Key Design Notes:
- The bag sits perpendicular to the center of the frame; moving the weight closer to the bottom bracket, rather than protruding out the back over the rear wheel.
- Allows for larger loads to be carried since there is no issue with the pack rubbing against a rider’s legs.
- Easier packing and unpacking with either side of the cavernous main ‘roll’ being easily accessible; to load the bag you just un-clip and unroll either side.
For the sake of full journalistic transparency, I have to admit upfront that I’m a bit biased when it comes to Arkel touring and bikepacking designs. With good reason, too. Every piece of gear that I’ve tested and reviewed over the past five years from this Canadian company has been well-designed, innovative and produced with a superb level of workmanship and materials. They designed their first cutting-edge pannier bags back in 1988, and were one of the first companies to embrace the emergence of the bikepacking and ultralight touring market in recent years. The only fault with their offerings, if you want to call it that, is all of this quality comes at a price. Their line of bike bags probably won’t be your first choice for any two-wheel adventures if saving a few bucks is your number one – or only – priority.
I’ve never been easy on the products that have come my way for review. Arkel has been no exception. I’ve consistently pushed the design and spec limits of their bags (like weight and capacity) to see how the gear would hold up under extreme stress. I have yet to blow out a seam or experience a hardware failure – something that can’t be said for a lot of the budget models in this category. In fact, the most damage I’ve ever been able to accomplish with their equipment is to partially wear off the printed Arkel logos. For the rare times that you might actually need it, they do offer a lifetime guarantee on their products.
Since suffering a nasty bike crash several years ago that resulted in having my spine fused, my modified single bike has become my sole means of transportation. Which means that I need dependable and durable bags to handle a wide range of activities – including mundane tasks like shopping at the supermarket. In some respects, cramming bottles, cans and other heavy, bulky items with sharp ends into overstuffed bags at the grocery store is harder on equipment than some of the conventional camping and off-road bikepacking tours I’ve taken over the years.
I’ve never been easy on the products that have come my way for review. Arkel has been no exception. I’ve consistently pushed the design and spec limits of their bags (like weight and capacity) to see how the gear would hold up under extreme stress.
The Hop Juice ‘Waterproof Test’
For bikepacking (or general touring), one of the most critical bag design features is a waterproof seal – there’s nothing worse than pulling out soggy clothing halfway through a ride or when you get to camp. The materials and workmanship have to hold up over the long-term, not just the first couple of outings. Many companies make waterproof claims with their baggage, but too often don’t deliver when it really matters.
It was after a recent trip to the market that I stumbled across, unintentionally, maybe the ultimate test of Arkel’s waterproof claims. It also shows why I’m such a fan of the brand. My purchases included, besides all the typical basics, a six pack of bottled ‘Hop Juice’ Triple IPA. Nothing seemed amiss as I rode home except, as usual, my Arkel bags were over-flowing with a massive load, way over suggested weight limits.
When I got home, I quickly found as I unloaded the bags, that the glass bottles had broken from my haphazard packing, and now I had a huge pool of very-good craft IPA going to waste at the bottom of the bag. Impressively, there wasn’t any sign of leaking from the outside. Normal wear and tear should have resulted in some small holes or fabric wear *somewhere* on the bags – especially since my use had been of a more ‘abusive’ than ‘normal’ standard. By the way, I don’t suggest repeating this test at home- not crying over spilled milk is one thing but your favorite brew is a whole other story.
Ironically, it was a few days after this ‘test’ that I got a call from friends that had just completed a major bikepacking tour which had been ruined by their leaking boutique (read: expensive) seat bags. Needless to say, they weren’t impressed with the design, or touted lightweight “waterproof” fabric that had been borrowed from the sailing industry. Having a reliable rig and packs that hold up – especially on rainy days – can make or break what constitutes a great tour.
Rollpacker 15 and 25
Building on the success of earlier ultralight configurations like the Seatpacker and Dry-Lite pannier bag series introduced last year, Arkel’s newly released Rollpacker 15 and 25 seat bags utilize an innovative, patent-pending aluminum quick release hanger that eliminates the sway (what Arkel terms ‘tail wag’) common to other bag designs. The rack is easily installed and removed from the saddle rails and seatpost with a quick release clamp and Velcro strap (last year’s smaller Seatpacker model uses a similar rack system). The bag slides easily on and off the rack for effortless packing and handling.
Either the “15” or “25” models (the numbers refer to liter capacity) has one large waterproof main compartment (with sealed liner) and a second, smaller waterproof compartment that provides a good place to stash tools or items you want easier access to during the day. There is also an access pocket in between the rear pocket and main compartment that is handy for all the small items you might want to easily grab during the day’s riding (camera, snacks, etc.). Completing the attention to small details are features like the light hoops on the rear that are great for clip-on lights as well as lashing items to the top of the pack. For gram counting, weight-weenies (if you cut the ends off your toothbrush to save weight and bulk on a tour, you’re a weight-weenie), the perceived heft of a rack could be problematic. You do pay a slight weight penalty but we found the trade-off of enhanced stability more than worth the few extra ounces.
Besides the typical Arkel-quality build and technical materials, we also like the versatility of this pack. Besides bike-packing, it would make a great option for road ‘credit card’ touring. I would have liked more detailed paper installation instructions with the pack itself but any confusion about proper fit and adjustment to the bike can be easily clarified with the Rollpacker video on their website to see how everything comes together in a very simple, ingenious package. Also available from Arkel to go along with the rear bags are the just released Rollpacker Bikepacking 15 and 25 handlebar bags, priced at $229 and $239 respectively. Similarly styled, the ultralight bags keep essentials at an arm’s reach.
Combining the Rollpacker 15 or 25 with Arkel’s superlight, waterproof Dry-Lite pannier bags, a lightweight handlebar ‘roll’, and a lightweight bike rack will give you what I consider to be the best performance. This setup is for serious ultra-light touring and bikepacking capable of handling most anything short of an around-the-world expedition. The next step of your cycling journey is carrying more than just yourself. Arkel has long helped with this level-up, and their latest set of bags do just that.
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