Monday, April 13, 2009

Ortlieb's Inferno - A Descent into Cycling Forum Hell

Like many people who try to make good use of the Internet, I am often discouraged by the level of discourse found on message boards and discussion forums. There are many who reduce themselves to really crude language and active hostility for reasons that I can't understand. Nonetheless, if you can stand to wade through it all, you can sometimes find that others have already found an intelligent answer to a question of your own.

Such was the case on, where I found that somebody else had already been weighing the relative merits of two very similar types of expensive-but-supposedly-worth-it bicycle panniers from the same manufacturer, Ortlieb.

Upon starting to read the forum discussion on the matter, I was pleasantly surprised to find that people were just answering the original question as best they could, in very reasonable English. As I progressed, however, I came to understand that there is another type of Internet discourse that is much, much worse than the crude assertions of cranky adolescents of all ages; the well-intentioned opinions of people who care about things. Most of the on-topic comments in the discussion (and there were several) have been left out of the following summary, since they in no way contributed to my descent (see title). Excerpts from the forum are in blue, and I have added some pictures to, well, illustrate the points as they come up.

I should have known what I was in for; since the forum topic just screamed controversy:

Touring - Ortlieb Classic vs Plus fabric

In case your're thinking "wow, what a weenie for caring about different pannier fabrics" like I am right now, yes, I am that kind of weenie. I can't help it. Back to our story...

The Dutch are famous for being some of the cyclingest people around, so it didn't surprise me that they made an appearance, this time to inadvertantly send the discussion on its hellish tangent without ever having to read it... they just pipe up from the outer circle of the third person, and so the descent begins:

we met a nice Dutch couple while traveling who told us of a European based boycott of Ortlieb packs a few years back because the classic material is PVC

That is, by the way, a real Dutch couple, and hardcore long distance cyclists with a social conscience who may well pipe up about the relative merits of different bicycle panniers and PVC to boot! They are not, however, the Dutch couple as far as I know. My search for the Dutch couple continues, but I fear that it may ultimately be fruitless. Anyway, discussion of PVC naturally followed...

PVC is evil. That is why I chose the new style Ortlieb.


PCV is poly-vinyl-chlorine, and is a huge environmental nightmare. The dioxin pollution from PVC manufacture is horrific, and if burned and/or landfilled when you're done using them, dioxin, lead, and other contaminants are released. There are other nasties, but, this seems enough to list here.

The original poster is somehwat dissappointed to find out his preference may be bad news for the planet:

Damn... so every time I buy an Ortlieb Classic pannier, God kills a kitten?I was getting ready to decide on the classic style

At this point a new voice joins the discussion, and "opens it up" a little...
I don't think it's good for anyone to be using PVC when there are lots of other alternatives. I also don't think it's good when people buy 10,000 sq foot Mcmansions for their family of three to live in, or when they buy SUVs or for solo twenty mile commutes to work, or that people still think it's OK to have pizzas delivered to their house. But people do things that deleteriously impact the sustainability of our society all the time. Mostly, I think, it's due to a lack of education and societal norms that are shaped by marketing.

Hey, is that a dead elk on the roof of that pizza delivery vehicle? Are they justing mocking me or the forum discussion or both? This deserves a closer look. Ahah! It's just a plastic (PVC?) moose because the car is from Moosejaw Pizza. Whew. Now, back to our story:

So, people do all kinds of things they shouldn't because of norms shaped by marketing. Would these norms overwhelm our pannier-choosing brother? Sensing an imminent rationalization-to-purchase-anyway, the anti-PVC lobby plays the "wild card"...

Not just kittens, but fish and deer and elk and elephants and tigers and birds (think soft egg shells) and ... people, especially around the areas where this stuff is produced, who also don't have the money to go to a doctor when they are sick from the poisoning and are less likely to have a lawyer to defend them and force this kind of thing from being manufactured.

