Once upon a time Ortlieb sold a waterproof shoulder bag that can be converted to rather perfect recumbent bike rear panniers with little effort and cost.
Once converted, the X-Press panniers provide a less unwieldy alternative to the Ortlieb Recumbent Bag that isn’t available in less heat prone white and silver colors.
Black panniers might look more fetching, but will heat up quickly to pretty high temperatures (like 70°C!) on a summer day.
Meet the Ortlieb X-Press
The Ortlieb X-Press came in several colors (black, red/black, yellow/black, silver/black, white/black) and three sizes (S, M, L). Size S is a perfectly fine waterproof shoulder bag, but for bike panniers you want size M or the deeper size L.
Ortlieb X-Press sizes
X-Press size S: 28cm height x 38cm width x 15cm depth (15 liter)
X-Press size M: 38cm height x 48cm width x 15cm depth (25 liter)
X-Press size L: 38cm height x 48cm width x 20cm depth (35 liter)
It might be a slight problem is to find a pair of these bags nowadays, since Ortlieb discontinued them around 2005. They come-up at Ebay from time to time and normally sell for €30 to €40 a piece. Hence it will probably be more of a project, not a quick solution for the upcoming cycling trip next week…
Yeah I know. I got a bit carried away… and had to make sure I got the bags I need before you all snatch them up on Ebay😉
To get a feel for the size of the 35 liter X-Press L. They’re pretty huge!
With the right parts, converting the X-Press to bike panniers is relatively easy. Add a mounting system and a sturdier rear plate, move the locking straps to the front and you are done. Basically, you create a bigger, 50 liter (size M) or 70 liter (size L) version of the Ortlieb Back-Roller City (40 liters) or Ortlieb Office-Bag (21 liter per bag).
The X-Press front and rear. The upper one is ready to roll, the lower one is still in original shape
Move the straps
Why move the straps with the quick release buckles to the front? Well, If you leave them on the back side they are less accessible and might dangle into the derailleur or rear disc brake. We don’t want that, do we?
Fortunately there are already holes in the front plate. You just have to pierce the fabric to simply change the straps from the rear to the front. Use the four Ortlieb screws and plastic nuts from the shoulder strap buckle to close the four holes at the rear.
New rear plate
While the 1.5mm thick Nylon plates inside are perfectly fine to give the X-Press shape and protect the stuff inside, the rear plate is too flexible for use as panniers. Either you add a piece of corrugated plastic like Coroplast (from an old election sign) or cut a new one from stiffer material (plywood or plastic).
Use the original rear plate as a template for the new one, drill the ‘old’ holes as well and fix it inside the bag before you drill the holes for the mounting system.
What parts needed for the mounting system?
First you need a mounting system to fix the panniers to your rack. Luckily, Ortlieb invented a rather practical and sturdy mounting system with the Ortlieb Quick Lock-1 and sells the parts seperately. The parts will cost about €20 per panniers.
The QL-1 rail (long)
The long QL-1 rail comes in two versions: with four mounting holes or with five mounting holes and a buckle for a strap. I prefer the five-hole version, since the center hole makes it easier to mount the rail to the bag.
The QL-1 hooks
The sturdy QL-1 hooks get mounted into the rail. When the panniers are mounted to your rack you just grab the carrying strap to release the hooks.
The anchoring hook with rail
The 10mm anchoring hook with lower rail to fix the panniers at the bottom to the rack
Screws, washers and lock nuts
While the screws and plastic nuts Ortlieb provides with the rails are fine, they might be too short after you added a sturdier back plate to the bags. I used metric 4mm ‘M4’ screws and lock nuts to attach the Ortlieb rails to the bags. Put the lock nuts on the outside. They fit well inside the mounting holes of the QL-1 rails.
A 4mm wood drill worked perfectly to drill the holes into the bags. Best to mark the hole positions with a sharpie first.