In the last few years Bike packing has become more and more of a buzz word, Inspiring stories of self supported round the world rides and events like the Tour Divide and Silk road race are all over social media and you tube. The big bike companies have jumped onto that bandwagon and epic grainy pictures of people “suffering” are gold to certain companies marketing departments. It’s nothing new of course, it used to be called bicycle touring and people have been out camping with their bike probably since bikes were invented.
However, In reality when you look at how many cyclists there are in the world very few of them are taking all their worldly goods with them on multiple week journeys to remote parts of the globe. Most of us might ride a few miles and bivi down in some local woods just to experience the night sounds and the vista of an early morning sunrise and others, myself included, are riding from home or from a vehicle and stopping over night in a B&B or a pub that has accommodation. Credit card camping is another phrase I’ve heard it called.
Some of us just need to carry a change of clothes suitable for a walk from the hotel room to the bar or from the room to the pub for dinner. We don’t need maximum capacity to carry every necessity as we’re not in the wilderness. If we get hungry we don’t need to build a fire, there’ll be a Greggs just off route we can replenish our energy in. What we do want however is for those clothes you are going to change into and your electronic devices to stay dry if the weather or the route is soaking wet. Luckily the guys at Lyon Cycle sent me a frame and seat pack from Ortlieb that claims to do just that, after a couple of months use, this is what I found.
Ironically what I found first of all was that the Ortlieb bags repel rain very effectively. In that for the first three weeks of use the skies refused to release any moisture whatsoever. Ideal for riding but not for testing waterproof claims. Even when rain was forecast it didn’t appear!
This is the UK though and so it really wasn’t long to wait before a prolonged period of rain set in and the true test could begin.
The FRAME-PACK RC TOPTUBE
The catchily named Frame-Pack RC Top tube, (I suppose it does exactly describe what it is if RC stands for “roll closure”) is a 4ltr capacity bag that sits under your top tube. Weirdly the Ortlieb website says the “width” is 50cm but I can tell you my tape measure says the length is 51cm so I presume that’s a translation error. It’s 13cm high and 6cm wide. It’s made from a non upvc plastic with adjustable velcro staps that fit around the top tube and bright red bungy straps that hold the roll over closure securely shut. (see video below for how they work) Velcro straps also fix the bag to the down tube and seat tube of your bike. the bag is secure and doesn’t waggle about even when loaded on even the skinniest of frames. There is one main compartment with no pockets in side. 4ltrs doesn’t sound a lot but the nature of the roll top means you can get quite a lot of stuff inside. Ortlieb say 3kg is the max load. the bag itself weighs 200g
The bag is as claimed, 100% waterproof, anything you put inside will stay absolutely dry. However, if you are packing or unloading the bag in a rain storm that one big opening means it could fill with water while you are messing abut and being waterproof it’s going to stay inside the bag until you can dry it out. This also brings to the fore the fact that this one roll top opening with 3 bungy straps to undo and seal it means the bag is awkward to access while riding. These bungy straps with the plastic clips they fasten to did worry me as I thought they would catch on my shorts while riding. This didn’t happen though until i deliberately over loaded the bag, just to see if it was possible and then it only caught if I was wearing baggy shorts. with normal loads even MTB style baggy shorts were fine.
The Ortlieb frame pack RC fits the brief of light touring/B&B touring or commuting perfectly. It’ll keep all your bits and pieces perfectly dry between stops. If you need to access the bag for snacks while riding and don’t want to try undoing the whole thing or stopping then Ortlieb do a version without the roll top that has a waterproof side entry zip. or you could run a feed bag etc EDIT I’ve since practiced undoing and then re-doing the roll top while riding. it is possible and undoing is easy. doing back up and rolling is the hard part and you have to take your eyes off where you are going so not recommended.
If you want a waterproof, easy fitting, robust bag (this one has taken a few knocks and just wipes clean)that you can get a surprising amount of stuff in for local bike packing, B&B touring or keeping your suit dry for work (do people still wear suits?) then the Frame Pack RC is definitely one I’d recommend.
Ortlieb Seat Pack QR
The ortlieb waterproof seat pack is made from the same material as the frame bag and shares the same waterproof properties.
Ortlieb say this back is dropper post friendly and it is! This is because it differs from normal seat packs as it doesn’t affix around the shaft of the seat post in the normal way. In the box is a selection of clamps that bolt around the thinner telescoping part of the dropper post. The stabilising strap from the bag then Velcro’s around this. You will loose a small amount from the total drop of the post but for most gravel bikes you don’t need to drop the post a lot for a great increase in confidence. You could of course use the strap on its own around a standard seat post. The other attachment point is around the saddle rails. The bag clamp here is adjustable with 4 bolts depending on how much seat rail you have showing. If you only have one bike this will be a one time adjustment. The position of the clamp also dictates how much weight ortlieb recommend putting in the bag. The instructions on how to fit the pack are clear and easy and refreshingly they come in the box! The saddle rail clamps shut with a satisfying click and once set the camp ends can be cinched down with the attached webbing straps. It’s a very good, well thought out design.
The bag is a roll design too and means small or larger loads can be accommondated and stabilised by rolling the closure tighter. There is another strap that holds the rolled up part secure too. On one side of the pack is a little valve, similar to those on an air bed and it can be opened to let all the trapped air out when rolling the bag to get the tightest compression to aid stability and reduce size. I stuffed the bag to capacity and deliberately added most of the heavy items at the rear to try to destabilise over rough ground or when climbing out of the saddle. I can report the bag stayed just where it was and there was hardly “waggy dog” feeling.
The pack is 28x48x22cm, has a 13L capacity and weighs 625g Ortlieb say it’ll take up to 3.5kg of kit (depending on the seat rail position) there are four sets of cinch down straps, two per side and one at the rear. The pack is one big container with no internal pockets but it does have a handy bungy cord on the outside which I used a few times when rain stopped as I didn’t want to put my wet jacket on the inside.
The seat pack is a very versatile bit of kit. The quick release nature of it means you could keep all the things you want to take into the pub/work/hotel in it and be able to leave the bike in secure storage without having to ferry things back and forward. Then the next day just clip on and go. It suffers the same thing as the frame bag because it will fill with water if you find yourself in a rain storm. The reality of that though is that you’ll probably be looking for some sort of shelter before doing it so I don’t see that as any sort of drawback.
The two waterproof packs from Ortlieb are excellent and quietly get on with the job of keeping your stuff dry with minimum fuss. I’d like to see a lighter coloured interior as in the dark things tend to just disappear into the abyss but other than that i can’t really find a fault with either of them with the brief they come with.
Perfect for short bike packing trips, commuting or carrying and extra layer or two for the winter night rides to a pub. take a look at the video below for a close up view on both bags and don’t forget to subscribe to see more videos like this.