Obtaining these Vaude Roadmaster Rear Panniers coincided with an odd turn of events in my life, which must be duly noted before I can continue with this review.
I’ve had a trusty Xtracycle for an undisclosed number of years. It was a college graduation gift from my brother and the family “truck.” This Xtracycle happened to be mounted to my very first mountain bike — a very well-used Bridgestone MB5.
The “vintage” Bridgestone had recently begun to deconstruct itself and had morphed into a one-braked, one-speeded, free-wheel-sticking monster of a machine that no one ever bothered to fix.
Meanwhile, the Xtracycle bags were finally starting to succumb to the mighty meatball of a Tucson desert sun. But that setup was trusty enough, and my husband and I used it everyday, even though it was nothing short of a death trap to anyone not well-versed in its “intricacies.”
And then it got stolen.
On the campus of the very university from whence I had graduated in order to receive it as a gift, no less!
The loss of the Xtracycle resulted in a bike commuting conundrum in my family. How do we carry all of our stuff? Hmmm… head scratches all around. My husband and I both commute to the same campus everyday, and the Xtracycle provided ample space for second breakfast, lunch, dinner, extra clothing, yoga mats, backpacks, and all the other crap we both manage to haul around on a daily basis.
In the midst of our head scratching and Craigslist scouring for the stolen family truck, I glanced over at the Vaude Roadmaster Rear Panniers waiting to be reviewed.
Now, these panniers are not what might normally be considered commuter bike panniers, and I had intended to do the review with them from the perspective of standard rear panniers designed more for bike touring, but I figured I could give them a whirl as commuter panniers all the same.
A replacement commuter bike was duly assembled with a Tubus Vega Rear Rack on which to mount the panniers.
Of course, the first thing that came to mind was size. I mean, did they really have space enough for second breakfast? However, the Roadmasters come as a set of two panniers, and their combined capacity is 3050 cubic inches. That doesn’t quiet compare to the previous commuting capacity I was working with, but in all honesty, it was a rare day that the Xtracycle was ever full or even close to it.
Sure enough, with both Roadmasters combined, there was space enough in one for food and extra clothing and for books, a laptop, and similar items in the other.
In terms of space, the only challenging item yet has been a yoga mat, which does require a bit more creativity to carry with the Roadmasters. Nonetheless, the flip lid of the Roadmasters is ideal for unruly items that don’t fit inside the actual bags. It is possible to slide a yoga mat under the flip lid of the Roadmasters and buckle down the straps for commuting, but I don’t recommend this on a regular basis, since the mat is a bit cumbersome and sticks out pretty far.
Since space didn’t really end up being an issue when both panniers were in use, the next item of concern became, well, fashion. I had no fashion qualms about tossing a nice bike backpack into the Xtracycle and carrying that around campus. But switching to panniers meant no more fancy backpack.
Instead, I was suddenly doomed to look like a bike commuter whilst walking around campus. Fortunately, I’ve promptly gotten over it.
I’m pretty convinced that no matter what bags I’m carrying, I still look less ridiculous than most current fashion trends on campus.
Turns out I’m not that [cycle] chic anyhow. The Roadmasters aren’t exactly what I’d classify as “cute,” but they are subtle and professional looking with simple black and grey color scheme.
Once the space and fashion concerns had been addressed, I got excited about the organizational capabilities of the Roadmasters.
The bags have one large main compartment, one compartment on the flip lip, and a front pocket.
The main compartment of the Roadmasters is where the majority of the carrying capacity is located. Even though the bags aren’t designed specifically for commuting, my 14-inch laptop with a soft case does slide easily into the main compartment vertically.
There is an inner sleeve at the back of the main compartment, but it is designed more for papers or notebooks, since it’s not quite big enough for a laptop. With the laptop and a few notebooks, there is still some room to spare in the main compartment.
The main compartment seals up tight with a drawstring closure and two buckle straps, which also help to keep the items in the bag secure even when it’s not full.
The flip lid of the Roadmasters also features a top pocket that is perfect for smaller items. There is a small, zippered mesh pocket in the top flip lid for even more organizing. The separation is a nice feature to keep things like sunglasses from getting scratched up.
There is also a handy orange rain cover in each bag, which clips into the top pocket and is stored in a little stuff sack. Believe it or not, it does actually rain in Tucson on occasion, so I have gotten to utilize these covers. They definitely kept the water out, and they even have some drain holes at the bottom in case any water does get in, as well as to help with ventilation, I’d imagine. Plus, it’s a bonus that they are included with the bags.
The bags are designed with a “portrait” profile, so they are longer vertically than they are horizontally. I don’t tend to have heel clearance issues with any panniers, since I’m pretty short, but the profile design would definitely solve heel clearance issues for most riders.
BluesCat has given the bags a spin, as well, and can attest to the good clearance. as this photo demonstrates:
Now, I’ve intentionally saved the best part of these bags for last. I want to make this clear. The Vaude Roadmaster Panniers are so incredibly easy to take on and off a bike rack.
Did the bold type make my point clear? No?
They are SO INCREDIBLY EASY TO USE.
The Roadmasters utilize a QMR attachment system with 8mm and 10mm inserts for different bike rack rail sizes. The QMR hooks can be adjusted with a little rotating wheel on the side of the hook. Meanwhile, there is an L-shaped hook on the bottom of the bags that rotates inside of a guide system and can be set to stabilize the bags on the rack. A little allen key is included to set this up in the case that you don’t already have one.
The entire back of the bag is a solid plastic backing plate that helps to structure the panniers and keep them secure on the rack. No rocking and a slopping with these panniers! This is especially important on bouncy Tucson roads.
I’ve tried panniers without a bottom hook, and my laptop flips and flaps against the side of my bike rack. Not good. But this is not so with the Roadmasters!
Lastly, each Roadmaster has a handle, which also serves as the quick release system for the QMR hooks. And I neglected to mention that the QMR hooks snap shut when you hook them onto the rack. You can take these bags on and off your bike with one fluid motion. Now that’s fashionable.
I honestly don’t have any serious qualms with the bags except their “look.” However, BluesCat did mention that he lost one of the QMR hook inserts on his set of bags on his first ride. Otherwise, these bags are pretty bombproof.
So, in conclusion, I’m quite pleased with the Vaude Roadmaster Rear Panniers. They will never replace my trusty Xtracycle, but hey, they were never meant to. I’m really looking forward to taking them out on a bike tour. They are only slightly smaller than my backpacking backpack, so I think they will provide for plenty of space for gear and food without the need for additional rack top bags or handlebar bags. Meanwhile, they will continue to be the trusty replacement for a trusty Xtracycle.
RIP or come back home soon, old buddy. Thanks for stepping in and doing a good job, Roadmasters.
Vaude Roadmaster Rear Panniers sell retail for $118.99 and are currently on sale for $84.99