Ortlieb bikepacking equipment

I’ve had mixed experiences with bikepacking luggage in the past. While the ability to carry enough sleeping kit, food and clothing for a night under the stars (or under thick cloud) brings a whole other dimension and level of scope to ‘epic’ bike rides,  sometimes the practicalities of strapping bags of stuff to a bicycle leave much to be desired.

One of the most common (and often most cost-effective) methods involved strapping a standard drybag to your handlebars. Inside you’d put your bivvy bag and if your drybag was big enough you’d be able to fit in a sleeping mat and perhaps a warm coat too. Some improvisation might be needed to stop the drybag bouncing around. You might need to be careful that you don’t snag your brake levers. If you’re really unlucky (like I was once) you might pull your brake hose out of the lever and have to ride home using your feet as a brake. You’ll definitely rub some of the paint off your frame and/or fork.

Similarly, you might use a harness-type of seatpack which allows you to bung clothing and maybe food in another bag and strap that to your seatpost. You’ll need to be careful how much you put in there and strap it up REALLY tight though; a swinging pendulum of woolly hats, spare underpants and pork pies high up on the bike adds a level of ‘interest’ to your offroad handling.

You’ll have fun though, bivvying is always fun if you’re that way inclined.


I kind of lived with all of these drawbacks and compromises until the first time I used the new Ortlieb seatpack, bar bag and accessory pack. None of the niggles I’ve mentioned above apply anymore – the Ortlieb bags are designed to be completely stable and secure in use, large enough to accommodate everything you might need, have an uncomplicated and unobtrusive attachment system. They’re also 100% waterproof, a characteristic of all Ortlieb products.


I can fit a rolled-up bivvy bag, sleeping bag and ¾ length self-inflating mat into the bar bag, along with a down jacket. Impressive. The pack isn’t small but the clever attachment  straps place the bag sort of underneath instead of in front of the bars, away from controls and lights so in this position the dimensions of the bag are hardly noticeable. Attachment takes a few seconds and there are plenty of thick pads to protect handlebars and paint. There’s a roll-top closure at each end of the bag which aids access and also makes putting a rolled-up bivvy bag bag inside a lot easier.


Stability is exceptional, even on very rocky terrain. A few kilogrammes of extra weight hanging from the handlebars is never going to be ‘invisible’ when it comes to bumpy terrain and cornering at speed, but there aren’t any surprises (such as the bag bouncing) and once your brain has adjusted to it, things are fine.


Attached to the front of the bar bag is the Accessory Pack. Large enough to fit a headtorch, a spare pair of gloves, a phone, some sandwiches and a map just where you want them, it’s also totally waterproof and it comes with an extra strap so you can use it as a bumbag if you like bumbags…


Under the saddle (and extending quite a long way backwards from the saddle) is the seatpack. This thing is massive – open it up and it looks like a feeding basking shark. You really can get a lot of stuff in there which can he handy for long multi-day expeditions or if you simply can’t leave the house without a dinner suit. Roll it up and close it and again it’s completely waterproof. Handy if it’s going to be sprayed with water from the back wheel for hours on end – it’s also big enough to provide almost complete water and mud protection for your bum/back. There are a couple of reflective patches and loops for lights as well, which is a nice touch.

There’s also an elasticated strap on the top of the bag for securing a jacket (or anything else you want to put there, really).


In spite of its capacity and potential size, the huge Velcro and webbing straps (which have locking buckles) that secure the bag to the saddle rails and seatpost do an admirable job of keeping swaying and weight shifts to a minimum. I also didn’t have to re-tension any straps at any point during a long offroad ride.

The standard of manufacture – the straps, closures, buckles and fabric – is probably the best you’re ever likely to see. You’re not going to wreck them in a hurry unless you’re exceptionally unlucky/clumsy. They come with a 5 year guarantee anyway.

Ortlieb have clearly only released these bags once they were certain that they were absolutely perfect – there’s no doubt that it’s a range of serious outdoors kit. There’s a frame pack scheduled for release next year – I expect that will be just as good.

I’m going to hammer these bags in a few local and not-so-local long-distance rides this year –  and I’ve already sold my old drybags and straps.



3 Peaks Race 2016


The last two times I’ve taken part in the 3 Peaks Race it’s been painful and in some respects a quite miserable experience but at the same time one of those races that’s so tough that it’s very addictive.

In previous years I’ve trained for it, in fact the first time I was under no illusions as to the magnitude of the challenge so trained quite hard for it. The second time I was far too distracted by cycling and was pitifully underprepared; as a result my first attempt was the time to beat.

I thought that this year I’d trained properly. I’ve run further in the first 4 months of 2016 than I’ve ever run in any year, ever. Ok, it’s only a few hundred miles and I’ve been fitting it in among all the other cycling hours I’ve had to do but it’s been ok. I’ve even managed three or four half marathons – one of them was quite hilly too! Perfect.

Or was it?


Not really. I reckon I’d put in the hours and the miles and my ‘marathon’ pace is quite quick nowadays, for me anyway. What last weekend’s race did expose however was my woeful lack of hours running in the ‘proper’ hills and my crappy descending technique (I already knew about that one to be fair).

After surprisingly starting even further back than I normally do, I got to the top of Pen Y Ghent quicker than usual. I’ve never been bad at running uphill (in fact the steeper and longer the climb the better), but my memories of intense thigh pain caused by trying to bomb back down again in previous years meant that I seemed to be subconsciously adopting a weird speed-limiting and eventually muscle-damaging disposition on the way back down. There was a lot of snow and slush near the summit and there was a weather front closing in rapidly but the first mountain passed underfoot without too much trouble at all.

Regardless, I soon made it to the bottom of the descent and across the moor – I still felt strong by the time I reached Ribblehead and the start of the second peak where Dave, Angela and Debbie all bestowed gels upon me.

I hate the term in a racing context but I reckon I SMASHED the Whernside climb (a friend who was watching the online split timing told me that I’d overtaken 80 people, in fact) and somehow found the spare breath to encourage a few other lads who seemed to be struggling. It was a near-vertical wall of snow and mud, to be fair to them. Once at the top I dibbed my transponder and enjoyed the high winds, horizontal hail, snow, ice, mud and near-darkness while I trotted along, trying to get my (by now, purple) legs working properly again, in shorts. Madness.



Things started to fall apart on the Whernside descent. It’s rough at the best of times and this time it was covered in ice, snow and wet, slippery mud- halfway down my thighs had started to get pissed off (but at least I didn’t slip and fall on my arse like a lot of other folk were doing). Reaching the foot of Whernside with lactic acid squirting out of my toenails I tried to ignore the pain until I met Deb again at the Hill Inn for another gel. “Don’t worry, you can have a chippy tea later” I thought to myself as I squirted the sickly goo down my throat and got cracking with the final climb to the summit of Ingleborough.

I like this climb normally. It’s a relief to my quads as they’re being used differently and aren’t being torn apart by my comedy descending. The trouble was, I was stuck in a fair amount of traffic now and due to the slippery, wet conditions there weren’t many safe opportunities to overtake. Where there was a chance to get past other people I did do, but mainly I settled into the procession. The descent was agony, as was the last 5 or so miles across the rock-strewn moor to the finish.


pic:Simon Fox

I crossed the line after 4 hours 15 minutes, 17 minutes slower than my previous best time in spite of training harder. Granted the conditions weren’t conducive to a record time (but that didn’t seem to slow the ‘proper’ runners down) but I know what to work on to get faster and in spite of my grumpy muttering as I approached the finish, I’m sure I’ll be lining up at the start of the 2017 race. Addicted, y’see.