South England spring 1981. A continuous rain falls onto the lush green hills. Quite usual for this area. And right in this downpour there stands a young biker with fuzzy hair and a fully loaded bicycle. The weather seems to get on his nerves. Water is dripping down his clothes, his bags, his curls and nose. The young adventurer had saved up for this trip and was looking forward to hit the road. Here and now he is not very keen on again spending the coming night in a soaking wet sleeping bag with damp clothing. The young guy watches a truck passing by. The South England rain drums down on the truck tarp. The goods remain dry and clean.
One thing is for sure: this event took place before the idea of the first waterproof ORTLIEB pannier was born. And you can also assume that this situation stands in direct context with the first ORTLIEB pannier. The guy with fuzzy hair is called Hartmut ORTLIEB. He is about to channel his frustration and convert it into creativity. He makes something up in his head which will rescue the next hard-earned trip!
Right after returning back home he starts making a pack container out of red truck tarp on his mother’s sewing machine. He fixes the lid with a piece of webbing strap from a saddler. At the hardware store he gets hooks to fix the self-willed pack to the rack.
And since biking keeps body and mind in motion, the active teenager produces from now on new ideas every day, and improves and refines his invention. Looking at the packhorse principle, he finally ends up with two packs. It was in the times when the outdoor industry still consisted of a few freaks who distributed the latest product innovations via photo copied flyers. Young Hartmut is just about to finish school and still bikes through town carrying his sewn rear panniers along.
More and more friends and acquaintances show their interest in these unconventional bags that stand out more with their function than their design. Quite often Hartmut is asked “Hey, can I get a pair of those, I could sell them in my shop!” The first distribution strategies and pannier line are set up. The sewing machine is moved into a back yard garage.
Founding the company
The rear pannier invention is followed by a handle bar bag. Soon the demand is too high for a one man operation. More man power is required, so family members and friends are roped in. In 1982, the company ORTLIEB is founded.The first product brochure presents a clear product line: sewn rear and front panniers, and handle bar bags. The “marketing plan” faces the first exhibition. With a folding table, ORTLIEB presents its first unique products in the dark corner underneath the escalators. Verbal propaganda is the successful advertising strategy back then in the still small outdoor industry. The result is overwhelming.
The unpleasant memories of a damp sleeping bag still take their toll, and the busy inventor cannot rest in peace. Sewn connections are somehow not tight enough. So he tries his first welding connections in order to solve the problem. The magical word is “high frequency”. In contrast to hot welding seams, the high frequency rays guarantee higher strength and preserve the material at the same time. The trials on an old disused machine which had been used for manufacturing spectacle cases develop into series production. From now on, ORTLIEB panniers are 100% WATERPROOF! Without impregnation or tapped seams. The first milestone is set. And the next one follows immediately: the roll closure. It is a simple but effective principle for a dry bag. The result is not only a waterproof product, but one which will even float.
The hardware store hooks on the bike panniers, though stable, no longer stand up to the expectations of the manufacturer and customer circle. So the self-taught inventor puzzles over the first self-locking mounting system “Quick-Lock1”. In the meantime, the company has grown and employs 20 people, including mother ORTLIEB who manages as receptionist and secretary.
The 90ies - Outdoor becomes popular
This days we cannot imagine ORTLIEB without being a synonym for waterproof bicycle panniers. The legendary “Back-Rollers” made a decisive contribution to this reputation. Hundreds of thousands of Back-Rollers are travelling as faithful companions around the globe. Numerous supporters and all weather bikers carry the message of the reliable brand ORTLIEB around the world. The bicycle messengers make a remarkable contribution as well and are, together with their striking messenger bags, part of every metropolis. They are the evidence “on wheels” that durability is a promise by ORTLIEB.
The founders of the bike and outdoor business were visionaries. What was defined as non-conformism back then is today considered as quite ordinary. The bicycle is a universal means of transport, a sport gear on the road and off-road. Just like the hiking backpack and the multi-functional jacket, ORTLIEB panniers on a bike rack disclose the fine choice of equipment and outdoor affinity of their wearer.
Independent opinion makers and the international specialty media supported the development of the brand ORTLIEB from the very beginnings with enthusiasm. Every month, on average, an ORTLIEB product is awarded with a “Best Buy” or “Recommendation”. This is definitely a permanent incentive for the 130 employees to commit themselves for maintaining the high quality and innovative power of ORTLIEB.
The truck tarps of the first years were replaced by new materials which are custom designed according to ORTLIEB’s specifications. These are followed by new technologies which have been used for several years. As always, all products in the high frequency welding process are exclusively manufactured at the company head quarters in Heilsbronn: “Made in Germany”, it’s a matter of honour. This is also reflected by constantly rising numbers of employees, a fact for which Hartmut ORTLIEB was awarded with the “Jobstar” in 2005 by institutions of the region Nuremberg.
For more than 30 years, ORTLIEB has been providing momentum in the bike and outdoor market and has set standards in the field of high functional equipment.The target has always remained the same: individuals who actively spend their leisure time in nature should feel independent from all facts they cannot influence, in other words: from the weather.
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