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.

The Front Edge of the Storm

An unusual late spring storm rolled in during this evening’s commute. It was blowing like crazy, but it was an amazing time to be out on the bike experiencing nature.

Rivendell TourSacks

It’s been quite some time since Rivendell has offered a full-sized rear pannier. For those who have been anxiously waiting, the Sackville TourSack will be arriving soon. Riv is offering a 10% discount for pre-ordering.

More info at Rivendell

LAB Traffic Skills 101 Online

In conjunction with the City of Houston, the League of American Bicyclists has developed an online version of the classroom portion of their Traffic Skills 101 course.

LAB Traffic Skills 101 Online

Bixi Coming to D.C.

Bixi in Montreal. Flickr photo by solylunafamilia.

According to the Greater, Greater Washington blog, a Bixi-style bike sharing system is coming to the Washington D.C./Arlington area. The new system will replace the existing Clear Channel “SmartBike” system and will include 1,100 bikes and 114 stations. Memberships will run $80 per year, $30 per month, or $5 per day. All membership levels will allow unlimited use, with the first 30 minutes free, followed by a yet-to-be-determined fee after 30 minutes. The system is slated to launch fall 2010.

Greater, Greater Washington

Where’s the Beef?

The Long and Lonely Road – Bike to Work Day 2010

Today was Bike to Work Day in my area. I had high hopes of seeing large numbers of new bike commuters on the road, but it didn’t pan out. In fact, if I hadn’t known it was Bike to Work Day, I wouldn’t have noticed anything at all different about today’s commute.

Our local TV news had a reporter out this morning asking people if they would consider riding their bikes to work. In every case, the answer was no. The reasons included a long commute, the need to drop off kids, the danger of sharing the road with cars, and the desire to remain sweat-free. I suppose this shows that we still have much work to do, and that in many areas the barriers preventing the average person from bike commuting are still firmly in place.

2008’s $4 per gallon gas did significantly more to increase bicycle ridership than just about anything in recent memory. People were hit where it hurts (the pocketbook), and they responded by leaving their cars at home. I remember train cars packed to overflowing with bikes that summer. Today, with gas down under $3 per gallon, I had no trouble finding a place in the bike racks, even on Bike to Work Day.

While events like Bike to Work Day do much to raise awareness, only with widespread improvements to infrastructure, combined with financial incentives and education, are we likely to see substantial growth in bike commuting. In cities like Portland and New York where investments are being made, the results have been dramatic. In other areas…. maybe not so much.

Did you notice a significant increase in bike traffic on Bike to Work Day?

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Human-Powered Music Tour

The Ginger Ninjas are a rock group touring on Yuba Mundo cargo bikes. They’re using nothing but human-power for both transport and amplification for the entire tour. From the press release:

What does a truly sustainable music tour look like? The Ginger Ninjas rock and roll band will be on tour using Mundo Bikes made by Yuba Bicycles to travel from city to city unsupported by fossil-fuelled vehicles and playing on a stage that is totally bicycle powered. Called “Bicycle Music Festivals”, the band’s Pleasant Revolution World Tour includes stops in the US and Europe.

Ginger Ninjas
Yuba Bicycles

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