As we’ve cycled over 10,000km in the last two years, there is one simple rule we have for all our gear: durability. We can’t afford to waste time, money, and energy replacing or repairing our gear. Not to mention finding suitable parts or gear on the road in the developing world can be a slow and expensive process. The quintessential hot topic up for endless debate among cycle tourists is which panniers to use. It’s typically the first subject that arises when talking gear and shop with other cyclists. With that being said, I’ve had a chance to rock the Arkel Orca 45 panniers while cycling South America over the last year. Here is our take on the good, the bad, and the ugly of these bags (spoiler alert: we kind of love them).
Waterproof and Bombproof
These bags are designed to take a beating, whether in the rain, wind, mud, or even the random tree branch stabbing the bag in a futile attempt to yard sale all your previous belongs. We’ve seen it all and these bags are as rugged as they come. We’ve hit tropical rain storms in the Amazon of Ecuador and our gear has stayed completely dry. Even the mud from Colombian landslide were no match for the Orcas. The roll top with side snaps closing mechanism completely covers the opening ensuring water does not get inside. Cleaning is also simple, since the fabric provides fully waterproof protection, you can hose the bag down and give it a quick soapy wash.
Arkel’s Cam-Lock system is what separates Arkel apart from other bags. We’ve crashed numerous times and our bags always hang on to the racks. The system is designed to stay on your bike and can be adjusted to fit your rig and rack. Again, durability is our number one priority when using gear, and these bags don’t disappoint. We’ve have met countless other cyclists who have had mounting hardware fail from other brands (specifically a very popular German brand of cycling panniers). They’re always waiting for a package in a random city so they can install new mounts and typically buy extras, as they know a future fix will be in order. Not us, we’ve had zero failures with the mounting hardware in all our Arkel bags.
Storage and Volume
These bags are huge and come in different sizes by liter volume: 25, 35, and 45. The 45s are ideal for using in the rear position and storing your sleeping bag, tent, stove, clothes, or anything bulky. Similarly, the 25 and 35s are perfect for riding upfront. I absolutely love the storage pocket in the inside of the bag. It’s perfect for keeping important documents, money, or anything you need to easily access. As a bonus, there is a small pocket on the outside that we’ve used to store a few extra parts in the bags for quick access.
The side straps for snapping the bag closed are a brilliant feature. This enables more gear to be stuffed into the bag and ensures the bags don’t unroll themselves while riding. I also appreciate the tabs for mounting a bike light and the reflective materials. It’s simple, but completely functional when night hits. The D-rings for adding a shoulder strap are clutch for us as we can then use the bags are our carry-on when flying or during a bus ride. If we strap the two bags together with a single shoulder, it appears to be one bag, thus one less expense when flying.
Like all Arkel bags, they come with a price at $210. At the same time, we haven’t had the hardware failures that other cyclists we meet have, so while you can certainly find other bags that cost less, you ultimately get what you pay for.
The 45s are just over 2.2kg / 4.56lbs. For some riders, this may be an issue. For us, however, when we’re towing a dog, a few extra pounds for durability is a worthwhile sacrifice. If you’re a weight junky, check out the Dry Lites, which I used throughout our trip in Europe in 2015, which weigh in under a 540g / 1.2lbs.
The bags only come in a dark gray or red. I like the gray as they hide all dirt, but aren’t very visible during the day. The red option offers more visibility but makes you feel like an ambulance riding down the road. Some green, blue, or purple choices could offer the color coordinating types more options.
No Tent Pocket
Unlike the Arkel 54 Touring Panniers there is no specific pocket for your tent with the Orcas. You can stuff most of your tent into the Orcas, but the poles will need to find a new place.
If you’re hauling a lot of gear and want more space and/or a tent bag option, check out our review of the Arkel GT 54 Touring Panniers.
What I’d like to see in the Arkel Orca Panniers:
- Extra straps on the outside would come in handy when wanting to quickly strap a piece of gear down for future use, like a pair of sandals or rain jacket. At a minimum, a couple of D-rings on the bottom and top would be useful for using bungee cords.
- Outside webbed mesh pocket. The ability to stuff some gloves or a water bottle would be a fantastic feature. Easy accessibility is always a bonus when on tour.
I wouldn’t use a different bag. I absolutely love these panniers and plan on switching out my front panniers for a pair of 25 or 35s. The mounts are the best in the industry and the waterproof material is guaranteed to keep your gear dry. I’ve left these bags on Gordon (my bike) overnight during a thunderstorm and everything stayed 100% dry. The cost can be a bit more than other similar roll style waterproof bags, but the quality in the mounting system and lack of mechanical failures gives me confidence in their durability. Simple is name of the game in touring panniers, and that’s what you get in the Arkel Orca Panniers.
Do you use Arkel Orca Waterproof Bike Panniers or other similar panniers? If so, let us know!
Arkel generously outfitted our bikes with panniers at a significant discount. As always, all opinions are our own and if we didn’t think they rocked, we wouldn’t tell you about them.