Technical > Luggage

Ortlieb Trunk Bag review

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Carradice makes a bunch of bags in various sizes that hang from a bicycle saddle. The company makes two bags that sit on top of a rear rack. Not many other companies make rack bags at all. Topeak used to make one that slid into a channel on a bespoke Topeak rack, and there was a period when I dreamed of one day fitting both to my bike. I never got there, in part because I had a rack already.

In the Topeak example we probably have the reason why rack bags are scarce: the platforms offered by rear racks differ, and a commercially successful bag would need to fit most of them. The challenge of designing an effective harness that can be constructed for a dollar at a factory in China has outmatched most who have thought about it and could initiate production.

The Canadian company Arkel rates an honourable mention here for its Tailrider, which I rejected partly because I adjudged it too small and partly because it was not clear that it would attach securely to the rack I have now, a Tubus Vega. My other complaint about the Arkel is that it weighs only 149g less than the 800g Ortlieb Trunk Bag that I was to settle on, which looked to have much more capacity. Spoiler: likely it doesn't.

So I purchased a Trunk Bag RC, the suffix indicating a roll-type closure. Here is Ortlieb's web page for the bag:

And here is the bag half full and mounted on my bike:

More to come/

John Saxby:
Interesting set of questions & observations, Moronic - thanks.

I've never been quite sure what problem a trunk bag was s'posed to solve.  I did have  one made by Voyageur,  which had pockets on three sides, a foil-lined main compartment (to carry a lunch?), and a zippered/expandable top pocket with laces and a drawstring atop that. Velcro strips at the four corners held in place.  Tare weight was very modest, around 300 gms as I recall.

Quite a useful-looking item, but I only ever used it once on a tour.  it was way more than I needed for a day ride, and with the bike in touring mode, it got in the way of the seat bag that holds my tools.

Issue remains, how to use the top of the rear rack?  The solution I've found for past several years is to stash my tent on top of it -- see photo below. On a rare couple of tours where we stayed in hard accommodation, the rear rack carried only the Arkel Dry-lites you see, and a mesh bag with rain gear sat on top.

Some people can stash their tent into a pannier, but the length of my tent's pole segments (18") make it better suited to the rear rack. My tent is quite light, between 37 & 47 oz depending on the trim.

A couple of questions, then -- sorry if I missed this info from your tour report:

    > What did you stuff into the Trunk Bag that couldn't go elsewhere, e.g. into panniers?
    > And, did you find the weight of bag + contents, mounted higher up on the bike, affected its handling at all?

Cheers,  John

Andre Jute:
A useful subject. There's a rack top bag in the future of a quite a few cyclists who're thinking of converting their bikes to electrical assistance. Over a certain size, battery assemblies just won't fit the front triangle (desirable for better distribution of the weight), and must be fitted on the rack top. You could use the rail the battery mounts to, which also guides the electrical connection, but a bag covering the battery makes the whole bike less of a thief-magnet.

As with my review of the Thorn Mercury, I am assembling this review of the Trunk Bag because information was scarcer than I'd have liked while I was shopping and I reached a position where I could supply some for others. My key unanswered questions were:

A. Given that Ortlieb specifies that the rack rails this bag mounts to must be parallel, will it nevertheless fit a rack with rails not parallel such as my Tubus Vega and other Tubus rear racks?

B. Is a fitted bag secure, stable, and easily removed?

C. Is the bag helpful as a hold-all for bits and pieces on day rides, or is it ridiculously oversized for that (and perhaps intended mainly for use as a grocery container)?

Before I get to the answers, it might be helpful to explain why I wanted such a bag in the first place. Sometimes I rely too much on logic, and forget that the premises of an argument are as relevant as its validity, for the real-world value of its conclusion. I reasoned that I would be leaving my Vega in place between tours and hence would have it on day rides. Given that I would be carrying that platform, surely anything I wanted to take with me would be located most securely on that very platform. In other words, why hang a bag precariously from the handlebars or the saddle when it could go on a rack.

