There's no questioning Chrome Industries' Urban Ex Pannier's construction and performance. It's completely waterproof, built to last, and comes with a lifetime warranty. But even with all that, at £140 per bag, it's still extraordinarily expensive.
Chrome is known for including a fair amount of functionality to its products, so it's quite a surprise to find the Urban Ex Pannier is actually quite a simple bit of kit by its standards. That's not to say it's boring or lacking, though.
Despite being 'just' a rolltop pannier, it features daisy-chain loops on the front for carrying a D-lock (or anything else that'll fit), carrying handles on top and both sides, an unclippable shoulder strap, and inside you'll find a really well-padded laptop sleeve – which will accept up to a 13in MacBook Pro – and a small mesh zipped pocket.
However, the areas where Chrome has really placed its focus for this bag – and the entire Urban Ex range of kit – is with ultimate basic performance.
The first ingredient for any pannier is an effective attachment system and the Urban Ex comes with the excellent three-point KLICKfix setup. This requires a little bit of initial installation, mucking about with a screwdriver and possibly the included shims for 6mm rack tubes. But once it's perfect for your particular bike, it should never cause you any trouble again.
The second vital factor is the construction and performance of the bag itself. Chrome prides itself on the Urban Ex range being nigh-on indestructible and utterly waterproof with its fully-welded 16-litre main compartment. That pride is well placed, with absolutely no water ingress to report, even when placed under the shower at full pressure. This is one resolutely waterproof bag.
Which takes me on to the general build and construction, because this is a beautifully made pannier. Chrome says it's 'the toughest city commuter dry bag on the streets', and hands-on use doesn't suggest anything otherwise. The thick nylon upper, durable synthetic rubber lower, and those beefy welded seams are as reassuringly robust as you're likely to find – I'd be surprised if you ever need to make use of the lifetime guarantee.
Which is as it should be, because £140 is not small change and puts the Urban Ex at the very highest end of pannier bag pricing. It's not superlight, either, but then you are mainly going to be carrying this on a rear rack, so weight isn't as big an issue as in the case of, say, a rucksack.
Price aside, my main personal criticism is actually something I'd never thought I'd say for a Chrome product: it's missing a feature or two, not least a simple external pocket. It's always nice to be able to quickly access keys, work pass card, multi-tool or – for the Urban Ex especially – it would be a convenient place to stash the shoulder strap when not in use.
The same is equally true for my other criticism – there's a noticeable lack of reflectivity. You could use the front loops to attach a light and there are relatively reserved reflective highlights on the roll-top retaining straps, but I'd like to see a more substantial nod to built-in visibility for urban riding.
Really good durable panniers generally don't come cheap. However, they're still cheaper than the Chrome. For example, the hugely well-respected Vaude Aqua Back pannier offers very similar performance as the Urban Ex and costs £120, but that's for a 48-litre pair of panniers. At £140, it's £10 more than a pair of legendary Ortlieb Back Roller Classics.
Of single panniers, the Altura Sonic 25 is another great weatherproof option that costs £59.99 per bag. And even what we called the 'very expensive' Brooks Land's End Rear Pannier is a full £30 cheaper at £110.
In this context, it's hard to argue that the £140-for-one Chrome Urban Ex pannier is anything other than extraordinarily dear. Whether you think the cost is a fair trade-off for the superb construction is personal opinion – personally, I think it's a great bag, but I'm not sure in such company even that quite justifies the price.
And that, ultimately, is what brings the Urban Ex down. There's absolutely no question about Chrome's commitment to detail and excellent construction, although a few more commuting-specific considerations would have been nice. But when a product is £30 more than an equivalent Rapha item, and you could get two Ortlieb or Vaude bags for the same price, you know it's way too expensive.
Superbly constructed urban pannier that won't let you down, but will cost you an arm and a leg
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Chrome Industries Urban Ex Pannier
Size tested: 16 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?
This is a super-sturdy pannier designed for commuting and urban use.
Chrome says: "A bag built for the city. Our classic, waterproof rolltop daypack, done with three engineered pannier-style clips to sit tight on a front or rear rack. Featuring a watertight, fully-welded main compartment and exterior daisychain attachment loops, the Urban Ex Pannier is built to stand up to the harshest environments and keep your gear dry and safe."
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
100% welded waterproofing
Padded laptop sleeve fits 13in MacBook Pro
External attachment loops for D-lock and storage
Durable synthetic rubber bottom panel
Hand and shoulder straps
Mounting hardware is compatible with most racks with 6-12mm tubing
KLICKfix three-point attachment system with four-position twist hooks
Volume: 16-21 litres
Dimensions: 23.25in x 12in x 6in
Fantastic build quality and superbly well made.
Attaches to the bike solidly and securely. Excellent waterproofing.
Looks built to last and last and comes with a lifetime warranty if there are any issues (other than reasonable wear and tear or abuse).
Despite the Urban Ex's simple design it's still not particularly light.
The hugely well-respected Vaude Aqua Back pannier costs £120, but that's for a 48L pair of panniers. At £140, it's £10 more than a pair of legendary Ortlieb Back Roller Classics. Of single panniers, the Altura Sonic 25 is another great weatherproof option that costs £59.99 per bag. And even what we called the 'very expensive' Brooks Land's End Rear Pannier is a full £30 cheaper at £110.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
Superbly – it's fully waterproof, tough, easy to carry off the bike and attaches to the rear rack securely.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
Overall construction is impressive, but I think the shoulder strap and carry handles are a nice touch for a commuting-specific product. The front accessory loops, too...
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
...but it could really do with at least one easily accessible external pocket for small essentials such as keys or work ID card, and a bit more reflectivity wouldn't go amiss.
How does the price compare to that of similar products in the market, including ones recently tested on road.cc?
Very poorly. Vaude Aqua Back panniers are £120 for a pair; legendary Ortlieb Back Roller Classics £130 a pair; the Altura Sonic 25 is £59.99 per bag; and even what we called the 'very expensive' Brooks Land's End Rear Pannier is a full £30 cheaper at £110.
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes
Would you consider buying the product? Tempted
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Probably, but I'd have to say there are cheaper options, too.
Use this box to explain your overall score
This has been a very tricky product to give an overall score to because, in isolation, it's a fantastic product that does what it sets out to do very well and has an excellent build quality. But it does miss out on a couple of useful extras and it's just way, way too expensive.
About the tester
I usually ride: Islabikes Beinn 29 My best bike is: 25-year-old Dawes Galaxy
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, touring, sportives, general fitness riding, mtb, Leisure