The Bike List

Ortlieb Downtown Bag £110

Tested by Jon Adams, tester for The Bike List

Regular commuters will know that getting your stuff to and from work can be a delicate balancing act. Some will take in a pannier full of clothes on a Monday, and then survive the rest of the week squeezing bits and bobs into jersey pockets and bottle cages, and others will travel to and fro hauling a daily load in a small backpack or barbag. What you need to carry on a each day, of course, depends on what you do at work, but if you have to lug a laptop and office files with you, then you really need a purpose-built pannier to take the load and keep it safe from rain, grime and the odd bit of rough handling. Ortlieb's Downtown is a new briefcase-style bag that offers a great solution for computer-toting office types. ort dt 1It's styled like a satchel, but is constructed from the same sturdy fabric as the company's award-winning Classic range of panniers, so it's tough and fully waterproof. To avoid heel clearance issues when it's on your rack, the ingenious QL2 system allows you to adjust the hanging angle of the bag, and the pannier hooks can be attached securely to any size tubing up to 16mm thanks to the supplied inserts that clip into place.

Fitting the Downtown is quick and easy. The 'angle of dangle' is already preset for mounting it to the left side of your rack, so provided you're happy with this, the fitting process is tool-free. All you have to do is undo the clips under the hanging hooks and put the bag on your rack, making sure the lower stay goes behind the most appropriate supporting strut of the rack. You then slide the hooks into the best positions to hold the bag in place on your rack's design, and then push the clips home to lock them in place. That's it! It takes about three minutes to do - maybe five if you need to adjust the position of the lower stay to suit your rack, and you're all set. If you want to adjust the angle of dangle or swap it to the right side of your rack, you'll need a couple more minutes and a cross head screwdriver, but the adjustment process is simple and obvious along every step of the way.

ort dt 2When it comes to removing the bag, you'll be amazed at how straightforward it is. The QL2 system features secondary hooks under the hanging hooks, and these are linked to the release handle in a sprung system. The secondary hooks go under the rack tubing, so when the release handle has no tension on it, the two hooks form a full circle around the tubing and give total security. Add tension to the release handle by pulling it, and the secondary hooks withdraw, allowing you to lift the whole thing clear. It works in one fluid motion, so removing the bag is as simple as grabbing the release handle and picking it up. It's brilliant when you arrive a little late at the office and don't want anything to hold you up.

On the features side, the bag is well equipped with compartments and dividers for an assortment of office goodies, with room for A4 size folders, pens, phone, iPod, office sundries and your lunch. A good chunk of the internal space is devoted to a laptop compartment, and it'll take one with a 15.4in screen. There's a padded notebook sleeve available as an optional accessory for £28.50, and this is a sensible buy, as there's no closed cell foam inside the Downtown to protect a computer from knocks. ort dt 4It's a shame this isn't included in the bag's asking price, as one of its main functions will be carrying a laptop, but unfortunately, you have to shell out the extra, and this takes the bag to a rather steep £138.50 in total.

Instead of the Fastex buckles used by Ortlieb on all its biking and drybag products, the Downtown uses metal clips as the closure method. These slide and hook into stitched-through webbing loops, and while it looks attractive, it's not as easy to use as the simple snap-and-tighten of a Fastex. It's a bit fiddly to engage, and even more so to remove, so despite the aesthetics, we'd sooner see function lead form, here. The supplied shoulder strap is solid and well-made, and features a generous pad. This is really comfortable, even for a fairly heavy load, and the sculpted shape fits well and stays put thanks to the non-slip coating. It's worth noting that this HAS to be removed prior to cycling (you don't want to get it caught in your drivetrain) but this is fast and easy thanks to the spring clips and the moulded attachment points that stand proud of the bag's sides.

On the capacity front, the 18 litres it offers will be just about right for city commuters. If you've got a laptop, files, office sundries, lightweight waterproofs and your lunch, then you'll be just about full, so you'll have to take another pannier or a barbag if yoort dt 5u need to carry more kit. For most who ride to work with laptops, the big choice will be whether to go for a smart commuting case like the Downtown, or general purpose waterproof panniers like the Ortlieb Back Roller Classic. The Notebook sleeve accessory will fit into these too, and you get 40 litres of carrying capacity (for a pair) for a slightly lower price of £104. The pannier option undoubtedly gives more versatility, but you don't get the same briefcase-style looks and multiple compartments.

Overall, the Downtown is a good-looking and solidly made piece of commuting kit. It's expensive - especially when you add on the £28.50 for the notebook sleeve - but the waterproofing is excellent and the build quality is second to none. If you're a city commuter who needs to turn up looking smart, then it's a logical choice that'll last you for years. If you're less worried about appearance and don't need the briefcase styling, then a pair of Ortlieb Back Rollers will give you more capacity and more versatility for less cash.

Buy from

Ortlieb says:

Besides looking good it will withstand just about anything. This portable office ensures that laptop & Co will arrive safe and dry at work. With its variable flap, Downtown offers plenty of space for files, books, tunes, lunch, and more. There is room for A4 documents and laptops up to 15.4in. The Downtown is a waterproof and practical commuter briefcase which can be fixed and removed one handed off the rack. The lower fixing hook can be rotated and is individually adjustable; this allows transport on the left (standard) or right side of the rack. It will attach to any standard bike rack of maximum diameter 16mm with the Quick-Lock2 hooks. A padded anti-slip handle ensures comfort.

Optional accessories: padded Notebook Sleeve and Quick-Lock2 antitheft device.

Waterproof briefcase with flap closure and QL2 system, adjustable without any tools
Compatible with all standard racks with diameters up to 16 mm
Thanks to the rotatable mounting the bag can be mounted on the left (standard) or the right side
For mounting on the right side: open the outer screws on the bar, remove caps on back side of the bag, rotate the bar and fix the screws, put caps onto previous no longer used holes.

Further features:
Reflectors on sides and reflective ORTLIEB logo on front
Internal 4-pocket organiser
Base feet for protection and stability
Carrying handle
Big enough for DIN A4 documents and 15.4in notebooks
Inner compartments with pockets
Adjustable, padded shoulder strap; removable
Attention: Remove the shoulder strap or put it inside the bag before cycling

Height: 36cm
Width: 36cm
Depth: 14cm
Volume: 18L
Weight: 1500g

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At a glance

Verdict Briefcase-style, waterproof commuting bag that holds A4 files and a 15in laptop, and attaches to a rack just like a pannier