DIY: Eliminating the Need for Ortlieb Rack Spacer Clips

The Problem: There’s a lot of information and recommendations available to the beginner bicycle tourist, but some things have to be learned through experience. One of those things that nobody tells you is that saddle sores get really itchy after you take some time off the bikes. Another is that there is a major defect in the mounting system for the ever-popular Ortlieb panniers. Oh, the bags themselves are great. But, when paired with the equally popular Tubus racks, Ortlieb’s quick-release system (QL2) on the panniers requires the use of flimsy, poorly-constructed, spacer clips to accommodate the narrow diameter of the Tubus racks. The clips work well for a while, but take those bags on and off the racks every day for months at a time and you’ll soon be dealing with all sorts of problems. The clips’ little prongs bend, snap off, and jam up the quick-release system. That’s when they don’t just fall off completely and disappear. Ortlieb appears to have replaced this mounting system on newer bags, as of 2011, but our bags were bought in 2012 and still had the older system.

Four of the sixteen bent, broken, and missing clips needed to secure our Ortlieb panniers to our Tubus racks.
Four of the sixteen bent, broken, and missing clips needed to secure our Ortlieb panniers to our Tubus racks.

An Idea: After seven months of dealing with this increasing annoyance, I finally decided to put my time off in Tangier, Morocco to good use and have come up with a remedy. By no means is this a sophisticated, clever, or sexy solution. It’s actually rather obvious. The point of this post is to show that common materials can be easily obtained and put to use in keeping your tour going smoothly, even when language and culture seem alien. After briefly considering ordering replacement clips, at tremendous shipping expense, and wondering if they’d even arrive while we were here, I decided to eliminate the need for the clips entirely by making the rails thicker.

The clips make it possible to accommodate various size rack diameters, but can't hold up to the rigors of long-term touring.
The clips make it possible to accommodate various size rack diameters, but can’t hold up to the rigors of long-term touring.

A Solution: I went off into the medina in search of hardware shops and, well, they’re not quite what we’re used to. For starters, most of the shops in the medina are merely a counter. The merchant might have hundreds of items in stock, but you need to ask for the specifics; there’s no browsing here. Fortunately, I found a shop with spools of clear, flexible tubing on the counter. I ordered two meters of 10mm diameter tubing, nearly exhausting my knowledge of French in the process, figuring the plastic tubing would be easy to cut and work around the rail. I then switched to charades in hopes of securing a number of zip ties. Fortunately, the words “zip ties” are better understood than my pantomiming and he quickly pulled out an assortment of zip ties in various colors and sizes. Two meters of 10mm plastic tubing and 20 large zip ties cost 21 Dirham ($2.37 USD). I’d have to return for more tubing, but more about that later.

Because it’s the Internet and someone will undoubtedly reprimand me for “needing zip ties,” let it be clear that I carry a number of zip-ties in my repair kit, but didn’t want to use up my supply if I could buy more cheaply while I was at the shop. The same goes for the tape.

Basic hardware materials like zip ties, tubing, and tape can be purchased anywhere. Even thousands of miles from the nearest Home Depot.
Basic hardware materials like zip ties, tubing, and tape can be purchased anywhere. Even thousands of miles from the nearest Home Depot.

Materials/Tools Needed

  • 10mm clear plastic tubing (2 meters per bike)
  • Zip Ties (8 per bike)
  • Heavy-duty tape
  • Utility Knife
  • Snips

Step #1: Cut the Tubing
Grab your panniers to know exactly where your mounting clips grab the rack and eye up a length of tubing wide enough to cover that portion of the rail. I decided to effectively cover the entire width of the rail so that I didn’t have to deal with any shifting tubes or edges catching. I then carefully sliced the tube lengthwise and wrapped it around the rail.

Step #2: Check the Fit
If using the Tubus Logo Evo rack, like we are, you’ll need to use two pieces of tubing, stacked on top of each other to build up the rail to the appropriate thickness. Remove the spacer clips from your pannier and give it a try. Ideally I would have had a second diameter of tubing, 12mm would likely have worked really well, but I doubled-up the 10mm with satisfactory results. Install your bag to make sure the bag will lock on nice and snug without the spacers.

