Review: Arkel Metropolitan Pannier

I’ve been using an Arkel Bug convertible backpack/pannier on my daily commute for about a year now and it has become an indispensable piece of equipment for me. I’ve owned a number of other Arkel bags over the years and they’ve all been excellent as well, so when Arkel asked me to try out their new Metropolitan pannier, I jumped at the chance.

As its name implies, the “Metro” is designed primarily for city use. The design is such that it can be used as a grocery pannier, briefcase, or simply a waterproof, catch-all bag for daily car-free living in the city. The look is part tote bag, part briefcase, with a little messenger bag thrown in for good measure. I like the look; it’s a sharp bag.

The overall layout of the Metro is relatively simple, with one main compartment measuring approximately 14″x14″x9″, an external slip pocket for magazines, bus passes, etc., and a smaller front pocket with a Velcroed flap for keys, wallet, cell phone, etc.

The Metro rides higher on the bike than most touring panniers, providing good heel and curb clearance for boarding transit, hopping curbs, etc. It has a flat bottom and stiff, padded sides so it sits upright on its own — a nice feature for grocery shopping or meetings at the office.

The removable, waterproof liner is quite clever. It’s held in place with Velcro and can be removed in seconds. It’s machine washable for those inevitable spills and leaks from grocery runs and leftovers. The top of the liner extends beyond the structure of the main bag providing additional space for overstuffing with extra clothing, etc.

The Metro uses Arkel’s time-tested “Cam-Lock” attachment system. In my opinion, this is the best attachment system on the market. Attaching or removing the bag is a one-handed operation that takes just a second, yet the bag is perfectly secure on the bike no matter how overloaded. A nylon panel covers the attachments when not in use.

The Metro comes supplied with a pair of short carry handles and a shoulder strap. The carry handles are about the length of the handles on a reusable shopping bag and stow away inside the main compartment when not in use. The padded shoulder strap is removable but can be left on the bag and stowed inside the front slip pocket if so desired.

The shoulder strap brings up the one issue I had with the Metro. My commute involves a bike ride, a train ride, a bus ride, and a fair amount of walking; my Arkel Bug, which converts into a backpack, is ideal for this kind of multi-modal commute. With its single strap, I found the Metro to be less comfortable and convenient for the amount of walking and transit hopping that I do. This is only going to be a problem for someone with a long multi-modal commute, otherwise it’s a non-issue.

The Metropolitan is a nearly perfect everyday city pannier, combining the convenience of a simple grocery pannier with some of the best properties of a touring pannier including waterproofing, heavy-duty construction, and a best-of-breed attachment system. As always, Arkel uses the best materials throughout including heavy-duty Cordura nylon and waterproof #10 YYK zippers. Their bags aren’t cheap, but you definitely get what you pay for; I use their bags everyday and they are 100% reliable and an important component of my car-lite lifestyle.

Specifications
Capacity: 1400 cu. in.
Dimensions: 14″x14″x 9″
Weight: 2.45 lbs.
Color: Charcoal w/Black
Price: $169.00

Arkel

21 Responses to “Review: Arkel Metropolitan Pannier”

  • ksteinhoff says:

    Alan,
    You don’t specifically mention laptops. My laptop is 10″ x 14″ x 1″.

    Is that 14″ dimension too tight to hold my laptop? and do you feel like the Metro is a good / safe laptop carrier?

  • Alan says:

    Hi Ken,

    Since it’s close to the max, it’s hard to say if your specific laptop would fit. If it measures 14″ exactly my guess is that it would be too tight on the length but too loose on the depth. In any case, the Metro is not designed as a laptop-specific pannier; a better choice would be the Arkel “Briefcase” with it’s padded/suspended laptop pocket:

    Arkel Briefcase

    Alan

  • bongobike says:

    Looks like a pretty sweet bag, but man, I can’t pay that kind of money for a single pannier!

  • jdmitch says:

    Ken,

    My laptop is 13.5 x 10.5×1.5, and fits in my Arkel Commuter beautifully. Depending on what else you need to bring, it might be a better selection than the Briefcase.

    Note, here’s what Arkel says about laptop fit on the Commuter:
    Thickness added to the width (T + W) cannot exceed 18 in. / 45.72cm
    Thickness added to the depth (T + D) cannot exceed 13 in. / 33.02cm

    Here’s what they say about the Briefcase:
    Thickness added to the width (T + W) cannot exceed 16 3/8 in. / 41.7cm
    Thickness added to the depth (T + D) cannot exceed 13 in. / 33.02cm

    Here’s what they say about the Laptop Pouch for the BUG / UB:
    Thickness added to the width (T + W) cannot exceed 15 5/8 in. / 39.69 cm
    Thickness added to the depth (T + D) cannot exceed 12 in. / 30.48 cm

  • Alan says:

    @jdmitch

    Thanks for compiling that info for us…

    Alan

  • jdmitch says:

    No problems, Arkel’s site has a ton of information… but it’s not laid out in the most obvious way.

