Ortlieb Downtown Bicycle Briefcase

Among serious tourists, Ortlieb and Arkel have what are probably the most spotless reputations for producing highly functional and durable bags and panniers that can withstand the rigors of day-in and day-out use on the road. The needs of commuters may differ somewhat from those of tourists, but they subject their equipment to nearly as much abuse. Fortunately, both Ortlieb and Arkel are now producing a number of beautiful bags specifically designed for the city cyclist. Having these top touring outfitters developing products for the commuter market is a real boon to consumers.

I’ve been an Arkel user for many years, but somehow I’ve never had the opportunity to own an Ortlieb bag. Somewhere along the way I got started with Arkel, and I loved their bags so much that I just stuck with them. So when Ortlieb contacted me to take a look at their new “Downtown” bike briefcase, I jumped at the chance.

In contrast to Arkel bags that are known for having individual pockets for just about everything, most Ortlieb bags are fairly simply. These two design philosophies are a reflection of two different approaches to packing: one school prefers a specialized pocket for every item, while the other prefers one or two large compartments in which to place smaller bags or loose items. The former makes it easier to find things, the latter provides more flexibility; neither is right or wrong.

In their Downtown briefcase, Ortlieb took a move out of Arkel’s playbook and loaded it with pockets and details. I think this is totally appropriate for a briefcase/city bag where a person is likely to be carrying a computer, iPod, various phones and chargers, lunch, papers and reports, and so on. Details include a 4 pocket organizer (2 zippered pockets, 2 internal pockets); pen holder; snap hook for keys; and suspended laptop pouch. I found the number of pockets just about perfect for a briefcase. The internal pockets are a good size for chargers and small electronic devices. The larger zippered pocket will easily hold multiple magazines or reports. The laptop pocket will accept up to a 15.4″ notebook (my 13″ MacBook Pro in an InCase neoprene sleeve fits perfectly) and suspends the computer nicely above the bottom of the bag. The main compartment has plenty of room for an extra shirt or a small lunch container. The pen holder and key hook are nice touches.

As with all of their bags, the Downtown is constructed with heavy-duty waterproof materials. Ortlieb applies their waterproof coatings to the inside of pockets to prevent breakdown due to abrasion. The external materials are high-frequency welded for waterproofness and long-term durability. Unlike some of their touring panniers that are waterproof even when submersed, the Downtown is rated at what Ortlieb calls call IP53 for dust and water spray resistance (click here for more on their rating system).

The front buckles are clever. They’re made from a single piece of stainless steel and they slip into one of three slots depending upon the size of your load. Feet and corner guards on the underside of the bag protect it from abrasion and snags. The shoulder strap is well-padded and quite comfortable, even with a laptop in the bag. The top handle is heavy-duty and generously padded as well. The overall quality is exceptionally good, probably the best I’ve seen.

This is the first time I’ve used the Ortlieb QL2 mounting system for an extended period. Having been an Arkel guy for many years, I was skeptical that anyone could outdo their mounting system. I have to say, after using it for a few weeks, I’m totally sold on the Ortlieb system; I wouldn’t say it’s better than Arkel’s, but it’s certainly on par.

The QL2 upper clamps are released by lifting a secondary pannier handle. It’s a clever mechanism that’s quick and easy to use, while also being 100% secure. For the lower connection, the QL2 uses a hook on a sliding rail that can be easily adjusted without tools for quickly moving from one bike to another. It took a while to understand where best to place the hook, but once I adapted to the new system, I was sold.

As you can see in the photos above, the Downtown is designed to ride at an angle to provide heel clearance even on bicycles with short-ish chainstays. It comes set-up from the factory to ride on the left side of the bike, but the bracket can be reversed for right side mounting if preferred.

If you’re interested in a office-friendly briefcase for commuting through all types of weather, the Ortlieb Downtown is your bag. It’s stylish, functional, and the quality is beyond compare. Highly recommended.

Height: 14.2″
Width: 18.1″
Depth: 7.1″
Volume: 732 cu. in.
Weight: 53 oz.
Available Colors: Black, White, Green, Burgandy
MSRP: $140
Made in Germany

Ortlieb International
Ortlieb USA

Disclosure: Ortlieb supplied the bag for this review. You can view our review policy here.

As an aside, I wanted to mention Ortlieb’s involvement in the German “Biking to Work 2010″ festivities. Like our Bike Month festivities here in the U.S., the German Biking to Work program encourages people to use their bicycles for transportation to-and-from work. Ortlieb is producing several hundred special edition Downtown bags printed with the Biking to Work logo to be given away at various events throughout the summer. The special edition bags will also be available in limited supplies through dealers. More information is available at the Biking to Work website.

21 Responses to “Ortlieb Downtown Bicycle Briefcase”

  • Joel van Allen says:

    A great looking pannier, both on and off the bike! I have an Arkel laptop briefcase pannier and their utility basket, both of which have proved to be the best panniers I’ve owned. I’ve been impressed with Ortlieb design aesthetics, but have never owned any of their products until recently when I purchased their “Bike Box” hardshell trunk, which looks sleek and fantastic on my commuter, but is a bit wider than the rack itself. Looking at the angle of Ortlieb’s bike briefcase, I wonder if it might interfere with the simultaneous use of a bike trunk?

    Still, a great looking pannier with a clever design.

  • Bill says:

    This looks like a great commuter bag – thanks for the in-depth review. For day to day use and touring I ended up purchasing a pair of large Ortlieb classics for the rear and medium/small Arkel T-82s for the front (or rear when needed). To me this makes a great combination for touring as the one big waterproof pocket on the Ortliebs lends itself to carrying certain gear and the many pockets and non-waterproof (without rain cover) design of the Arkel lends itself to other gear. For daily use I can choose between big waterproof pockets or smaller panniers with many pockets depending on need. And I agree that both mounting systems are excellent.

