Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Review: Arkel Dolphin 48 Rear Panniers

This is the final piece in the jigsaw of my series of reviews on Arkel’s Lite Touring kit, to date I have reviewed the Arkel Saddlebag, the Small Handlebar Bag and the Arkel Tailrider. All have impressed me greatly. In this review I consider possibly the ultimate waterproof rear pannier: the Dolphin 48.

Look at most round the world bikes and the long distance touring panniers that you will see on them increasingly resemble roll-top dry bags. Gone are the majority of external pockets and flip top lids, and instead we see a focus on keeping kit dry and safe without the need for a rain cover, and with a distinct focus on durability.

For my France and Spain touring trip I used a set of Ortlieb panniers, they then got used for almost two years of daily commuting to university and stood up well to the challenge. However, the Ortlieb panniers, though durable, had a number of niggling feature downfalls that stopped me from truly accepting them as the 'ultimate touring pannier', Arkel's Dolphins have gone a long way to correcting these niggles in my opinion.

Firstly, the main feature of any roll-top bag, the closure. Waterproof bags are only as good as the seal on the opening and the Dolphin 48’s system works well. Two rigid plastic strips on the top of the bag lock into each other, and then you roll the bag down and clip it onto the adjustable straps on either side of the bag.

The system is highly effective, and the independent straps on either side are a more secure closure than on the Ortlieb Classic Rollers in my opinion, and they present no risk unclipping or unrolling. Check out the video at the bottom of the post to see how it works.

Second up is the pocketing. The Dolphin 48 has two large independent roll-top compartments, separated by an open top storage pouch with a drainage hole at the bottom. The open top pouch is a neat idea; allowing you to store wet kit or shoes safely without contaminating other belongings. The smaller roll top pocket is also a much welcomed feature over the Ortlieb's one pocket; allowing easier access to smaller items. There are also two mesh pockets on the rear of the panniers that could carry extra water bottles, tools or damp kit; a very useful addition!

The third impressive feature of the Arkel Dolphin 48 is the back panel. The Ortlieb back panel uses an internal plastic panel to strengthen the bag for fixing it to the rack; the problem with this design is that unless the back of the pannier is lined up perfectly on your rack, the lower struts of the rack can rub on the pannier and damage the waterproof material. The Arkel system by contrast has the plastic mounting plate on the outside of the pannier; this means that if the bag rubs against the rack on rough terrain it will not damage the waterproofing material or damage the looks. This is a significant improvement in my opinion.

The final thing that stands out on the Dolphin 48s is the CamLock system used to attach the bag to the rack rails. This uses a neat nylon clad metal cam, which is opened by pulling up on a handle, then once the metal hook is placed over the rail of the rack, the cam swivels round and locks the bag in place. The CamLock system is simple, but it works. Because the cam is independent from the hook, both can be made stronger and both are replaceable if they get damaged (all Arkel products have a lifetime warranty!). The metal rail that the cams slide along is also stronger and more effective than others I have seen on panniers. Put simply, it is robust and it works; I haven't had a single Dolphin pannier pop off the rail of my rack.

The other smaller features that stand out to make the Arkel Dolphin panniers a great set of bags include the small D-rings on the top to lash other luggage to, the rear light clip and the reflective trim on the front and rear to increase visibility. It's features like these that show attention has been paid to the details.

Overall, the Arkel Dolphin 48s are a great set of luggage panniers; just as suited for carrying the weekly shopping as going on a round the world tour. It is worth noting that similar styled Dolphin panniers are available in 40 and 32 litre options as well, for those needing less space. Personally, I like the fact that you can pile everything into your panniers and you don't need to worry about lashing things precariously onto the outside. 

The Dolphin 48 panniers are available from ArkelPanniers.co.uk for £164 RRP (for a pair). That's quite a price, but these panniers are really built to last and I fully expect to be using my set in a decade's time. It's a worthwhile investment for any touring cyclist.


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