Arkel XM-45 Bicycle Panniers

By Darren Alff on - Download my FREE bike tour starter guide!

High-quality, water-resistant, retro, and tough. These are four words I might use to describe the XM-45 bicycle panniers from Arkel.

Several months ago I was sent a set of Arkel XM-45 panniers and their matching rain covers. In this review I will describe in great detail the make up of this particular pannier, share my thoughts in regards to its strengths and its weaknesses, and tell you whether or not this is a pannier I would recommend for your travels.

To Start… A Brief Intro To The Arkel XM-45 Pannier:

The Arkel XM-45 is Arkel’s highest selling bicycle pannier for the touring market. The company actually makes a larger set of panniers (called the GT-54), but those particular panniers are absolutely huge (3,300 cubic inches) compared to the XM-45s (2,800 cubic inches). The XM-45 panniers are large enough for most people and are ideally shaped for the needs of nearly every traveling cyclist.

On their website, the company explains that this set of panniers was initially designed for off-road mountain biking, but because of their tall, narrow profile (which helps to ensure heal clearance while pedaling); the compression straps that cross the front of the bags that allow for maximum compression; and the inner lining that works to protect your precious gear… these particular panniers have become a favorite for thousands of  people traveling by bike.

Features That Make The XM-45 Bicycle Pannier Unique

The following is a list of some of the features that make the Arkel XM-45 pannier so incredibly popular.

Made Of High-Quality Cordurra

The XM-45 panniers are made out of a high-quality, water-resistant fabric called Cordura. This is the same material used in the manufacturing of backpacks and panniers produced by other outdoor companies. It’s a favorite fabric amongst outdoor manufactureres because of its ruggedness and its ability to shed (although not completely deflect) rain, snow, and other such outside forces. I’ve personally received letters from people traveling by bike in remote parts of the world and they stated to me in these letters that the reason they chose to travel with Arkel panniers was because of just how tough and seemingly indestructible the fabric is – even in the most harsh environments.

Ultra-Durable Zippers

Besides the high-quality fabric, the pannier uses three top-of-the line zippers (one used on the top lid, one used on the side pocket, and one larger zipper that runs down the side of the pannier for those who wish to load their belongings from the traditional sideways position.) Zippers as a whole are something many pannier manufacturers try to avoid, as the zipper is usually the first thing to break on a bag such as this. But the zippers used on these Arkel panniers are top of the line and they’ll run for years before you have to worry about them breaking or giving way.

Compression Straps

The compression straps on the XM-45 panniers are unique in that unlike other bicycle pannier compression straps that typically run in either a vertical or horizontal manner, the compression straps on the XM-45 panniers run in a diagonal pattern, crossing the center of the bag at its middle (See the photo above). This not only gives you a great way to compress your bag down to its smallest possible size, but it also allows the straps themselves to be kept short, so they remain out of the way and are easy to manage each and every time you need to get into your bags.

Top-Loading With Side-Loading Zipper

Traditional touring panniers were designed to be loaded from the side, much like you would do with a suitcase. But many of today’s most popular bicycle touring panniers are designed as top-loaders, meaning that you load your gear into them from the top, kind of like you would do when putting rocks in a bucket.

Whether you are someone who prefers loading your gear from the top or the side, the XM-45 panniers give you the best of both words, because while their core design is that of a top-loading bag, the large side zipper does give you the option of opening the bag on its side and loading your gear in that way.

Fully-Lined Main Compartment

This is another feature that makes the XM-45’s shine! Each of the panniers has a fully-lined interior. So in addition to the external Cordura material that provides the tough, water-resistant shell around your belongings, the inner-liner adds another layer of water-resistance and quality to the bag itself. This liner, just like the exterior of the bag, is accessible from the side and closes at the top with a simple drawstring.

Top Of The Line Pannier Attachment System

How your panniers attach to the racks of your bicycles is another key factor to consider when purchasing a set of panniers. Having a quality attachment system is extremely important – especially if you plan to use the panniers on any sort of long-distance tour. Luckily, the attachment system on the back of Arkel panniers is one of the best in the industry. Some might even argue that it is the best in the world!

