Modifying Ortlieb Back Roller Panniers

You can’t fix what isn’t broken…. or can you?!

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Your Ortlieb Back Roller Classic and Ortlieb Front Roller Classic panniers are already pretty minimalist. However, if you’re counting ounces to reduce your touring load, there are a few extraneous features on these panniers that you can remove to save several ounces. If you’re biking a thousand miles up and down mountains and hills, a few ounces is just one less thing to carry all that distance. Save one ounce in twenty or thirty places throughout your kit, and you’re saving pounds.

Oh, and don’t worry; you don’t need to cut or modify the Ortlieb itself. These removals are all simple and do nothing to affect performance.

For this modification, you’ll need the following:

Step 1: Remove the Internal Organizer

The internal organizer inside your Ortlieb is a nice feature for some, but I find stuff sacks do a better job of separating my items. I remove these extra organizers carefully in each of my Ortliebs.

Your Ortlieb has four layers along the top, from the outside in. The screws first enter the rail that holds the QL1 mounting system. Next, the bag fabric itself, followed by a plastic framesheet. Finally, there’s the grey internal zippered organizer, which we’re removing, before the screw is secured with a plastic nut.

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That’s a Leatherman Crunch!

Using a wrench or a pair of pliers, reach into the bag and firmly grasp one of the plastic nuts. Then, using a star-tipped allen wrench, unscrew each of the four metal screws securing the rail.

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Using a hex-tipped allen wrench on a star bolt can cause damage to the star bolt’s thread, so you’ll want to make sure you have the right tool for the job. Burning out the star indentation in the screw can make your pannier permanently un-adjustable, and that’s bad.

Step 2: Re-attach the QL1 Rail

With each of the four nuts loosed, you can slide the organizer right out in one piece. After you do, check to make sure the buckle in the center of your mounting rail hasn’t fallen out as well (trust me, it has a tendency to). Next, replace each of the four plastic nuts by hand. Make sure the screws pass through the rail, the Ortlieb fabric, and the plastic framesheet before you start screwing around.

Once you have all four nuts placed by hand, use the star-tipped allen wrench and your locking pliers to tighten down each screw.

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WARNING: DO NOT OVERTIGHTEN

That’s right. Caps lock. That’s how important it is that you do not crank down on these bolts over and over. Plastic is malleable, and if you tighten more than a quarter-turn after the nut is maxed out, you can tear out the thread inside the plastic nut. Your rail might look fine, but an overtightened nut or three can cause the entire mounting rail to tear loose while you’re riding. Don’t go overboard!

Step 3: Remove Extraneous Rubber

Your Ortliebs have four large pieces of heavy rubber for added “comfort.” Bah! Comfort is for the weak! Using scissors, carefully remove the rubber tubing from the grab-handles on each pannier. Be careful not to cut the nylon webbing handle! I place the scissor in the “valley” of the cloth handle and slowly cut along the top of the rubber tube.

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Finally, remove the rubber comfort strap from the included shoulder straps. These are easy; just slice the two connections across the back of the rubber comfort strap.

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If you’re feeling ambitious, you can just forgo using the shoulder strap altogether and buckle the two ends of the Ortlieb closure to each other across the top of the bag. I recommend keeping these on, however, since two nylon straps with buckles can be useful for strapping on an unexpected load (like extra water/food) or replacing a broken strap elsewhere. They’ve saved my butt a few times.

“Hey, Max, why don’t I remove this heavy plastic framesheet too?!”

No.

I tried it. Jim was my guinea pig. He used frameless Ortliebs on our 1,500-mile bike excursion across the Northeast, and ran into several problems. Firstly, his uneven load caused the pannier to bend and fall into the rear wheel, which the framesheet prevents handily. Jim had to tie on wooden dowels onto his rear rack with paracord to keep the bag from falling into the spokes.

Second, the uneven weight distribution on the mounting rail caused one of the four QL1 hooks to fail. We managed to strap the pannier on with plastic zip-ties, but it barely held for the last 300 miles of our tour. Leave the framesheet in; it’s worth the weight.

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Congrats! You can now add at least another snickers bar guilt-free, since you’ve eliminated a few pesky ounces with no affect on the performance of your Ortlieb panniers!

Happy Trails!

5 thoughts on “Modifying Ortlieb Back Roller Panniers

      1. Hi,
        Love the review! Just wondering exactly how many grams you actually saved by stripping your panniers down?
        Thanks,
        Tony.

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