  • Dweendaddy says:

    Two things:
    How was carrying it off the bike? Did the model have her faced turned because she was grimacing from the hardware digging onto her hips?
    I have been looking at the Careadice Bike Bureau and hope they send one for your review! Nobody local carries one for me to look at!

  • Bucket says:

    There is a wide color selection available for this bag as well. I bought mine in aubergine a few weeks ago. (That’s eggplant!) I decided to pick one up because I had a hard time getting my laptop in and out of my Ortlieb Shopper bag. It has become my primary bag. Very happy with this purchase.

    I was able to take a look at one at an REI, but they don’t carry all the colors so I ordered online.

  • Scott says:

    Yes, I am wondering this, too. I’ve not tried any of these commuter panniers, and wonder the same thing. The Carradice bike bureau has a flap that drops down to cover the hardware, but that flap supposedly doubles as a wet jacket pocket. So, when that pocket is filled will it still cover the hardware?

  • Alan says:

    Carrying the Downtown a short distance is not an issue. For longer distances you can just flip the bag over so the hardware is away from your body. If you walk 8-10 blocks a day like I do, perhaps a backpack like the Arkel Bug would be a better choice, particularly if you’re carrying a laptop.


  • David says:

    I’ve used a pair of Orleib classics for my commute for over 10 years and several thousand miles now. They’re still going strong and I love the fact that they’re totally waterproof. One of the best bike-related purchases I’ve ever made.

  • Brian C says:

    I have been using Ortliebs (and arkel bags) for the last decade. I love how easy it is to get them on and off the bike, and adjust to my small fleet of bikes and trike. The only downside I have encountered now have been on trips on very rough conditions – once when doing the Kettle Valley Railway, the last time after 3 weeks of cycling in Cuba. Over time the QL-2 screw on the side has worked it’s way loose, and I have had to replace this item (to be honest, my fault in Cuba, since I never checked them, even though we had been riding for weeks on their rough roads).

    I love how waterproof they are, how easy they are to put on and remove from bike racks. Just do check the screws once in a while…

  • Jeff says:

    As a follow up comment to the concern about the mounting system being uncomfortable; For extended use as a shoulder bag, the top hooks can be quickly removed by releasing the adjusting tabs and sliding the hooks toward the middle of the rail. They can be stored neatly inside the bag until it’s time to ride again.

  • Alan says:

    That’s a great tip, Jeff. Thanks!


  • RI SWamp Yankee says:

    For those of us packing in our work clothes, could you comment on whether it will fit a medium Eagle Creek Pack-It folder? Or even a small one? (The Pack-it is the only way I’ve found to get my clothes in unwrinkled – I’m a big dude, tho, so there are some creases from using the small sized folder. I’d like to be able to use the medium or large model.)

    Also, if you could swing it, a review of the Jandd Commuter, Carradice Bike Bureau and North St. Woodward would be nice… I’m looking for something a little more off-bike friendly than my Detours Uptown, and the LBS doesn’t carry these.

  • Scott says:

    I went to a store today that had these and I have to say it was way bigger than I expected. I currently use a Keen messenger bag. This bag could fit my entire bag, plus my insulated lunch pouch. It’s HUGE. I didn’t buy it because I’m not sure if I want something that large. And I would definitely turn it around to have the hardware face out. Since the shoulder straps would then be on the outside, it makes the bag pivot toward you, so that the top, angled part is against you. It felt fine, but it’s not as nice for everyone else to see, if you’re concerned with that. The laptop compartment swallowed up my 15″ laptop. I might have to buy a laptop pouch for this thing, as well, since it didn’t seem that protected. It was barely suspended and could easily touch the bottom. But I think I might order some of the Arkel bags, and this bag from REI so I can compare them side by side and return the ones I don’t think will work.

  • Phil says:

    Anyone have any experience with the downtown bag and packing clothes? RI SWamp Yankee asked but no one has responded yet. I’m curious and would like to order…

  • Alan says:

    Sorry Phil, but I don’t have any experience with the Eagle Creek product Swamp Yankee asked about. There’s plenty of room for the shirt, underwear, and hand towel I normally carry, but depending upon the type of clothes (coat? layers?) it may be a tight fit if you’re carrying a laptop, lunch, papers, etc. Certainly if the bag is otherwise empty, carrying a change of clothes is no problem.


  • Richard says:

    Thanks for the detailed review.
    But do the specs leave anyone other than me a bit befuddled?

    Height: 14.2″
    Width: 18.1″
    Depth: 7.1″
    Volume: 732 cu. in.

    Even allowing for the bags upper taper, I’d expect the volume to measure *somewhat* close to H x W x D, but 732 cu. in is less than half that nominal measurement. Hmmmm.

  • Phil says:

    Excellent point Richard!

    I’ve actually been considering this bag but its quite a bit smaller then the large courier bag I currently use – that is, based on the specs. It never crossed my mind that the math was off. But your definitely right – something is wrong with these specs…

  • kanishka says:

    1098.4 cu in
    18 L
    according to ortlieb.de

    if i ever have any money saved up again, i’ll either by the office bag large or this. office bag large might be less conspicuous off the bike

  • kaniska new england says:

    vaude has a few panniers i would consider competitive with this one. the impressive thing about vaude is they have a mechanism for hiding the hardware (as someone mentioned about carradice above). but vaude and arkel both subscribe to the seperate rain cover, instead of the ortlieb waterproof approach. which means you will look like an idiot carrying aroudn a bag with a rain cover wrapped around it, amongst other pedestrians

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