This ultimately sends our pannier purchaser into a fit of writing, research and rhetoricals (the three R's of descent into forum hell theory) that results in a very lengthy ramble-on, bits of which are excerpted below:

...I guess the PVC thing is one of those "where do you draw your line" things... for example... Computers. They are incredibly toxic, people in Asia are getting very sick from scavenging through piles of old discarded hardware. And electricity - we all use it, and in the US it's produced often by coal, which is a huge polluter. And that computer (and websites) you're using now? Apparently carbon dioxide emissions from information and communications technology is on the same level as the aviation industry - 2 percent of global emissions (New Scientist, 5th Jan 2008, p.20)... Even if I shop organic and buy local and ride my bike, I'm pretty much a polluting scumbag along with everybody else in one way or another, and I know it... the biggest possible benefit any of us can do for the world is simply to not have any more kids... PVC panniers... I dunno... what if the Classics do last longer? Doesn't that offset some downside?... Damn, ignorance really was bliss... I really shouldn't ask so many questions.

I'm not even going to try to put together a picture for that one! Our pannier purchaser wrote much more than what I posted here, in a single entry. The poor guy really does seem quite serious and concerned about his choices, which is laudable. Some people, however, didn't think him tortured enough, it would seem...

God won't kill a kitten. The PVC kitten has rabies and will come to play with your children and grandchildren.
Again, I'm not going to attempt an illustration, and I am not making this up. Soon, a supportive soul makes an appearance and attempts to smooth things over a little for our beleaguered friend:

I think you have the right outlook on this. Nobody can be perfect, and it sounds like you are doing the best that you can. You've researched all of the alternatives, and you are making an informed decision to go with a PVC bag. It may be polluting, but it's still infinitely better than traveling in an RV. Maybe the next time that you need to purchase panniers somebody will have invented a good replacement for PVC.

But wait! Another important bone of contention has been found!

umm, I think dioxins are actually worse than traveling in an RV--unless there's more PVC in an RV than the PVC bags.

hang on, there's more room for useful insight here...

If I remember correctly, the insulation for a lot of electronic wires is made of PVC. RVs have miles of wiring and dozens of electronic devices. The amount of PVC in an RV could easily be comparable to that of a set of panniers.It was at this point during my descent that I began to question my own sanity. Perhaps this was not a descent into hell at all, but simply a good old fashioned descent into madness! That was starting to seem like a pretty nice option, when an angel of forum-based mercy posted something to give me the strength I would need in order to continue:

Just buy one of them and forget about it.No damn difference that you'll notice.

Mind... clearing. Sanity... restored! Hang on...

Assuming that you don't live downstream from a PVC factory, you'll never notice the difference.

and then this:

If you have any children, that's probably the biggest single negative environmental action you will ever take in your life, propagating the human species. Over that child's lifetime, they will produce yet more pollution and consume yet more resources. If we were all totally honest about it, then the best thing we could all do is just leave. I mean it. We're bad for the place, it's better off without us.

Leaving Earth - The Earth's curvature becomes apparent just a couple of hours after the Trans-Lunar Injection burn (TLI) which takes the human race departure spacecraft out of Earth orbit and off to the Moon.

So began the final descent into the ever-tightening circles of cycling forum hell. I am at this time unsure of their precise numeric designations, being no theologian, but I can name them, thanks to travelling through them personally. They are, in order:

The Circle of Biological Imperatives and Cleaning Ease (a good combo, when you think about it):

The world was created for our use (not abuse, though). The answer is to stop being so wasteful, not stop having children..... We're supposed to propagate the species.My vote goes for the classic style panniers. Cordura isn't so easy to clean.

The Circle of Big Words and Propagation Moderation:
Most anthropocentric post EVER! What a ridiculous idea, that the world was created for us. The world existed long before humans got here, and it will be here long after we are gone. I don't think there is any call for the elimination of the human species, but reducing our global population would probably be a smart move, in addition to reducing the per capita consumption and impact on the planet.

The Circle of Demanded Proof (aka The Circle of the Doubting Thomas):
I'm simply pointing out that nobody in this thread has demonstrated any significant understanding of the specific life cycle environmental impacts of either choice and therefore any conclusion based on it is meaningless. You have no idea if the buying/using a set of Classic panniers has more or less environmental impact than a pair of plus panniers.

The Final Circle of Cycling Forum Hell: Circular Pseudosciephilosophy
...The earth was in fact, made for us only days before the first man was created. This earth is not some accident of evolution or whatever other convoluted theory modern science is pushing these days. I am in in fact a scientist myself and used to buy into the whole evolution thing until I did some research. There are so many holes in the whole "big bang" theory. I could spend 2 hours talking about them all. Hole #1: Life cannot "evolve" from non-living matter. If you agree with this, the debate is over.Hole #2: An "explosion" cannot create ordered complex things. It creates disorder. You don't explode a stick of dynamite and expect to get a BMW.....Hole #9,999,999: Where did the first matter come from?

