I’ve been reviewing the Ortlieb Downtown Commuter Pannier for several months now after my prior foray with the Racktime Workit Pannier. With our parent company Campfire Cycling launching their semi-annual Ortlieb, Tubus, Racktime Sale, it seemed like a good time to share a few words about one of Ortlieb’s premier commuter panniers. A little info on the sale.
My initial reaction to this pannier, after having becoming quite fond of the Racktime Workit, was the same as with most bike commuter gear that is fully waterproof–which is a feeling that it is overkill in a dry climate like that of Flagstaff.
From this perspective I can have an extra critical eye as to the overall use and functionality of the product. I’ve asked the question: How does this bag perform despite having a feature of being waterproof which has little value to me?
So waterproofing aside, the most exciting aspect of this pannier is Ortlieb’s innovative new QL-3 mounting system. All panniers that come with the new QL-3 system come with the rack mounting kit. Additional kits are available for setting the rack up with multiple bikes.
What impressed me most about this system was how easy it made putting the bag on and off the rack. To take your bag of the rack, you literally only need to grab the handle and lift. Putting the bag back on the rack requires a little more effort.
At the same time I was reviewing this bag, I had a Lone Peak RP-350 on top of my bike rack. Because this bag hangs slightly over the edge of the rack, it made it difficult to drop the bags interfaces over the waiting receptacle nubs. I quickly adapted and came up with a technique of pulling the handle along the top of the bag. But when I was commuting without the rack-top bag, setting the bag on the rack was a true breeze.
Another nice aspect of the QL-3 system is that the bag looks and acts much more like a normal bag when off the bike. The disappearing act of the hooks allows the bag to slide against your legs as you breeze into the morning meeting and people hardly even notice that the bag was designed to pop on your bike (perhaps not the desired effect). I should mention that the QL-3 system is also compatible with Ortlieb’s Office series of Commuter Panniers.
Beyond my love affair with the new QL-3 system, the Ortlieb Downtown offered a variety of additional nice, easy-to-use, simple features. The main closure system is a confidence-inspiring machined hook that clips into three positions depending on the size of the load.
While I really like the look and feel of the system, I sometimes felt it was a little slower in opening and closing than is ideal for a commuter pannier, an appropriate compromise though for the advantages it offers over plastic buckles.
All of the features of the bag were top-notch including a nice padded handle and included shoulder strap. The layout of the bag is very appropriate for most commuter uses with a pocket facing the rack attachment side of the bags for a laptop or books, and a larger pocket for larger items. It had just the right amount of internal organizing pockets for small items, pens, business cards etc. I did feel as if the bag was a slightly smaller than would have been ideal for my use. The waterproof aspects of the bag make it a bit stiff. I’m inclined to think this stiffness somewhat limits your ability to cram and/or organize your items into the bag.
Overall, I felt that the variety of features of this bag complimented each other well, yielding a great daily use bag especially for someone who appreciates a fully-functional waterproof bike commuting pannier that slides off the bike and into the office with grace. And on a personal note, as I don’t have that much need for the waterproof functions of this bag I think I still prefer the soft bag features of the Racktime Workit. At this point, I’m imagining my ideal commuter pannier as a Workit with the QL-3 mounting system.