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 lighter, bigger and maybe a bit less unwieldy alternative to the Ortlieb Recumbent Bag (3.1kg) 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/158°F!) 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 fine waterproof shoulder bag, but for recumbent bike panniers you rather want the 25 liter size M or the 35 liter size L.(*)
Ortlieb X-Press sizes (closed)
X-Press size S: 30cm height x 38cm width x 15cm depth (15 liter) 0.9kg
X-Press size M: 33cm height x 45cm width x 17cm depth (25 liter) 1.1kg
X-Press size L: 38cm height x 48cm width x 20cm depth (35 liter) 1.2kg
It might be a slight problem is to find a matching pair of these bags nowadays, since Ortlieb discontinued the X-Press around 2005. To complicate things further, they also come in versions with double-sided PVC coated black fabric (PD620, same as the white/colored part) and versions with a one-sided PVC coated black Cordura part with higher tear and abrasion resistance (PD620C).
They come-up at Ebay from time to time and sell for €20 to €40 a piece in ‘as new’ condition.(**) Hence it will probably be more of a project, not a quick solution for the upcoming cycling trip next week….(***)
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’re 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).
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?
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 separately. The parts will cost about €20 per panniers.
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 hook size is 16mm, but they come with 8mm and 11mm inserts.
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.
Mounting the X-Press to the ICE Sprint
Since I didn’t install a rack, the X-Press are mounted to a pair of 16mm stainless steel tubes, bolted directly to the trikes rear frame.
The lower mounting points for the anchor hook are a pair of Cycle Analyst brackets.
(*) Actually, a pair of XPress size S panniers are pretty good for day trips or commuting.
I also use one with a Tenba messenger bag photo insert (perfect fit!) as my waterproof camera bag.
(**) The XPress size S and L in red and yellow are offered more frequently and at lower prices (€15-25 in good condition).
(***) It took a couple of month to find a white XPress size L in the right fabric version to match mine (hence I got two white size L pannier sets now) and about a year to find a second, white XPress in size M. On the other hand, I got two X-Press size S in silver, on the same day, from the same Ebay seller. Finding a second X-Press size L in silver will probably take some time, since they seem relatively rare.
Update January 2019:
It took nearly two years to find a second X-Press size L in silver.
I’ve noticed, that used XPress in good condition are frequently offered at around €50 now.