Two pieces of tubing, zip-tied onto the rack (or taped on a shorter segment) will eliminate the need for the spacer clips.
Two pieces of tubing, zip-tied onto the rack (or taped on a shorter segment) will eliminate the need for the spacer clips.

Step #3: Secure the Tubing
I used two zip ties for each rail, on pieces that were more than an inch long. Make sure to place the zip ties as close to the ends of the tubing as you can, without being in the way of where the bag will mount onto the rail. The pannier’s mounting system is completely adjustable and you could choose to slide the clips to a new position. I didn’t do this for two reasons: 1) I’m notoriously lazy, and 2) I find the bags to be more secure on the racks if the mounting clips are as wide apart as possible.

Our rear bags (and Kristin’s front bags) mount further back on the racks and a second section of tubing was needed to fit the short extension of the back beyond the vertical rails on the rack. For this, rather than use up more zip ties and risk them being in the way of the bag’s clips, I just wrapped heavy-duty tape around the tubing to hold it in place. Snip the ends off the zip ties, mount your bags, and toss those bent, disfigured spacer clips in the trash!

Bonus Fix! Planet Bike Cascadia Fender Supports
The very first thing to break on our bike, just a few weeks into the tour, was the metal L-shaped clips that support the rear fender on each of our bikes. We’re using the Planet Bike Cascadia 29er fenders and, all things considered, they work as intended. But the metal frame that holds the fender in place beyond the wheel is affixed using a very thin piece of metal that snapped on 3 of 4 posts in the rear (between the two bikes). We used a number of rubber-bands over the past 7 months to pinch the rails together to hold the fender in place, but rubber bands always dry out and rot within a few weeks. While I had the tape out for the other project, I decided to replace the rubber bands with a lengthy piece of tape. The fenders aren’t under a lot of stress and if rubber bands intended for produce were able to work for a few weeks, the tape should hold for months at a time.

The metal extension that holds the fender in place snapped off at the clip within a couple of weeks. Make a tape sandwich to keep it working!
The metal extension that holds the fender in place snapped off at the clip within a couple of weeks. Make a tape sandwich to keep it working!
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Doug Walsh

Writer, Traveler

Doug Walsh is a writer, traveler, cyclist, and gamer who spent two years traveling from Seattle to Singapore, the long way around, by bicycle and sea. He's the author of the upcoming novel "Tailwinds Past Florence."

4 Comments
  1. I had the same problem with the Ortleib clips, not so much getting bent but getting lost. The guy in my local bike shop wasn’t too confident about being able to replace them but suggested that I wrap the rack with tape just round and round to build up the diameter at the point where the bag sits. I am going to do this with two inch wide tape and am hopeful that this will cure the problem. My next trip is less than two weeks away so will soon know if this method if good or not, but nice to know about the plastic tubing idea just in case.

    1. Thanks for reading Keith. Kristin lost one of her clips many months ago and, similar to your LBS guy recommended, we used a long piece of double-sided velcro and wrapped it around the point of contact until it was the right thickness. That worked very well. That said, we did use Gorilla Tape also on some contact points on the racks to cut down on the rubbing that was going on where the lower pannier hook meets the rack. The slight bit of movement, day after day, eventually allowed the plastic hook to rub right through a couple pieces of Gorilla Tape. You won’t have as much sawing motion up the rack clips, but definitely go with some sturdy tape. Good luck!

  2. If the bags are loaded you really don’t need those spacers. The weight of the bag keeps them in place pretty well on its own. Also you can adjust the lower bracket thing to kind of wedge the bag in at a slight angle so one clip is elevated up so it just barely locks in.

    I’ve been using Ortliebs on Tubus racks for a long time and although they can rattle a bit with a light load it doesn’t really harm anything to leave the spacers off.

    1. Thanks for the comment Jeremy. That’s not been our experience, but it might have to do with riding off-road a fair bit. We’ve adjusted the lower bracket thing so it’s good and tight, but even then we’ve had the bags flip out to the sides (those lower brackets tend to bend over time). Anyway, this was a very cheap, lightweight fix that took only a few minutes.

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About Us

We're Doug & Kristin Walsh, a couple of Washingtonians who love to travel, both abroad and in the wilds of the Pacific Northwest. We set off to travel the world in 2014, primarily by bicycle. We're back home now, but the travel bug continues to be fed every chance we get.

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