Saddlebags and I have something of a chequered past.
As a concept, I think they are brilliant. Attach to saddle, fill with tools and other essentials so that you don’t have to carry them in your back pocket or on your back, and just ride. Being attached to the saddle, you can hop on the bike, secure in the knowledge that your get-me-home essentials are always on hand if you need them. No more forgotten chain breakers or spare tubes.
Disappointingly, for such a great idea, the final execution tends to be lacking in my experience. I’ve lost track of the number of saddlebags which I have either lost through self-ejecting, quick-release attachment systems or of the number where the zips have failed due to being in the line of fire from mucky spray from the back wheel. When your hands are cold and wet and you need to fix a puncture quickly, it’s all too easy to end up with a zip puller in your hand, or for you to open them but be unable to close them again without fouling the zip. While I’m ranting, why can’t they make them waterproof? Are rust-free tools too much to ask for? Like I said: great in principle, a bit pants in practice.
With decades of experience when it comes to manufacturing waterproof products which are designed to meet the demands and rigours of outdoor users, irrespective of the weather and terrain, Ortlieb has created a typically Germanic (and I say that with genuine respect) reputation for both itself and its products. As manufacturers of arguably the first fully waterproof pannier bags in the world, its Micro Saddle Bag comes with the weight of my expectation resting heavily upon its shoulders.
I don’t know whether the designers at Ortlieb have experienced the same frustrations as me with saddlebags but on first acquaintance, I suspect that they may well have done. In design terms, the Micro stands apart from its competitors.
First and foremost, Ortlieb has eliminated the use of zips altogether. In place of a zip is a simple but effective roll-top affair, secured to each side of the bag via elasticated bungee cords which are fitted with pull tabs. The tabs are big enough to work even with winter gloves on.
The seams of the bag are welded, meaning that water won’t get through them, while the attachment points between the bag and the saddle have proven to be equally as capable of stopping water in. Inside the bag there is a thin sheet of flexible plastic on the inside top and sides, which acts to stiffen the bag and ensures that it retains its shape when you’re trying to fill it with stuff.
In order to attach the bag to the bike Ortlieb employs a double Philips head screw mount, which is a little bit fiddly to install but secure once tightened up. The bag then slides into a protruding mount on the underside of the saddle and can be easily released by pressing down on a moulded release lever built into the bag itself. At the base of the bag, there is a reflective hi-vis panel, a useful design feature if you find yourself riding the roads at night.
One big advantage of the quick release design, other than removing the need for Velcro strapping and zips, is that it is both dropper and suspension post compatible. Failing zips and unsticking Velcro be gone! Ortlieb gets a gold star for that little feature.
Packing and unpacking the bag is relatively easy, although the protruding bolt mounts inside the bag, have a tendency to catch on things, especially spare tubes, despite being covered. It’s a trade-off between enjoying a little extra space in the bag and a bit of faff if you are a serial saddlebag stuffer. The stiffening plastic helps things along, although the lack of ability to cinch down the bag other than by closing the roll-top closure means that if you don’t fill the bag, the contents can rattle about a bit on rough trails.
With careful packing, I’ve been able to fit in a decent sized multi-tool, a spare tube, a rear mech hanger, a small container of lube, a patch kit and a collar for a Reverb. To my mind, Ortlieb has got the sizing spot on.
But (and there is a but) all is not quite perfect in saddlebag utopia. The quick release mechanism is effective but after a couple of months of off road riding, the single point of attachment started to wear out, causing the bag to rattle. Things came to a bit of a head on a road ride when I hit a small undulation on a descent, jettisoning the bag from its mount. Given that I was overseas at the time and that my debit card was in the bag, there was a bit of frantic searching and cursing to be had as I fumbled about in the jagged undergrowth before eventually finding it.
As much as I like this bag and believe it to be one of the best on the market, I think it falls just short of the mark. If Ortlieb can figure out how to make the bag more secure, the Micro will be pretty much perfect. Until then, like David Banner, my search goes on (cue sad music and dreary 70s-style montage of a lonely biker in search of saddlebag perfection).
|Product:||Micro seat pack|
|Tested:||by CJ for three years|