What is life? It is a complex series of chemical interactions. No mystery there. You take an aqueous solution of carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus, etc, and add energy, you get complex chemistry. Given a lot of time, say hundreds of millions of years, and trillions of chemical interactions, it isn't surprising that life results.

Matter comes from energy (E=MC^2). Where does the energy come from? Well that is a hole. Nobody knows why the big bang happened, or why it was so energetic. But creationists can't explain the origin of a supernatural all-powerful deity. And any explanation of such a deity would inherently be more complex than explaining the origin of the energy that is contained in the universe, and no religion offers any reasonable explanation for the ultimate origin of any deity in the first place. Thus Genesis offers an inferior hypothesis to the big bang theory.

If you accept that you can't explain the origin of energy or the reason for the "explosion" from science, you by default have accepted that there is a supernatural being. You have confirmed that God exists.BTW.... you have more to lose here. If I'm wrong, I've lost nothing. If you're wrong, you go to hell.

I must now make an observation. How creepy is it that Ortlieb's Inferno (Cycling Forum Hell) finds its most pure form in circular arguments? Hey, wait. Did you see that? A rhetorical question! I am also writing! I did research (remember Moosejaw?)! The aforementioned three R's of descent into forum hell theory! That %&^$! forum stuck to me somehow! Get it off! Get it off...

Thanks for reading. If I can just scrub these cycling forum hell spots away, I'll see you next Monday.


P.S. I did not make any of this up. To view the full discussion in all its glory, follow this link:


Fanky Fank said...

Nice job, Rantwick, distilling the arguments, and adding the graphics. Where do you find those? Excellent use of pictures to summarize a K words.

Not that I would ever consider joining such an inane debate, but I should point out the errors in someone's statement:

"PCV is poly-vinyl-chlorine"

OK, first, it's PVC (not PCV). Get the letters straight. Second, and more importantly, it's not "chlorine." It's "chloride." And yes, when talking about organic molecules, one letter DOES make a difference. Are you just sloppy, or did you think that "chlorine" would be scarier?

The most important point is that you need not worry about the composition of your pannier. I'm glad that you care, but your choice of materials makes about as much difference as putting one plastic bottle in the blue box versus throwing it out the window of your car.

The dangerous stuff is much, much bigger than your saddle bags. So stop posting long messages on cycling forums, and start reading the newspaper. Become politically aware. Vote. Protest. Turn off your freaking computer for a few hours. Turn off your lights. Don't buy a bigger house because you need more room for your bikes and your non-PVC panniers. Simplify. Relax.

Once we get the big shit taken care of, then I'm up for a throw-down on the composition of my panniers.

Peace. Love. Dope.

PS - Manually inserting html tags is clunky. Can you install some buttons to simplify the process?

Rantwick said...


1 - Are you being facetious, asking where I find those graphics? I cobble together tons of images off the good 'ol internet and photoshop 'em together for my own purposes.

2 - Damn you, you forum! You rubbed off on Fanky Fank too! Will you never stop?

3 - I noticed both problems (PCV and ine vs. ide), but I wanted to just quote things as I found them.

4 - I think you may need to start your own blog, RANTFANK. You're way rantier than I am.

5 - That's just tough darts about your html tag problem. An inconvenient truth, if you will.

Yer Pal,


Fanky Fank said...

1 - No, I wasn't being facetious. I just love the way you illustrate your points. Very creative.

2 - Yep. I let it get me.

3 - I wasn't addressing you with that complaint, but rather the posters you cited. My rant was directed at them.

4 - I accept the compliment.

5 - I can never get the damned tags to work. Yes, it's my problem, but another site I frequent has nice convenient buttons. Maybe I will just stay over there from now on.

Ben said...

I don't want to intrude on your bitch fight here guys but I would love to compliment RANTWICK on this most enjoyable observation and the execellent pics you composited to illustrate it. The one with the BMW actually had me LOLing. Keep up the good work and just maybe you will save the internet from itself.

Rantwick said...

Ben - Thanks very much! I always pleased when people enjoy my pictorial compositions.

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