The premise I had overlooked adressed the matter of stability. It turns out there is available a reasoned response to the rhetorical question immediately above. And that would point out that it is easier to stabilise a big bag that hangs from two hooks than to stabilise a big bag that sits on a narrow platform.

And that's likely another reason why rack bags designs are few.

Nonetheless I didn't need a big bag. Or did I? Certainly I didn't want a tiny bag either. In winter I might want it to hold a pullover and a rain jacket, and some food and a lock and some tools. I also had it in mind that I might head off cycling with a good friend from time to time with the intention of picnicking lavishly somewhere pleasant, and that a decent sized rack bag might replace the small backpack that had carried our provisions on past such occasions.

With this sort of consideration in mind I took a punt on the Trunk Bag, having ascertained in a bricks and mortar bicycle store that it might fit a Vega rack. (Yes, I purchsed the bag from that store.)

Key answers:

A. Yes. The Ortlieb Trunk Bag mounts well to a Tubus Vega. It would mount even better to a rack with parallel rails, but the ingenious mounting mechanism can handle some misalignment.

Here is the mechanism:

The active bits are the four feet with their spring-loaded cams. The two cams on each side rotate together when you draw down the relevant handle. Here is a closer look at one of the cams:

Effective operation of the cams relies on accurate adjustment of the feet, which can be slid laterally to accommodate wider or narrower racks. The cams seem principally to operate against one another across the rack; however they also catch the tube and wedge it against the base. The main issue raised by non parallel rails is the possibility of the mount sliding towards the narrower end of the rack and hence losing the cross-tension. In practice a cross member on the Vega limits movement if you set up the bag to mount adjacent to it.

B. Again, and emphatically, YES. I filled the bag to the brim with four kilos worth of essentials on my recent tour of South Gippsland, where it was tested by an incident that I described here. In short, the bike with tyres overinflated for the conditions bounced so violently and persistently on a corrugated gravel road that both front panniers were dislodged partially from their racks.

In contrast, the heavily loaded Trunk Bag showed no effect whatsoever.

And yet, the bag is easier to mount and remove than are Ortlieb's easy-off panniers. To fit the Trunk Bag, you simply align the mount with the rack on one side while tilting the bag, hold down the lever on the oher side, un-tilt the bag so that it rests on the rack, and release the lever. Done. Nothing else required, except perhaps to reassure yourself by attempting to remove it without deploying one of the levers. When you want to remove it, that's even simpler: pull down a lever, tilt the rack, and it's off.

Some careful setting up is required to achieve this security: you need to space the mounts the optimum distance apart, using an allen key to unlock the adjustment. There is a bit of trial and error involved but it's not difficult. Ortlieb recommends the allen bolts be checked frequently but I haven't bothered.

C. Again Yes. At 800g it is the same weight as a Carradice Nelson saddlebag but at 12 litres holds three litres less. A better analogue for volume might be the Carradice Pendle, which is 170g lighter and holds a litre less. The Arkel Tailrider referenced and linked in my opening post is specified at the same volume and weight as the Pendle. The Trunk Bag is arguably more streamlined than the Pendle, and simpler to mount than the Tailrider. It could carry enough for the aforementioned picnic, and has no trouble swallowing a pullover and jacket. Here it is with just a (grey) synthetic pullover and a few other bits:

And yet whether or not I have a lot in it in it, it doesn't much get in the way.

Nevertheless, the Trunk Bag has its shortcomings.

Perhaps the most salient is its hard plastic internal lower surface, which means that when you don't have much in there the hard contents will rattle. I've been known to carry soft wraps just to prevent this. I imagine the Carradice and Arkel alternatives are much quieter.

Second, on a single rail rack like the Vega, you can't use it in combination with Ortlieb panniers. That's because the clever mount dominates the rail. Traditional saddlebags don't display this incompatibility. (You can use it with panniers on a dual-rail rack such as the Tubus Logo.) Edit: No, it won't fit with Ortlieb Back Rollers even on the Logo.