The panniers attach by a small bungee-mounted hook at the bottom of the bag and large, industrial-strength, self-locking cams at the top. Best of all, the attachment system works with either 10mm or 8mm racks, so no matter what size rack you have, the Arkel panniers will work for you! (The image above shows the panniers mounted on an 8mm rack.)

Multiple Pockets For Organizing Your Gear

Another nice feature of the XM-45 panniers is that they have three different compartments in which to store your gear. Many panniers only have one compartment and this makes organizing your things somewhat difficult. The XM-45’s, however, have three compartments: one large one in the center, a small one on the side, and a small one in the lid.

Bright & Flashy Design

If safety is a concern of yours, the bright attention-getting colors of the panniers shown in this review certainly do a good job of telling passing motorists that there is a bicycle up ahead. While the XM-45s currently come in both yellow and black colors, both models come with 3M reflective stripes on the exterior… and the rain covers (if you choose to get them) come in a bright neon yellow color that also works wonders to alert passing vehicles of your presence.

Optional Rain Covers That Fit Like A Glove


Finally, when it comes to the extra rain covers, the ones made to fit the XM-45 panniers fit like a glove. If you’ve got your panniers filled to the max and need to protect the gear inside your bags from a sudden download, just slip the light, colorful rain covers over your panniers, tighten the drawstring and continue on your way. The covers themselves are made of lightweight 1.9 ounce Coated Rip-Stop Nylon and are designed so that after slipping them around your panniers, you simply give a tug on the covers’ elasticized drawstring and they’ll close tightly around your panniers so as to keep the contents inside dry and secure.

Benefits Of The XM-45 Arkel Pannier

While there are many reasons the XM-45 panniers from Arkel are so popular, I believe the three biggest benefits of this particular set of panniers is that they are super tough (and therefore perfect for people traveling long-distances on a bike); provide superior heel clearance when compared with other bicycle panniers on the market (even my friend Josh (shown in the images in this review) who has a size 15 US foot was able to mount the XM-45 panniers on the back of his bike and ride without any interference whatsoever); and they come with three different compartments that make organizing your belongings oh so easy.

Drawbacks Of The XM-45 Arkel Pannier

That said, the main drawback to these panniers is that they not 100% waterproof. As time goes on, I think having set of waterproof bicycle panniers is going to be more and more important to many, many people. And despite the fact that the panniers do have extra rain covers that can be purchased, many will see this as just another item to buy and another item that they have to carry on their bikes (in addition to the panniers and all the gear they are already towing.)

Another small drawback to the XM-45s is that they are on the heavy side when it comes to touring panniers. Both panniers weigh a total of 4.3 lbs, which is heavy when compared to many panniers from other bicycle companies.

My Overall Thoughts & Impressions

Overall, I have been super impressed with the quality and design of the Arkel XM-45 bicycle panniers. As far as function and design is concerned, they are top of the line and I would highly recommend them for any type of bicycle riding – whether it be commuting near your home or riding your bike all the way around the world. If I could change anything about the panniers, however, I would want them to be waterproof (without the need for additional rain covers) and ever so slightly lighter. Other than that, they’re fantastic and I recommend you consider getting a pair for yourself!

My Rating: 9 out of 10

More information can be found at www.arkel-od.com

Do you have a set of Arkel XM-45 panniers? If so, what do you think of them? Add to this review by leaving a comment below.

Review Status: The product featured in this review was sent to me for free for the purpose of this review.

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0 Comments

  1. Paul Lieberman

    October 4, 2010 at 3:38 pm

    I’ve had a set of the Arkel XM-45’s for about 6 years. I originally got them for off road touring on my mountain bike, but now use them on my Surly LHT. Mine are black, not yellow, and lack the interior liner. The later is a feature they added in recent years.

