The Ortlieb Downtown is aimed at commuters, for taking their office stuff, cycling necessities and lunch to work. It's well designed, durable and waterproof. I like it.
Two versions of the Downtown are available. The QL2.1 version uses a standard three-point attachment system to a pannier rack with two hooks and a stabilising clip. These are mounted on the bag at a non-adjustable angle to provide enough clearance for heels.
The QL3.1 version we have on test uses a different system. It requires a mounting frame that is bolted to the pannier rack. This frame contains three mounting points that stick out; the bag itself has slots to receive the mounting points and, hey presto, the bag is secured without any bits sticking out and getting in the way when used off the bike.
The downside of the QL3.1 is that it needs that mounting frame. If you always use the same bike to commute and you don't regularly use other pannier bags on the rack on that bike, then that's not an issue. I suspect this is the case for most cyclists this bag is aimed at. If, however, using it on multiple bikes or using multiple bags on the same bike is important to you (and you're not too fussed about the protruding bits), then the QL2.1 version is probably a better bet. QL3.1 mounting frames can be bought separately, which is another way around this potential problem.
We've reviewed two very similar Ortlieb bags before on road.cc: Dan reviewed the Office Bag QL3 and Jez reviewed the Commuter Bag. Both really rated them, though Dan didn't like that the QL3 system means you cannot use other panniers on the rack, whereas Jez liked that there were no hooks on the bag. Horses for courses.
The Downtown is made from waterproof and wipe-clean PU on the front and the back (the white bits on the one on test), and non-wipe-clean but still waterproof PU-backed cordura on the sides (the black bits). This is the same stuff that a set of Ortlieb front panniers I've owned for many years is made of, and I expect it to last an equally long time.
The corners on the back are protected with a big plastic cover, and there are four plastic spacers to keep the material off the floor when it's put down. There is enough reflective detailing to be seen in the dark, too.
The bag has a comfortably padded carry handle on the top, and comes with a removable, equally well-padded shoulder strap. The closure mechanism is a set of aluminium hooks that go in (a choice of) loops sewn on to the front. This system works; it definitely keeps the top down. Opening can be a little more fiddly than the more traditional backpack style buckle, though.
The top of the bag is not a full roll-top like some of the panniers, but there is enough material there to achieve more or less the same effect: the waterproof material is doubled over front and back, while keeping it easy to get stuff in and out. No water made it in while cycling through downpours, though I don't think the inside would stay dry under full submersion, which you could get away with (for a while anyway!) if it were a full roll-top closure.
Installing the mounting frame on the rack is pretty straightforward, though there is inevitably a bit of trial and error to get the position just so. There is loads of scope for adjustment, so it should suit most racks.
Attaching the pannier is very easy once you know how to do it: let the bottom attachment point take the weight, then simply rotate the bag so the top two slots can catch the top two attachment points on the rack. Taking the bag off is equally straightforward and can easily be done with one hand.
Inside the bag, there are plenty of pockets to stash small valuables away, and a large pocket for a laptop up to 15.4in in size. I used a laptop sleeve I already had, although one made for this bag is available in various sizes.
In use, the bag sits securely on the rack, although like any pannier, if you load it up with enough weight it can become less stable. Because it's quite wide, smaller heavy items can make the bottom corners sway a bit. This was particularly noticeable on one steep, uneven country lane descent, although on this particular occasion I wasn't carrying a laptop or A4 file, either of which would help to make the bag more rigid in that plane. I wasn't unduly worried, and nothing untoward happened, but the back could be more rigid.
In summary then, Ortlieb's Downtown bag is well designed and a pleasure to use. There are a couple of small niggles: if your commute is bumpy you might want to choose a rack that provides a bit more support for the back of the bag (such as the Blackburn EX2), and the closure mechanism is a little fiddly to open. Other than these, it comes highly recommended from me.
Well-designed office commuter bag, with a couple of small niggles
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Ortlieb Downtown
Size tested: 36 x 36 x 14cm, volume: 18L
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: "The Downtown is a reliable companion on your tour through the morning or evening rushhour. The waterproof bike briefcase provides secure cargo carrying plus reliable protection of files, documents and laptops up to 15.4'. A hands-free way to carry your everyday digital and off line essentials, this waterproof bike briefcase with lid closure can be quickly mounted and taken off the rack singlehanded. It features an extra wide padded shoulder strap and additional carry handle for comfortable transport. Edge protectors and base feet on the rear and bottom ensure optimal protection of the bag. Two large 3M Scotchlite reflectors and a reflective ORTLIEB logo and handle ensure safety in the dark and in bad conditions. Downtown can be mounted on the right or left side of the rack. The bag is available in two versions: with QL2.1 or QL3.1 mounting system."
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
Waterproof briefcase (single bag) with flap closure
Large Ortlieb print logo
Material combination of PVC free PD62 and PS60 (PU)
QL3 system ensures plane rear side without protruding hooks
Single-handed mounting and removal of the bag
Mounting of fixing components on rack up to 10mm tube diameter
QL3 mounting brackets for 11-14mm available
Height and angle of bag individually adjustable
Lower mounting hook rotatable for secure fixing
Reflective Ortlieb logo on front
Can be mounted on the right or the left
Size ideal for 2 large office files or one file, laptop, calendar, cell phone, etc
Inner compartments with pockets, carrying handle
Reflectors on both sides
Optional accessories: notebook sleeves 13.3" or 15.4", QL3 mounting brackets 11-14mm
Wide, adjustable padded shoulder strap; removable
The construction is excellent, as you'd expect from Ortlieb.
It's really easy to take on and off the bike, the shoulder strap is really nicely padded and the fact that there are no hooks on the back really helps off the bike.
£110 is not cheap; Carradice's Bike Bureau is £15 cheaper. However, if you are entrusting an expensive laptop to this bag daily it's one you can rely on, and it is a REALLY nice bag.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
It worked very well. It's a decent size and sits on the rack securely, but could perhaps do with being a bit stiffer laterally to deal with bumpy descents.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
Pretty much everything; it's a joy to use.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
If I had to pick out some negatives, then the back could be a bit stiffer laterally to deal with bumpy roads, and the closure mechanism can be a little fiddly.
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
This is really a very nice bag, but a slightly high price tag and a couple of niggles knock it down slightly.
About the tester
I usually ride: All of them! My best bike is: Cannondale CAAD10
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: cyclo-cross, commuting, touring, mountain biking