8th February 2017

Why Ortlieb cycling bags are modern classics

ortlieb cycling luggageThis blog is the first in a series on tried and tested bicycle equipment that has been around for years and deserves the accolade, Modern Classic.

To earn Modern Classic status, we decided that the bike or cycling equipment must have been around for at least 10 years and to have been used, enjoyed and loved by tens of thousands of cyclists.

Having been around for more than 30 years and being frequently cited as the best bicycle luggage ever made, Ortlieb Bags thoroughly deserve their modern classic status.


It’s 1981. A young German cyclist called Hartmut Ortlieb is caught in a downpour in the middle of a cycle/camping tour in England. He is soaked. So are the contents of his pack including his sleeping bag and his change of clothes.

The rain is still beating down when a pickup truck rolls past – it’s cargo kept dry with a simple tarpaulin cover.

Hartmut is inspired. When he gets home, he borrows his mum’s sewing machine and makes himself a pair of panniers with tarpaulin material.

ortlieb bags from history

A pair of original Ortlieb waterproof panniers from times of yore.

He hangs the panniers on his bike’s rear rack using hooks purchased from the local hardware shop and shows his bags off to his cycling and rock-climbing friends. They are so impressed they persuade Hartmut to make them panniers too. Word gets round and orders start coming in from outdoor shops who also want to sell his panniers.

To satisfy this demand Hartmut recruits family and friends to found his own company, called Ortlieb. It’s 1982 and the company launch features just three products – rear panniers, front panniers and a handlebar bag.

These bags are among the most water resistant you can buy but Hartmut isn’t satisfied. A bag that’s stitched together has holes that can let in water. His next innovation is to weld the bag’s panels together using a high frequency process that doesn’t weaken the fabric.

Around the same time Hartmut introduces a simple but effectively, watertight bag closure. Roll the top of the bag three or four times and fasten it with a buckle and no water can get in – even if you drop the bag in a lake.

Combining these three key elements – waterproof fabric, welded construction and roll top closure – Ortlieb created the first waterproof bike bags.

In particular, Ortlieb’s signature Rear Roller Pannier was born. Since then, Ortlieb have sold hundreds of thousands of sets of these panniers to happy cyclists whose cargo, whether its their camping kit, their shopping or their office equipment, always arrives clean and dry – unlike Hartmut’s kit when he toured England in 1981.

 Key Innovations

Since those beginnings Ortlieb have never ceased to innovate.


The truck tarps of the first few years made way for lighter weight but equally robust cordura laminated fabrics, custom designed to Ortlieb’s specifications.

ortlieb pannier

The Ortlieb Rear Roller Classic Hi Viz with QL ‘Quick Lock’ 2.1

QL (Quick Lock) Pannier Hooks

While the original hardware shop pannier hooks were simple and effective, Hartmut wanted something better for a bag with his name on it. He came up with the Otlieb QL hook.

Simply lift the bag by its handle, slip its hooks onto the rack and they immediately self lock so the bag cannot jump off – even if you ride through the most appalling potholes. When you want to remove the bag, the simple action of lifting the pannier by its handle releases it instantly.

Generally speaking, people don’t get too excited about pannier hooks – until they have their first shot of fitting an Ortlieb pannier to a rack. Famously, one of our customers was moved to describe the QL Hooks’ action as ‘magical, like witchcraft’.

Shoulder straps

Every Ortlieb pannier comes with a clip-on strap to make it easy to shoulder the bag to ensure you keep your gear close and safe when you’re off the bike. You can tell Ortlieb bags are made in Germany – a country that prides itself for coming up with practical solutions for the everyday cyclist.


For added safety, every Ortlieb Classic pannier has a big reflective triangle on both sides (effectively the front and rear of the bag when mounted on the bike’s rack. Some of the latest models take reflectivity to another level.

Office Smart

Ortlieb also do a nice line in panniers that double as briefcases.

Bikepacking Packs

Ortlieb bikepacking bags are made for micro adventures. Being Ortlieb, you can be assured their bikepacking packs are built to the highest standards and they’ll keep your gear dry.

Just goes to show, even if you resist fitting a pannier rack or your bike won’t take one, Ortlieb remain relevant and bang up to the minute.

The Ortlieb Bikepacking Seat Pack

The Ortlieb Bikepacking Seat Pack

The last word – aren’t they expensive?

One final observation about Ortlieb. We’re the first to admit that their bags are not cheap. However, once you use an Ortlieb bag, you will never regret paying a bit more for something that performs so well and will offer years of service.

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