  • brad says:

    @bongobike: Yes, it seems like a lot of money for a single pannier, but it’ll almost certainly last you the rest of your life (and probably longer).

    I went through this dilemma a few weeks back when I needed to buy some waterproof covers for my bikes, which live outside in the summer. My local bike shop had some cheap made-in-China plastic covers for $20 each, and right next to them they had Arkel’s top-quality heavy waterproof fabric made-in-Québec ones for $80 each. I gulped and bought the Arkels and it was definitely the right decision. They look and feel like they’ll last forever, whereas the cheap ones would probably start falling apart after a year or two. In the end, I’d pay more for the cheaper ones and I certainly wouldn’t have been as happy with my purchase.

  • ksteinhoff says:

    Brad,

    I’ve looked long and hard at that cover. How small does it fold up? I’ve thought it might be good to put over my bike to keep accessories out of plain sight.

    I’ve never been disappointed with anything I bought with an Arkel label on it.

  • brad says:

    The cover comes in a ziplock-style plastic bag; I didn’t save mine so can’t remember the exact dimensions but I’d say it was about 1 foot by 1 foot and an inch thick. It’s designed to be put into your panniers so you can use it for covering your bikes (and panniers) when doing fully loaded touring. Comes in handy during rainstorms and in public campgrounds where you don’t want the panniers and other accessories to be visible. It has the added bonus of having reflective stripes across the front to help you spot your bikes at night with a flashlight — a nice and well-thought-out feature. The front and back are elasticized to fit over your tires, and there’s a Velcro cinch flap on the bottom to keep the cover attached when it’s windy. The other nice touch is that they include a snap-strap for stablizing your front tire. When you fold up the cover you can use the strap to keep it securely folded.

    I couldn’t be happier with mine. I get the sense that this is a highly evolved product that has been thoroughly tested in the field and improved with features that users or product testers suggested.

  • Michael K. says:

    Thanks for the review! We liked it so much we’ve decided to become an Arkel dealer! One of those will be strapped to my bike within a few days. :)

  • Stephen says:

    I’m a bit surprised at the accolades for the Arkel attachment system. I’d rate it B- at best. I have a Bug and love it, but usually I have to manually force the attachments to lock into place. (Forgot to do that once, and the Bug ended up in four lanes of traffic as I rounded a turn. Fortunately, I was able to retrieve it before any damage.) The Ortlieb system seems infinitely better. Just drop it on and yank it off and it works every time. (At least for me, as I used Ortlieb panniers prior to upgrading to the Bug.) It also seems that the fabric straps on the Arkel system are constantly rubbing against the hooks whenever you attach or remove the bag. Eventually, that’s going to wear through a strap. The Ortlieb system is all plastic and there is no rubbing. Only downside I can see to Ortlieb is if your rack tubing is an extra large diameter. In which case the Ortlieb wouldn’t fit.

    Checking out various forum comments on the Bug, I see I’m not the only one less than satisfied with the Arkel attachment system. Some folks have reported replacing the Bug’s factory hooks with Ortlieb hooks. I might end up trying that myself, since Ortlieb sells the hooks separately as replacement parts. Still haven’t figured out how to deal with the bottom hook, though. The Ortlieb one wouldn’t be removeable, and you’d need that for a backpack.

  • Alan says:

    Hi Stephen,

    I have to wonder if there’s something wrong with your particular bag, or if there’s some mal-fit between the attachment and your particular rack? The only reason I say so is that I’ve owned a number of Arkel bags and I’ve never had either of the problems you describe and I’ve always preferred their system over the others I’ve tried.

    I’ve also owned Ortlieb bags, and I agree, their attachment system is the other excellent system on the market. Personally, I prefer the Arkel system. For how I use bags, the Ortlieb system is a little bulky and gets in the way when I’m carrying the bag, though if I was a long distance tourist or point-to-point commuter who leaves their panniers on the bike a majority of the time, I could imagine using the Ortlieb system with no issue at all.

    Thanks for your input!

    Alan

  • Alan says:

    @Michael K

    “Thanks for the review! We liked it so much we’ve decided to become an Arkel dealer! One of those will be strapped to my bike within a few days. :)”

    That’s fantastic! You’ll love the bag, as will your customers…

    Alan

  • brad says:

    Yeah, I’ve never had any problems with my Arkel panniers (two of them, a Bug and a Utility Basket) coming loose; the cam-lock attachment is very secure. Mountain Equipment co-op uses a similar cam-lock approach on their panniers and I used a set of those for four years without any mishaps. It might depend on the thickness of your rack’s tubing, but the Arkel cam-locks are designed to handle a wide range of tubing sizes.

