When you go to the grocery store these days in the USA, the bagger always asks you--"would you like paper or plastic??" I suggest they change that to, "would you like paper, plastic, or Ortlieb?" For that is what these ortliebs--the supposed 'triumph of German technology' are good for. Bagging groceries. The manufacturers should be introduced to such exotic technologies as zippers, velcro, and side pockets.
The first problem with Ortliebs is that they open ONLY from the top, which means if you carry stuff on top of them in back as many cyclists do (tent, sleeping bag, ensolite foam pad on the back of my bike, above) you cannot access them easily if you need to grab something in a hurry. The second problem is that since they are just one big compartment, there is no real organization to them: your stuff just slides inside, and where it has moved to by the time you have 50 miles of bumps under you is anyone's guess. Fans of classic panniers like Kirtland Tour Paks and such must scowl at such a problem. I toured with Kirtlands for years, and the several side pockets, all accessible, easily held clothing, cooking foods, repair equipment and bric-a-brac in their separate pockets. Forget it with Ortliebs--they are one big mess, akin to Santa Claus opening up his sack after he comes down the Chimney.
By the way some Ortlieb groupies have suggested I solve this latter difficulty by 'putting the stuff you need on top.' Well.. i just needed my patch kit..so that goes on top, right? Oops, i want to grab my camera for a picture..that's on top, right? Now I need my shaving kit to wash up at noon...on top, right? Shoot..it's started sprinkling..better grab my windbreaker...sure hope thats on top! Tell me...just what the @#&?!**#@! goes on the bottom? Answer: everything thats what. Everything falls to the bottom..as Mr. Murphy would say, just when you are looking for it!
A third problem is that they snap shut, not zipper. Not only is the snap awkward, again when things are loaded on top, but you can't reach around while straddling the bike at a rest stop to grab somthing...say, a candy bar or small nylon jacket or somesuch. And since you must fold down the flap and snap it tight, the bags cannot be open to the wind a bit to dry out the contents inside..what goes in wet, stays wet.
And that brings me to the biggest problem, the one which I knew would mean these panniers are lousy even before I thought I would road test them for while. They are waterproof! Now thats odd, since thats exactly the point that Ortlieb folks make as their chief selling pitch. It shows you how little those morons know about cycle touring.
Suppose, as has happened a few million times, you ride in rain and some of your clothes get wet. End of the day. Where do you put the wet clothes in your panniers so that nothing ELSE gets wet?? You guessed it--a plastic bag. Otherwise everything else gets damp and wet too. Furthermore, since the bags are waterproof, if/when the sun comes out and shines on the packs and warms them, the moisture cannot escape. You end up with baked, steamy, mildewy clothing. With Kirtland and other style zipper panniers, you can crack the double zipper open a bit and the stuff inside will dry out as you ride. Not so Ortliebs.
This had a bizarre effect at times. Here I was, riding in the Aatacama desert, many areas of which haven't seen rain in 200 years. But that doesn't mean it isn't moist at night! So my clothing would get a bit damp when i used it as a pillow in my tent while I slept. Into the ortliebs it would go in the AM...and bake all day to mildew in the middle of the hot, otherwise dry Chilean heat!
In short, ortlieb panniers aren't worth the money. They are not worth much more than the plastic bags the manufacturers claim you 'no longer need!' I use just as many plastic bags with Ortlieb as I did before--to protect my dry stuff.
Ortlieb's method of connecting to bicycle racks, while easily removed and convenient, is not that big a deal. My clip on/shock cord panniers of years past lasted for thousands of miles, so I am not impressed by some little plastic lever arm that holds the lower part of the bags to the racks. And unless the bags are slid WAY BACK on the rear rack, your heel will hit the bags with every turn of the pedals. YES, VIRGINIA!! THERE ARE PEOPLE OUT THERE LIKE US WITH BIG FEET!!! The panniers are very deep..they must be twice as deep as they need to be to hold the equipment you need for touring... so they are mega mega heavy, even if ya send more money for the slightly lighter versions.
I don't care how many German, Dutch and Austrian riders huff and puff about their Ortliebs. They are a waste of money. For substantially less you can buy panniers that are far more convenient, lighter, more neat and professional looking, just as durable, and defeat that dastardly rain and snow just as easily as these bags do. Proof that I am right is that new versions of ortlieb try (UNSUCCESSFULLY) to address these weaknesses. Gimme my plastic bags!!