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If you're looking for a classy bag for work/urban duties and you're not after a huge capacity then the Ortlieb Downtown 2 has much to recommend it. It's beautifully made, looks great and is easy to carry on and off the bike.
The Downtown bag has been in Ortlieb's range for a while but the latest version has seen some updates. For a start, it's moving away from Ortlieb's traditional PVC/PU-coated canvas; you can still get the bag in shiny black but it's available in a more stylish cordura fabric in both navy and grey.
All three are still waterproof – not to the chuck-it-in-the-river extent that a roll-top pannier is, but I've ridden through some serious weather with the Downtown 2 without any rain sneaking inside. The top folds over and the sides fold underneath to give protection against water sneaking in under the flap. It works very well, and it won't be a surprise to anyone who's owned an Ortlieb bag that it's beautifully made.
The closure has been redesigned – it's an aluminium hook with three nylon loops depending on how much the bag is carrying. You can open and close it with one hand, and it's very simple and secure. The design of the bag does limit its capacity, though: the Downtown 2 can carry more than the 20L stated capacity but there's no way of pulling the flap over the top of the bag once you've filled it past the point where the last loop will engage.
It's not designed to be a huge cargo space, and there are plenty of Ortlieb bags (and other bags) that will do that job if that's what you need. If you're packing your lunch, a laptop, a couple of folders and a spare shirt then it's more or less ideal in terms of size, with room to spare for anything you might pick up from the shop on the way home. Assuming it's not a big bag of potatoes or anything.
Our Downtown 2 attaches to the bike using Ortlieb's Quick-Lock3.1 system, but it's also available with the QL2.1 system for £20 less. The QL3.1 system requires either a rack that's specifically designed to accept it (Ortlieb's Rack Three, for example), or you need to mount a QL3.1 frame bracket to your pannier rack, which is supplied with the bag.
The QL3.1 system uses three attachment points: you locate the bottom one on the bag and then slide the top two into plates that contain a quick release mechanism. It's not necessarily as secure as hanging the bag from the pannier on hooks, but it has the advantage of being very low profile on the bag, so there are no hooks to dig into you as you're carrying the bag using the included shoulder strap.
It's a good system that's ideal for a bag like this: it's simple to get the bag on and off the bike and it makes it much slicker when you're not riding. If you're using one bike then it's no problem as the QL3.1 adapter will always be there; if you want to switch between bikes then you'll need another one. They're not expensive, though.
There's a briefcase-style handle too. And feet on the bottom mean the bag sits nicely on your office floor when it's not in use.
Inside there's plenty of organisation available. There's a notebook compartment at the back that'll easily swallow a 15in laptop; it's padded but not too padded that it takes up lots of space. On the outside of that there's an organiser with zippered pocket, a pen holder and a clip for your keys. It's designed well for the kind of things you're going to be putting into it. It's an easy bag to like on a day to day basis.
At £135 with the QL2.1 mounting system it's a similar price to a good quality courier bag like the Carradice Kelbrook and even with the more expensive QL3.1 system it's still a lot less than something a bit more boutique, like the Hill & Ellis Professor.
Obviously, there are a myriad of panniers that you could buy that will serve perfectly well for a fraction of the price, but this is a bag that looks good on and off the bike, works well and is beautifully built and likely to last a long time. As such, it's not hard to recommend if you want something a bit more office-friendly.
Great build quality and office-friendly design make this a very good city bag
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Ortlieb Downtown 2 pannier
Size tested: 20L, QL3.1
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 classic ORTLIEB Downtown Two has been given a new look that is both stylish and businesslike. In addition to its new appearance, however, this waterproof, modern bicycle briefcase also offers some impressive new functions. For instance, you now need only one hand to open and close the flap. The interior of the Downtown Two is as smartly structured as its exterior, offering a padded compartment for notebooks or tablets of up to 15.6', an organizer with two zippered pockets, a pen holder and a carabiner for your keys. The new Downtown Two comes in three timelessly appealing colors. In addition to durable canvas, this popular bicycle briefcase can now also be purchased in wear-resistant Cordura fabric in the colors black and steel blue. The Downtown2 is available with the Quick-Lock2.1 or the Quick-Lock3.1 mounting system.'
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
+ The reversible mounting bracket enables mounting on either side of your bike rack
+ Adjustable and removable shoulder strap with anti-slip shoulder padding
+ edge guard
+ Dimension notebook compartment: 27 cm x 40 cm x 3 cm / 10.6 in. x 15.7 in. x 1.2 in
COLOR steel blue
BAG TYPE single
WEIGHT 1290 g | 45.5 oz
HEIGHT 31 cm | 12 inch
WIDTH 40 cm | 15 inch
DEPTH 14 cm | 5 inch
VOLUME 20 L | 1220.5 cu inch
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
Very well: an excellent city bag.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
Great quality, easy to use on and off the bike.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
Closure limits the capacity.
How does the price compare to that of similar products in the market, including ones recently tested on road.cc?
You can spend a lot less and quite a bit more for a bag to take your stuff to work in, but it doesn't feel like bad value.
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 overall score
Very good overall; some minor issues with the closure and the ease of use on multiple bikes, but overall not much to complain about
About the tester
I usually ride: whatever I'm testing... My best bike is: Kinesis Tripster ATR, Merida Scultura, Dward Design fixed
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: road racing, time trialling, cyclo cross, commuting, touring, club rides, sportives, general fitness riding, fixed/singlespeed, mtb, Mountain Bike Bog Snorkelling, track
Dave is a founding father of road.cc, having previously worked on Cycling Plus and What Mountain Bike magazines back in the day. He also writes about e-bikes for our sister publication ebiketips. He's won three mountain bike bog snorkelling World Championships, and races at the back of the third cats.