And third, the Trunk Bag is neither compressible nor expandable, notwithstanding its roll-top closure. Ortlieb roll-top panniers can be rolled more or less, and how much you roll them makes a significant difference to the volume of the bag. The same is nominally true of the Trunk Bag, but whereas the panniers can be secured at any available volume the Trunk Bag's closing system is much more limited - as you may be able to see from this dodgy photo the closing flap has a very narrow range of engagement with the velcro strips that secure it:

And hence if you attempt to overstuff the bag you soon find that the velcro simply won't engage. The 12 litre capacity - nominally about the same as an Ortlieb Sport Roller pannier - therefore represents a hard limit, and you can't squeeze in that extra stubby of beer even for a short run from the pub to your campsite.

So, given its shortcomings, am I satisfied with the Trunk Bag?

Kind of. The left side of my brain still points out proudly that it uses the rack, and that it demounts in seconds, and that it must catch a little less wind than a similar sized saddlebag. However, the right side observes that a saddlebag in a similar size would have been lighter and quieter and more adaptable, and that its not using the rack would be a problem with no real world consequences.

Finally, John, to answer your questions:

> On tour, nothing went into the Trunk Bag that could not have gone into the panniers. However, the Trunk Bag is more easily dismounted than the panniers, and I had thought I might use it as a rear-mount handlebar bag, placing in it things that I might want to take into a cafe with me. In hindsight, not the smartest idea.

> The bike seemed to handle very well with 4kg in the Trunk Bag, but it may well have handled even better with the same weight carried lower in panniers.

So there - everything you always wanted to know about the Ortlieb Trunk Bag RC but were afraid to ask. I cannot imagine that any of you has an interest in learning yet more, but if I am wrong and you have a question then fire away.  ;D

A rack bag will hold a similar amount to a medium-sized pannier so, if the required baggage on a trip can be put in a rack bag then I think that's preferable to the lop-sided loading of one pannier. In addition, with a rack bag on the centreline of the bike there should be less aerodynamic drag. I've never felt that the height of the bag above ground level is an issue. It's a lot lighter than the rider, most of whom is even higher off the ground.

I've got both the Carradice Super-C and Carradura rack bags which have each clocked up significant miles. Both are held in place by straps which can accommodate a range of rack widths and are moderately easy to fit or remove. The Super-C uses more robust and rain-resistant material and, for me (31" leg length), the main drawback was squeezing the front end of the bag under the rear of the saddle. That won't be an issue for someone with longer legs. I used it on my supported LEJOG where there was usually room to spare expect for my rain jacket which, on days when it might be needed, was strapped on top with some bungee cords. It was easy to take the bag off the bike in the evenings to carry to my room. The Carradura bag is slightly wedge-shaped so fits better under the saddle and there are two options for the height. However, the maximum capacity of the main compartment is less than the Super-C bag but the Carradura bag has two mini flop-down panniers.

After doing the LEJOG I decided it was time to try some weight reduction and dispensed with the rack and rack bag and fitted the Carradice Lightweight Audax bag supported by the Carradice Bagman. This configuration appeared to have less aerodynamic drag than the rack as the bike appeared to go slightly faster and I used that baggage option on a group ride last October. Both saddlebags and rack bags have the problem of trying to find something small which has migrated to the bottom. I'm currently using a Carradice Maxi saddlepack with the intention of adding more capacity when needed using (i) a top tube bag, (ii) this small frame bag (which fits neatly at the front end of the triangle), (iii) a bag which hangs under the handlebars and (iv) a caddy in one of the bottle cages. I've yet to see how this pans out in reality but having several bags facilitates segregation of what's being carried. (This last paragraph is drifting off the main topic but can also apply if needing a bit more capacity than is offered by a rack bag).

PS: This is also relevant.


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