    I certainly agree with Darren that these things are tough. Mine have been beat on quite a bit and yet if I wipe them off with a damp cloth they still look like new. It looks like they updated the mount latch in the new one’s, but mine works great. No way these are going to bounce off the racks even at high speed down a rocky mountain pass. This year I splurged and purchased the rain covers, as I was headed out for a one month road tour. They came in handy. I kept them on for visibility as much as rain protection.
    My one comment, as far as their use for road touring, is that the tapered design which makes them so good for bike with shorter chain stays, means the bottom of the bag is pretty small. This just means you have to put some extra thought into packing to avoid wasted space at the bottom. Actually this is more of a problem when grocery than it is when touring.
    Here is a picture of my bike fully loaded, this Mt. McLoughlin (Southern Oregon) in the background.

    http://lh4.ggpht.com/_-HzhXCL6l48/TBGsMf0hnrI/AAAAAAAADc0/MY3P9rXI9xk/s800/Mt-Mcgloughlin.jpg

  2. Garry Lee

    October 23, 2010 at 12:03 pm

    I’ve done 63 bike tours in my time. There are two approaches to being waterproof which are better than this Arkel “solution”
    1. Ortlieb or similar panniers which are completely waterproof and tougher than Arkel. I’ve a pair of Ortlieb panniers which have done a lot of touring, are 14 years old, have had no new parts and are still completely waterproof.
    2. Use ordinary pannier with thick plastic bags inside them. The heavy bags used for stones and sold in gardening centres are ideal.

  3. Barry MacHale

    April 14, 2011 at 11:18 am

    I love my Arkel XM’s (28 front, 45 rear) and wholeheartedly agree with the positive points made above.
    A note on the raincovers: I roll mine (they are not bulky) and stow them in the bottom of the bags, within the panniers, but outside of the interior dry bag. They are always handy there and take up a negligible amount of space.

  4. Cass Gilbert

    July 13, 2011 at 6:36 am

    I agree with a lot of the points here, having used a set of Arkel XMs for a tour of the Americas. I’ve written some thoughts on the XM28s here:
    http://whileoutriding.com/2011/07/05/review-arkel-xm-28-panniers/

  5. Serge Vigeant

    July 28, 2011 at 7:55 pm

    To address Gary Lee’s comments above, there’s no such thing as an “Arkel solution” like he says. I first designed the XM series in 1988 (yes, it’s that old) and there was neither a liner inside nor raincovers for them. Like Gary says, the idea was to use plastic bags inside (or, later, drybags as they came available).

    Fairly early I also designed fully watertight panniers (similar to Ortliebs, if you will). So the choice is up to the user – there is no “Arkel solution”.

    As an added comment, contrary to what Gary believes, the Ortliebs are not “tougher” than the XM series. I will not debate that, but it can be experienced easily by owners of both bags.

    For what it’s worth, I sold the company years ago, so I don’t have an investment in these comments. A bias, maybe; but no investment. 🙂

  6. Chris

    November 17, 2011 at 2:07 am

    I’m wild-camp touring Sumatra, Indonesia at the moment and shopping online for new panniers because I’ve got Ortlieb’s (front roller plus / Bikepacker plus rears) and they have died due to:
    1. Front ones holed by scuffs against curbs and thorns in jungle camps
    2. Being eaten through by some anonymous jungle critters in camp.

    Whilst no pannier is “jungle critter proof”, the bags I have with me are now pretty good at keeping stuff wet (unlike the Arkels would be) but useless at keeping stuff dry. Also, I think that the Ortlieb “plus” fabric is too thin for serious rugged touring – thorns and scuffs with curbs should be survivable in my opinion.

    Incidentally, its the second set of Ortliebs that I’ve ruined now. The first having died due to curb-scuffs again!

    Maybe I should be careful. But I’m not.

    Chris.

  7. Stewart Saunders

    August 30, 2013 at 9:41 am

    I have XM-45’s and Ortliebs also – the thing I don’t hear discussed on waterproof bags is about moisture that get trapped inside them during hot weather especially. Our Ortlieb’s are currently sitting open to dry out from our recent ride. I will be testing the 45’s on a week in Idaho in a few weeks, but expect, moisture problems can be avoided throgh extra bags, and ability to dry rapidly.

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