience.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
The look (and the smell). And the way the rack clips can be zipped away behind a cover.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
That you can't adjust the clips horizontally, and the weight. And surely the designers could have come up with a more attractive raincover...
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes
Would you consider buying the product? If I had the money I'd be tempted by one of the other designs.
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Yes, if it suited their needs.
Use this box to explain your overall score
The bag is beautiful quality, looks (and smells!) gorgeous, and is very well made. If it fits your rack and the large volume suits your needs – and you can afford it – you won't be disappointed. For you, this bag is a 9 – a few niggles preventing full marks. For me personally, the weight, inability to alter the clip positions horizontally, the unattractive raincover and lack of colour choice would make it more like a good 7.
About the tester
I usually ride: Vitus Venon My best bike is: Paulus Quiros
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: Most days I would class myself as: Experienced
I regularly do the following types of riding: commuting, sportives, general fitness riding
Tass is our production pedant, who boldly goes hunting for split infinitives, rogue apostrophes and other things up with which she will not put. She's ridden off-road but much prefers on, hasn't done half the touring she'd like to, and loves paper maps.