Ortlieb Front Roller City panniers lack a few features of Ortlieb's spendier bags, but are still waterproof, convenient and tough as old boots.
Front Roller City panniers are budget Ortlieb bags. Ortlieb, if you've been living in a desert for the past couple of decades, are the benchmark brand in waterproof bike luggage. Their welded-seam bags are made in Germany and are beloved of touring and commuting cyclists across Europe and beyond. What they're not is cheap. At least, not most of them. The Front Roller City clocks in at just £65 per pair, more than 25% cheaper than the Front Roller Classic. How come?
Capacity is the same as the Classic, at 12.5 litres each pannier, and the material is the same PVC-coated polyester. Welded seams? Check. Roll-top closure? Check. Scotchlite patches? Check. Convenient QL1 mounting system? Once again, check.
Slimmed-down features, but core goodies still there
The main difference is the way the City closes. After you roll the top over, the ends clip into buckles on the sides of the pannier. On the Classic, the ends clip either to each other or to the shoulder strap, and then there's a single strap that can be fastened over the top of the bag. What this means is that you can overfill the Classic by stuffing the bag and holding everything in with the top strap. You can't do that with the City. If it won't fit in, it won't fit in.
The City lacks the Classic's shoulder strap. I didn't miss this. On the bike, the strap just kind of flaps about a bit and adds a thin layer of faff the opening and closing procedure. I'm rarely more than 100 yards from a bike, so the ability to haul the bags a bit more easily as a pedestrian is neither here nor there to me. Besides, these are small panniers; you're never going to have that much weight in them.
Finally, there's no inner pocket on the City for stashing a phone or a wallet or whatever. This didn't bother me either. In fact, I didn't even notice it until I was writing the review.
The core Ortlieb features are still present. The material is durable and waterproof, and the roll-top closure and welded seams mean that no water will get in unless you punch a hole in the bag or fall into a river and submerge your luggage.
Simple removal and attachment
The QL1 hooks are particularly good, especially for commuters or for those making several stops around town. The retention hooks (which form a closed loop with the main top rail hooks on the rack) lift up out of the way when you lift the handle. So the pannier lifts off one-handed in about one second. Yet on the bike, it can't jump off by accident.
The hooks are wide enough for rack rails up to 16mm in diameter; many pannier hooks won't handle racks beefier than 14mm. I was using an old Specialized rear rack with 10mm rails, so that was a moot point. For narrower racks, of up to 8mm or up to 11mm, the City has a choice of little hook inserts to reduce the effective span of the hook. Spares cost £4 a set if you lose these, although the panniers will stay on the rack okay without them, albeit with a few rattles.
These are nominally front panniers, but there's nothing to stop you using them on a rear rack too. Small bags are actually a better option on bikes that don't have long chainstays, as you're less likely to clip your heels.
Sized for short tours & shopping
A capacity of 25 litres is ample for short trips where you're staying in B&Bs or hostels, so long as you pack carefully. For commuting, two small bags are better than one big one. It balances the load better and enables you to have one bag for bike stuff and one for work stuff. On that note, a 13in MacBook fits fine inside a Front Roller City, with padding; bigger laptops might be a struggle.
Clearly you're not going to fit a trolley-load of groceries in these either. If you need bigger bags, the Rear Roller City (20 litres each) are also good value at £75 the pair.
Waterproof panniers from other brands are available for even less these days, but if you plan to use your bags every week or even every day, there's a lot to be said for paying a little more now for something that will last. This will.
Colour choice is more limited with the City panniers. They come in red, black or white.
Just as tough and waterproof as other Ortlieb bags but simpler and cheaper.
road.cc test report
Make and model: Ortlieb Front Roller City Panniers (Pair)
Size tested: n/a
Tell us what the product is for, and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about it?
Even without being in the great outdoors, the new Front & Back-Roller City give city bikers greater flexibility.
They can be used on both sides on front or rear racks or as singlepannier.
Highly incandescent 3M Scotchlitematerial reflectors on the panniers'sides give increased safety in traffic.
The innovative QL1fixation system is easy to handle and the bags attach to the rack with one click. Before the first ride, the QL hook distance is adjusted with a no. 3 Allan key and off you go.
Both models are provided with edge protectors having slots for fixing the ORTLIEB pannier carrying system.
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
They're made of PVC coated polyester.
Height: 30cm, Width 25cm, Depth 14cm
£25 cheaper than the Classics!
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
They're great. Waterproof, tough, easy on and off the rack.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
Waterproof. Tough. QL1 hooks.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
A little slow to open and close.
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes
Would you consider buying the product? Yes
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Yes
About the tester
Age: 42 Height: 1.78m Weight: 65kg
I usually ride: Ridgeback Solo World fixed wheel My best bike is: Planet X Pro Carbon Track (with front brake)
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: Every day I would class myself as: Experienced
I regularly do the following types of riding: time trialling, cyclo cross, commuting, touring, club rides, sportives, general fitness riding, fixed/singlespeed, mtb,