Mainstream MSX SL55 ZX Panniers Review

Coming in at a hefty 1.25kg per bag, these panniers are probably the heaviest bags around, but we figure there is good reason for this weight. Firstly, their waterproofing seems more robust than any panniers we have tried; secondly, the capacity is 10 litres more than a set of Ortlieb Back Roller Plus panniers. For any bike tourer who has ended up stacking items on their rear pannier rack due to lack of space, these panniers should provide more than enough to accommodate all your equipment.

These panniers are a premium product and the price reflects this. But coming in more expensive than better known brands such as Ortlieb and Vaude, what do the MSX panniers actually have to offer the intrepid world bike tourer?

MSX waterproof pannier bags bike touring
Katie’s Liberta fitted out with a full set of panniers and MSX handlebar bag

Unmatched Attention to Detail

We loved using our Ortlieb panniers and had a really good run with them. They are much lighter than the panniers by MSX and are very simple in every aspect. A little too simple, perhaps. Mainstream MSX have really thought hard about how to bring a unique offering to the pannier market. Their numerous re-designs, yielding the current seventh edition, have proved their dedication to innovation and as a result, these panniers have umatched attention to detail.

Waterproof bicycle pannier bags MSX

In comparison, Ortlieb seem to have made very little innovation over the years. As an example, the Mainstream MSX panniers which, when fully loaded can be extremely heavy, feature an additional sturdy carry strap, whereas with Ortlieb bags you are forced to use either the tightening straps or the flimsy-feeling quick-release strap. Magnetic clips on their front panniers, exterior waterproof packets and large, removable interior pockets are more of MSX’s awesome little features.

Waterproof exterior pocket

As far as I am able to tell, there are very few differences between the SL55 CX and ZX panniers offered by Mainstream MSX. One obviously noticeable difference is the exterior zip pocket present on the more expensive ZX series panniers. These are sealed with something called Aquaseal® and provide a secure, watertight pocket for little bits you may need quick access to. It’s a neat feature and certainly adds some value to the panniers, although 30 Euros might be a stretch.

More Waterproof Than Ortlieb?!

For those of you who have been following our adventures, you will probably have seen some posts featuring our jungle adventure in Peru and you will know that we rode through some pretty extreme wet weather whilst there. At the time, we were still using two Ortlieb panniers, as Chris’ front rack, the Blackburn Lowrider, could not accommodate the larger panniers by MSX. This gave us a convenient opportunity to compare the panniers in parallel. The result of this little experiment showed us that the waterproofing on MSX bags is a real level above the waterproofing on Ortlieb bags.

MSX panniers waterproof bicycle bags bike touring
We got more than a little wet at times, but at least the contents of our bags didn’t!

Admittedly, these were extreme conditions that most people will not experience: continuous heavy rains lasting more than 6 hours; flash-flooded rivers which reached 2/3 of the height of the panniers. For the world bike tourer, however, this is not a trivial point; anybody cycling the world will come across some harsh weather and it is vital that the gear can stand up to what nature is capable of. The Ortlieb Front Roller Plus panniers became soaked through and collected water in the bottom after crossing some of the larger rivers, whereas the beefier MSX panniers shrugged off all of the water without difficulty.

Is Your Front Rack Tough Enough?

If you are hoping to equip your bike with front as well as rear panniers, make sure to consider the weight capacity of your front rack and the likely weight of your front panniers.

Blackburn Lowrider bike front rack snapped
A snapped rack makes for an unhappy bike tourer!

Even loading the MSX front panniers with light items such as clothing, you will end up with a heavy front end. We really recommend opting for a front rack from a reputable manufacturer with good warranty and quoted weight limit. We are extremely happy with and confident in recommending the Tubus Tara front rack. It has impressive steel tubing and handles MSX’s panniers easily.

Fittings Adjustable With a Phillips Screwdriver

All of the adjustable fixtures on the rear of MSX panniers are adjustable with a Phillips head screwdriver. We make use of the heads on our Crankbrothers M19 multitool and found making these panniers fit our racks dead easy. The fittings all seem incredibly robust and even more secure than the fittings found on Ortlieb’s panniers. We have had some issues with the clips on the top rail of our Ortlieb panniers, which we had to have replaced with Ortlieb’s help.

Ortlieb QL2.1 rear clip broken
The broken rear clip caused the bags to jump off the rack a few times.

Only time will tell how the clips on MSX’s bags will hold up; but given that they have survived some pretty rough conditions already, we feel confident they will be up to the task.


6 thoughts on “Mainstream MSX SL55 ZX Panniers Review

  • 4th February 2017 at 1:04 pm

    Hey, I’m surprised you had problems with Ortlieb, regarding being “not waterproof” enough. We used ours in extreme conditions as well, wading through rivers, heavy rain for days and so on. If one thing was for granted, then it was that our clothes inside the bag stayed dry. Of course you have to use the roll top right in order to avoid water coming in from the top. We also found them really pretty sturdy and even if we bushwhacked sometimes, hardly got any cuts or holes in them. Curious to see how you like the other panniers over time.

    • 7th February 2017 at 1:16 pm

      I think our biggest problem may have been getting the front panniers rolled at the top enough in order to be properly waterproof. The bags are so small in capacity that we were often forced to leave them almost unrolled at the top to carry anything. But even the panniers which were rolled seemed to get, if not soaked, at least a little wet inside, and damp clothes at the end of the day were never fun!

      Perhaps the difference was in the model of Ortlieb panniers as well? We used the Plus models which use a different, non-shiny fabric on the exterior.

  • 29th October 2017 at 7:23 pm

    Nice review!
    I love the look of the Mainstream MSX but I have had difficulty finding a place in the US to purchase them. Any ideas on who distributes/sells them here?

    • 2nd November 2017 at 7:12 pm

      Hey Rob! Sorry, we don’t have any suggestions for you here. The only thing we can suggest is to contact Alex (he does some of their social marketing) at [email protected] and see if you can get a response. Good luck!

  • 15th November 2017 at 11:29 am

    Hi Chris, How are the panniers holding up after several months? We’re about to embark on a several months or year-long tour. We have Mainstream MSX panniers & like them but I was wondering whether to try & get hold of some spare fastening clips lest the plastic wears out over time.

    • 16th November 2017 at 3:58 pm

      Hey Oli, the panniers are super-duper tough! Not a mark or bit of wear to show on the parts after months of off-road use. However, it is always best to make sure you get the spares when you can and carry them with you during the tour. Anything can go wrong and if you are in a remote place when it does, then you’ll be in trouble. They don’t weigh much nor take up much room and will save your butts should the worst happen.


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