I picked up a pair of Ortlieb front-roller classics a few weeks ago at REI's sale. Even on sale I thought they were a little spendy, but I got a chance to look at the anchoring system and thought it may be an improvement.
The last time I had purchased new panniers was 1997 or '98. They had a spray applied sort of coating, and I hit them with some tent seam sealer to make them waterproof-ish. The hook and bungee sort of retention system seemed like a good idea, and that seemed to be the major thing available at the time.
A couple of things I noticed. I live in the Pacific NW and it rains often. I was having to put everything in my panniers in plastic bags as the coating was failing, lest I end up with soaked or damaged items. Also, I have had pannier hop off my rack more than once, and sometimes rather than fall free they'd hang on by the bungee loop. This nearly threw me to the pavement once.
So, REI was having their sale and Ortliebs were on it. I have a heel-strike problem and I had been wanting some front panniers anyway, so I decided to pick the front-rollers despite their being smaller. I have come to the realization after 20 years or so of always favoring the larger bags that what happens when I get larger bags is that I pack more junk. Smaller bags force me to be choosier, and that's fine. This is especially important touring, not so much commuting.
I have field tested them now. The retention system with the positive, full, connection around the top bars of my racks is really nice, and keeps them on my bike. Just to test it further I deliberately took some rough roads and road over some bumpy grass at a few parks just to see if they's stay on. They have.
We've just wrapped up our fourth wettest May on record, some of which I experienced on my bike, and the waterproof aspect of these Ortliebs was perfect.
The shoulder straps are really nice for taking them shopping if I need to pick up groceries. I am wishing that A) I had known about such panniers 15-16 years ago (if they even existed) and that B) I hadn't hesitated until 2013 to finally purchase some.
I agree. I have Ortlieb backroller classics, and I am just as impressed and have had a similar experience as you. They quickly and securely clip on and off of the racks on both of my bikes (different racks, but no problem), and they are totally waterproof and just about perfect in every way. Some bike items are spendy and you question whether it's worth it, but panniers for a regular commuter are one area you want to spend and get the best, for value you appreciate every commute day.
Just a word of caution with Ortliebs, with what you throw in them...
They are extremely waterproof. But that also means they keep moisture in as well as moisture out. I had the unfortunate experience of having a twist-off cap from a soda bottle come off (still don't know how) in the bag. It was unfortunate because I also had my computer in there. Yup, the computer was fried because it was sitting in a pool of soda all the way home.
I'm into good stuff too, but I really prefer the Arkel products. They are just much more accessible to get at your gear.
I was also considering Arkel and Vaude. Part of the Ortlieb choice was just that it was there and I could inspect the product before buying it. Once I saw that retention system on the back I was pretty much sold.
I won't be putting liquids in the panniers based on the fried laptop experience above and on other warnings I have heard. I thought about putting a drain hole in each of mine and then about a tenth of a second later I thought "wow, did I just think that really dumb thought?"