Velo Transit Metro 20 Pannier – Unseating King Back-Roller?

Josh KingJosh King lives in Seattle, where he commutes by bike every day, rain or shine. He switched to full-time single speed commuting in 2010. You can read his thoughts on going gearless at

When you want to unseat the king, you’ve gotta bring your “A game.”   The king here? The Ortlieb Back-Roller Classic, the de facto pannier choice of nearly every bike commuter in Seattle — and anywhere else a bike commute mixes with rain.   The scrappy contender?   Seattle’s own Velo Transit.   VT is looking to knock off the Teutonic champion with its own waterproof pannier, the Metro 20.

Velo Transit Metro 20 Pannier
The Insurgent (l) and The Reigning King (r)

Here’s how the battle shakes down:

Velo Transit Metro 20 Pannier and Ortlieb Backroller Classic reflection
Reflective Patch (l). Reflective Hang tags (r)

Exterior: The Metro 20 exterior is 500 D Cordura, with a waterproof liner.   Ortlieb uses a single waterproof layer with a shinier exterior.   It’s really a matter of personal preference here; I think the Metro 20 looks nicer but I suspect it will get (and stay) dirtier.

The Metro 20 also uses reflective hang tags rather than the ominous Ortlieb patch.   Both bags come with removable shoulder straps — handy if there’s much of a walk at one end of your commute:

Edge — Tie

Interior:   The Metro 20 basically replicates the interior structure of the back roller.   However, they’ve made their inner lining out of high-visibility yellow fabric.   This solves a minor annoyance familiar to Back-Roller Classic users — trying to find smaller items in the bag’s dark and cavernous interior.

Edge — Metro 20

Velo Transit Metro 20 Pannier and Ortlieb Backroller Classic interior
Interiors: Backroller Classic (l), Metro 20 (r)

Pockets:    In addition to mimicking the interior file pocket/mesh pocket design of the Back-Roller, Metro 20 ups the ante by adding an outside pocket.

Velo Transit Metro 20 Pannier Outer Pocket
Metro 20's Outer Pocket

Now this pocket isn’t truly waterproof, but it’s fine for my in-city commute.   I rode with it through a couple of major rainstorms and only a drop or two got in around the end of the zipper.   But it solves a major frustration of mine:   I am forever forgetting to put something — wallet, paperwork, etc. — into my pannier until I’ve already rolled up the top. I love having an outside pocket in which I can quickly stash these items.

Yes, sometimes it’s the little things.

Edge — Metro 20

Size:   The Metro 20 is 1500 cubic inches; the Back-Roller is slightly smaller at 1220 cubic inches. Part of this owes to the boxier construction of the Metro 20, which makes less of a concession to heel strikes than does the Back-Roller Classic.

Edge — Metro 20

Mounting Convenience:  This is the main area where Ortlieb finishes ahead.   One of the Back-Roller Classic’s major selling points is the fact that its mounting system is dirt simple:   Lift the handle to activate the mounting latch.

Velo Transit Metro 20 Pannier and Ortlieb Back Roller Classic Mounting Systems
Mounting Systems: Back-Roller Classic (top), Metro 20 (bottom)

Velo Transit has probably gone as far as they can without infringing on an Orlieb patent, and the Metro 20 is a close match for convenience – you need simply place the bag’s hooks over the side of your rack and rush down two thumb locks.   But even with practice, it still takes a second or two longer than the Ortlieb.

Velo Transit Metro 20 Pannier Mounted
The Metro 20's Mounting System

Edge — Back-Roller Classic

Price: At $120, the Metro 20 isn’t cheap.   Back-Roller Classic panniers can be found for as little as $75, but you usually need to buy a pair.

Edge — Back-Roller Classic

Other:   Velo Transit makes its bags right here in the USA.   Ortlieb?   Germany.   That’s a +1 for bringing manufacturing back stateside. Metro 20 also offers a lifetime warranty to Ortieb’s five-year warranty.

Velo Transit Metro 20 Pannier

Bottom Line:   Velo Transit has obviously given the Back-Roller Classic a close study, and improved on it in a number of ways that are subtle, but important to commuters who rely on their pannier day-in and day-out.   The pricing and mounting system will probably prevent Velo Transit from achieving the ubiquity that Ortlieb enjoys in the waterproof pannier world, but the Metro 20 is, overall, the better bag for most commuters.

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4 thoughts on “Velo Transit Metro 20 Pannier – Unseating King Back-Roller?”

  1. Josh Lipton says:

    While the Velo Transit has given the Back-Roller Classic some competition, there are several aspects which may tip the balances back in the direction of the Classics. I think the tried and true aspect is quite important when it comes to bike products. The Back-Roller Classic has a long-term reputation for holding up to a beating. If something does fail on it, there is a substantial network of dealers that can provide or sources replacement parts or help with a warranty such as we do at the –
    Velo Transit has a long way to go to catch up with these subtle but important reputation and serviceability aspects.

  2. Jeff Gardner says:

    Josh, a viable Ortlieb alternative is a welcome consideration. Nothing wrong with Ortlieb, but after much distance cyclingin the 70s and 80s with the then-current American best, I now found myself saying “Is this really the best there is?” Did any older cyclist have the same reaction? Ortlieb has some terrific ideas. But all in all, I liked my older panniers (and CERTAINLY the handlebar bag) better. Good review Josh; thanks.

  3. Sunawang says:

    Been using the Velo Transit Metro 20 for months and feel great so far. I have no complain with this pannier. It’s waterproof as well.

  4. Christian Bratina says:

    Having used the Ortlieb Front and Rear Roller Classics, I noted three significant issues which the Velo Transit Retro 15 and 20 correct:

    1. It his hard to open them at security when hanging from the straps as the straps attach at the top of tne opening, not the top of the unrolled bag.

    2. It is hard to confirm that the Ortlieb is latched, if you pull the handle, you release the latch.

    3. It is a hassle rolling the top, with the Velo Transit you just fold it over.

    Both are very heavy compared to our old Specialized tailwinds, and the Velo Transit could use a diet the most. The Retro 15 is too large for my use, I need a smaller pannier.

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