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The Upso Potters pannier is a striking-looking thing which should last for years and years, and I found it did an excellent job of keeping its cargo dry and secured to the bike.
Upso makes a range of bags from mostly recycled materials, most prominently the tarpaulins that go on the sides of trucks. It also uses things like fire-hoses and seatbelts where possible. In case that sounds vaguely familiar, it's a not-dissimilar approach to that used by Freitag, although the pricing is very different indeed. The Rivington rucksack from Upso that we reviewed recently costs £65 compared with the £230 that Freitag charges for an admittedly more complex design of backpack.
Take a peek inside this pannier and you'll see a label sewn in, saying it was handmade by Sue. That's a familiar touch for anyone who has a Carradice bag, and in fact Upso is a sub-brand run by the folk at Carradice. As with Carradice products, the bags are handmade in England and they do a cracking job. The design is relatively simple, without much in the way of bells, whistles or indeed pockets, but it's all neatly finished.
The tarpaulin is a heavier-duty fabric than most panniers use and this has a couple of consequences – firstly, it makes for an overall weight of just over a kilo, which is a bit more than most other panniers (the Ortlieb Back Roller Urban is 840g), but the flipside is that it's pretty bombproof. Lorry tarps have to cope with regular interaction with pallets, fork-lift trucks and so on, and if they can survive that then life on a bike rack will be a pretty relaxed retirement by comparison.
Upso hunts down suitably snazzy used tarps from trucking firms to make these bags – Carradice boss David Chadwick admits he sometimes phones up truck companies to bagsy their curtains when they're being replaced. An appealing consequence is that every bag is different. This makes e-commerce more complicated, but if you go to the Upso website and buy a bag, you'll get the actual one shown in the photo. I love the red and white design of our test pannier. The white paint is flaking off in one or two places but that just adds character.
The tarpaulin is also a bit stiffer than typical pannier fabric, so rolling up the top to close it requires a firm hand. There are a couple of clips to keep it closed and a strap that can be cinched over the top. All fairly standard fare. The rack attachment system is Carradice's Quick-clip, as used on the Carradice CarraDry panniers Iwein tested recently, an evolution of the C-system seen in the A4 pannier tested a while back. The hooks still slide in an extruded aluminium rail at the top, but now the retention catch is a separate unit that is positioned between the two hooks.
It'll work with rack tube diameters of up to 13mm and there are plastic inserts to make for a closer fit on smaller diameters than that. There's an anti-swing hook at the bottom, attached to a plastic rail giving loads of adjustment. I found it no trouble to get it set up for a couple of different racks. My only minor complaint would be that tightening the screws which lock the hooks in position scars the aluminium rail rather, so if you're going to be using it on several racks you'll end up with a row of pockmarks along there. Most people will probably just set it up for one rack and be done with it, so this is really not a big deal.
There are reinforcement panels on the bottom and below the anti-swing hook on the back, designed to offer additional protection to areas of higher wear. In my experience, it's the lower corners that are more susceptible to damage than the middle of the bottom, so I'd argue that reinforcement would perhaps better be deployed here. But still, I reckon that the tarp will last longer than most other pannier materials, so I wouldn't expect a problem any time soon.
Unlike most waterproof panniers, the seams aren't taped at all, so how does this affect it's performance in inclement conditions? I've used this commuting through some proper rain and couldn't detect any water ingress at all. I asked Upso and was told that the tarpaulin wasn't suitable for taping but that the nature of the material meant conventional seams offered very good protection, and I'd have to agree as this was my experience. If you were going to ride all day while touring, you might consider chucking valuables in a sandwich bag just to be on the safe side.
I reckon the Potters will suit long distance tourers really well, for whom dependability and ruggedness are generally more important than weight and a selection of pockets. For commuting purposes, I quite like one or two internal pockets to keep stuff organised. Using recycled materials is a nice idea, and having a unique design will doubtless appeal to a lot of people. Keep on trucking!
Made by Carradice out of lorry tarpaulin – the Upso pannier is super-tough and looks pretty cool thanks to the unique recycled material
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Upso Potters Pannier
Size tested: from 12 L to 21 L
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?
Upso says: "Back on the road again! The Potters Rear Pannier is UPSO's answer for carrying things on your bicycle. It's roll top design and bombproof construction allows varying load sizes whilst remaining extremely water proof, perfect for being on the move. It has a shoulder strap so it can also be carried comfortably off the bike. It fixes onto your bike with Quickclip, the latest Quick Release system from Carradice, and is suitable for rack tubing up to 13mm in diameter."
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
Fits on left or right side of bike
Capacity from 12 L to 21 L
Quickclip pannier system
Dimensions 35 – 55 (no roll) x 33 x 12cm
Can be summed up as "simple but bombproof".
Does a great job of keeping its contents dry. The stiff material does make it more awkward than most to roll and close the top, though.
It's made by Carradice out of lorry tarpaulins...
Heavier than most panniers on account of the tough fabric used, but I don't think this will a deal-breaker.
I'd say it's very good value for something made well and in the UK.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
Kept its contents dry through some heavy rain, looks like it'll last for ages.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
The use of recycled materials is laudable, and it's extremely tough and more waterproof than I had expected.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
The stiff material makes it trickier to roll the top closed.
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes
Would you consider buying the product? Yes
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Yes
Use this box to explain your score
It's tough, waterproof, recycled and each one has a unique design. And it's made in the UK and reasonably priced.
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.