Ortlieb's panniers are pretty much the benchmark for serious touring use, being dependably waterproof and rugged enough to last for years. The City-Biker is aimed at urban riders who don't need to carry a huge volume but want a stylish and comfortable bag once they've hopped off their bike. It's as well made as you'd expect, but I think that use on the bike is too compromised in the name of comfortable carrying when on foot.
The City-Biker is available with a couple of different mounting systems, the QL2 and QL3. We saw the same systems on the Single Back-Roller Urban Pannier and Commuter Bag respectively. For this type of application, where the bag is designed for use on and off the bike, I personally favour the QL3 system as it means there are no pointy bits to stick into your side when you carry the bag on your shoulder. For the uninitiated, QL3 means that there is a separate bracket which attaches to your bike's rack, with three little plastic spigots to secure the bag. The back surface of the bag is pretty much flat as a consequence.
I was really impressed with this system on the Commuter bag, although one or two commenters said they found that the fixing to the rack struggled to hold weight compared with conventional fixings. The City-Biker is a smaller bag with only 10 litre capacity, and so on the face of it should be well-suited to the QL3 system. The trouble is, the bag only attaches to the top two mounting points on the QL3 bracket, so the bottom of the bag just sits against the side of the rack rather than being held there. This is odd, as the bag is amply tall enough that a third mounting point could have been incorporated, and the failure to do so is the main flaw of this bag.
In normal conditions, when you're sat on the saddle, the City-Biker stays in place. In a bend, the cornering forces mean the bag still remains held against the rack. However, if you stand up to ride up a hill then it swings out and back against the rack. The more weight you have in the bag, the more disconcerting this is, but even with just a light payload I found it pretty annoying.
The problem is worsened because of the way the QL3 system is attached. When the bag swings out and back, it puts a bending load through the mounting system in a way that you wouldn't have with conventional pannier hooks. Over time, I found that the QL3 bracket would get twisted out of position as a consequence, needing adjustment to get it back in the right place to allow easy attachment of the bag.
In fairness, you might argue that this bag is aimed at users who like to ride sedately in a relatively flat city, without ever needing to stand up and pedal, in which case this would be less of a problem. The strange thing is that it would be such an easy problem to fix – incorporating a third mounting point to secure the bottom of the bag is all it would take.
The City-Biker is made of a tough waterproof fabric that Ortlieb calls PS33. It is reinforced at the bottom, on the back and on the top corners. There are four colours available, with black, purple and blue being the other options. Given that it's an urban sort of product, the total lack of reflectives is a mite surprising, not least as other urban bags in Ortlieb's range do well in this respect.
The bag is rated as IP53 for the ingress of dust and water – in short, you shouldn't get much dust in there and splashes of water at up to 60 degrees from vertical should be kept out. I had no problems with water getting in during testing. There is no roll-top system, just a well-designed flap held in place with Velcro, so getting stuff out in a hurry is simplicity itself.
Under the flap is a small strap designed to secure the shoulder strap when fitted to a bike. I like this – if you're going to design a bag that's at home on the bike or on the shoulder, you shouldn't have to remove straps to stop them catching in your back wheel.
The 10L capacity of the City-Biker is smaller than most panniers but I found that there was room enough for lunch and a spare T-shirt. I had to take my 13in laptop home one evening and that fitted in too, albeit not with the lunch – and with this extra weight the mounting issues were particularly bothersome.
On the inside is a zipped pocket that would take something like a phone, and a lanyard with a plastic clip to secure your keys. If you plan on taking a tablet or laptop in the bag regularly, you'll want to consider Ortlieb's optional padded sleeve, which isn't included as standard.
In conclusion, if you don't have lots to carry and you live somewhere flat, the Ortlieb City-Biker is a pretty decent option, albeit at a premium price. The QL3 system makes it a pleasure to carry on your shoulder, but the absence of a lower mounting point really limits its appeal if you live somewhere hilly or you like to cycle quickly.
Well-made bag but the QL3 implementation is poorly executed and that will limit its appeal to many
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Ortlieb City-Biker QL3
Size tested: 10 litres
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?
Ortlieb says: "On the bike or on the shoulder, the City-Biker always looks good on a tour through town. The vertical style shoulder bag with closure flap ensures protection of A4 files and 13.3' laptops. With a reinforced base and sides the City-Biker is a sturdy and robust bag. The padded shoulder strap ensures a comfortable carrying; during biking it is stowed safely on the flaps inner side. The City Biker is available with the QL3 or the QL2.1 rack mounting system. Like all ORTLIEB bike bags, you can easily attach it to or remove it from your bike rack with a single hand."
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
height: 42 cm
width: 32 cm
depth: 10 cm
weight: 800 g
volume: 10 L
Vertically-shaped shoulder bag with flap (single bag)
* Quick-Lock3 mounting system with two upper hooks only
* Single-handed operation
* Clean uncluttered back of the bag
* Reinforced material at base and rear side
* Padded shoulder strap
* Internal liner with zippered inner pocket
* Snaphook for keys
* Pen slot
* Size fits DIN A4 documents and 13.3' laptops
As well-put-together as you'd expect from the people at Ortlieb - they can do this stuff in their sleep.
Very comfy on the shoulder thanks to the QL3 system. The lack of a lower fixing point is quite a big shortcoming if you have anything weighing more than some papers in there, though.
Ortlieb stuff lasts for ages – this will undoubtedly do so too.
The QL3 system adds some weight to the bag...
...but makes it very comfortable to carry off the bike.
It's quite pricey for a small pannier – you're paying for the Ortlieb build quality and the novel mounting system.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
It was a mixed bag (sorry). I'm a big fan of the QL3 system for bags like this that you want to be able to shoulder when not on the bike, but the lack of a lower fixing point really limits its usefulness for carrying anything of any weight. Here the QL3 system copes less well than a conventional system would.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
Smart looks, top-notch construction, comfortable for use off the bike. Also, I like that the strap can be stashed under the flap rather than needing to be removed when used on the bike.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
The absence of a lower mounting point and the resultant tendency to swing around, particularly if you're standing up on the pedals. This meant I didn't really like to use the bag with any significant weight inside.
Did you enjoy using the product? Less than I'd expected.
Would you consider buying the product? No – there are much better options in Ortlieb's range for my needs.
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Doubtful.
Use this box to explain your score
I couldn't give this more than 'average', as I found that the fixing system just didn't really work very well, and for me that really compromises the bag as a whole. It's a shame as it is quite smart and very nicely made, and otherwise would warrant a much higher score.
About the tester
I usually ride: On-One Bish Bash Bosh My best bike is: Rose X-Lite CRS
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: Most days I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: road racing, time trialling, cyclo-cross, commuting, touring, club rides, sportives, general fitness riding, fixed/singlespeed, mountain biking
Jez spends his days making robots that drive cars but is happiest when on two wheels. His roots are in mountain biking but he spends more time nowadays on the road, occasionally racing but more often just riding.