  • Stephen says:

    I think the Arkel attachment system is kind of hit-and-miss; it works well for some folks and less well for other. (If you google Arkel Bug you’ll find several forum posts with folks complaining about the Arkel attachment system, but for many folks it seems to work fine.) In my case, I think the problem ultimately falls back to heel clearance. My bike is an REI Big Buzz, which has a semi-compact frame. That geometry, combined with the Bug’s height, makes heel clearance a bit of a problem. To compensate, I had to adjust the rear-most hook almost two inches towards the middle of the bag. Even with the forward hook as far to the edge as possible, the distance between the hooks is a bit less than the default. (Probably about an inch-and-a-half less.) The plastic tubing that serves as the handle for the bag, however, is still the default length. The strap effectively runs from the end of the tubing handle to the hook, and in my setup the angle is quite a bit more acute than the default. I think it is this angle that makes the hook unreliable. If I grab the bag (even fully loaded), gravity alone isn’t enough to force the hooks open because the force angle is too acute. I have to manually rotate the hooks open so I can attach the bag to the bike.

    My rack itself is a standard Topeak rack, so there’s nothing special about the tubing diameter.

    I don’t have any complaints about the cam-lock system once it’s attached. It is indeed very secure. The problem is that it’s a pain to attach. (Detaching, however, works great all the time.)

    I think I could fix my problem by cutting off a slice of the tubing that serves as the handle. That would shorten the handle and open up the angle. But if I’m going to go to all that trouble, I’d just as soon replace the whole system with Ortlieb’s.

    I guess the bottom line is that I think the Arkel system is not elegantly engineered. It seems to work well for most folks so long as they don’t have to make any adjustments to the system. But anyone making adjustments is likely to throw off the mechanism so that it doesn’t work so well. Also, I’ll still contend that even for folks that are happy now may have problems in the future. The system inevitably causes the attachment strap to rub against the hooks every time you attach or remove the bag (i.e. whenever the hooks rotate). Fabric rubbing against hard plastic will eventually wear out; there’s no getting around that.

    To me, the Ortlieb system is much better designed. The lower part of the hooks rotate easily independent of the angle of the attachment strap. And there is no fabric rubbing against hard plastic or metal, so it should last much longer. Ortlieb does use a plastic attachment base (instead of the aluminum bar that Arkel uses), so it’s more plastic, and it’s a bit thicker.

    I’m glad that the Arkel systems works well for most folks. Both Arkel and Ortlieb make it much easier to use panniers on a rack.

  • Alan says:

    Hi Stephen,

    Again, thanks much for your input and detailed explanation.

    I can see where heel clearance could be a problem with the Bug, particularly on a bike with relatively short chainstays; it’s a long bag. As mentioned in the review, the Metro rides much higher on the rack and would probably provide plenty of heel clearance without having to make any adjustments to the mounting system. Of course, the Bug is unique and has features you may need, so maybe an Ortlieb retrofit might be the answer for you (though, as you mentioned, the lower mount would likely be an issue for backpacking). As with most bicycles and accessories, various bags always present trade-offs and the trick is matching the right bag to your carrying needs and fit requirements.

    Alan

  • EcoVelo » Blog Archive » Review: Arkel Metropolitan Handlebar Bag says:

    [...] Handlebar Bag (HBB) is a companion to the Metropolitan Pannier that I reviewed a few weeks ago (see here). Both are new from Arkel for 2009 and are part of their “Urban” series of bags [...]

  • Jody says:

    “With its single strap, I found the Metro to be less comfortable and convenient for the amount of walking and transit hopping that I do.”

    Hi Alan,

    Is the strap uncomfortable, or “less comfortable” than a backpack?

    My biggest complaint with my old Ortlieb office bag is that carrying it around is like carrying a big ol’ box on my hip. You really can’t do it for more than a block or two if there is any weight in the bag.

    Thanks! Jody

  • Alan says:

    Hi Jody,

    I’d say “less comfortable” for most, but it depends upon how much weight is being carried and how far you’re walking. Any messenger bag is eventually going to get uncomfortable if fully loaded and carried for a long distance – the Metro is not unique in this regard. I thought it was worth mentioning for those who do a lot of walking like I do.

    Alan

  • Junk in the Trunk « Be A Green Commuter Home says:

    [...] http://www.ecovelo.info/2009/05/09/arkel-metropolitan-pannier/ [...]

  • Eric Jenkins says:

    I just got one of these for my daily commute and light shopping. I love the mounting system, and the strap works well enough for me. I just came back from some store-to-store shopping, and can’t say enough good things about it. There’s an open pouch that is just perfect for storing my small U-lock and cable. Big enough in the bottom to hold my toolkit (very stuffed pencil case).
    I bought this after I tried:
    a) MEC (Canadian for REI) shopper basket – it didn’t have locking clips and the whole bag fell off as I was pumping through a wind-storm, and I don’t know where it went, my lunch and thermoses with it!
    b) blackburn EX-Grocery Pannier – it clipped to the rack better, but was very difficult to unclip, so much so that I broke the clip mount from the plastic bracket. I can wrap the bungee around as a kludge, but that’s not a long term solution.

 
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