We tried it: Riese & Müller Packster 60

The Packster 60

The Packster 60

Over the winter break, we got the chance to test ride one of the recent new entrants in the front-loading cargo bike market, the Packster. The New Wheel in San Francisco loaned it to us while the EdgeRunner was getting a tuneup. Thanks, New Wheel! This is the first front-loading cargo bike they’ve stocked. Back when we were shopping for a family bike, the front-loading options were pretty limited, at least in the United States: a Bakfiets.nl (inappropriate for San Francisco hills, as are all of its European knockoffs); a Metrofiets (fun bike, but oversized for our needs); and a Bullitt (what we ended up getting.) Since then, we’ve tried out new entrants like the Urban Arrow and not-exactly-bikes like the Butchers & Bicycles tricycle, and been unable to try some of the new ones like Douze. And there have been various now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t attempts to enter the market, which have permanently put me off reviewing bikes that are not yet in production. It’s still a pretty thin market.

The Packster 60 is one of two Packsters; there is also a Packster 80 (bigger,) and a similar model from the same company, which is higher-end and more expensive, called the Load.

Riese & Müller is a German company, and the bikes have Bosch assists, which are also German. The Jewish half of our family has been slow to make peace with German cars, and Bosch did not exactly win their hearts and minds during World War II either, however in the last decade or so there has been something of a rapprochement, enough of one, at least, that no one was scowling at the prospect of seeing their grandchildren on a German bike. Personally, while I have continued lust in my heart for the German postal and baker bikes, I have found most of the assisted bikes from Germany to be unsettlingly large and sort of overwhelming. Until last week, I guess I should say. My feelings about the Packster in six words: German engineering applied to a bicycle.

What I like about this bike:

  • In short: German engineering. This is a term that can mean different things to different people. One of the most obvious indications for us was when I was riding with the kids and my daughter complained that we were going “too fast.” And I thought, “What do you mean we’re going too fast, we’re going maybe 9-10mph.” Then I looked at the controller and realized we were actually booking along at about 17mph. It’s the German way. When I was an exchange student in high school my host father was driving on the Autobahn and I said something about how I thought people were allowed to drive faster, and his daughter looked over at me and said, “We’re going 180kph.” Which we were. I had mixed feelings about this for a while until I got back on the EdgeRunner and realized I didn’t feel the speed on the Packster because the bike is pretty impervious to external shocks. The suspension fork on the front wheel helps with that. It glides over rough pavement. The parts don’t rattle. The frame doesn’t twitch. Everything is stable. I never noticed the shifting or the pedals. We just rode, and the bike didn’t get in the way. It is subtle, but once you’ve experienced it, it’s hard to go back. I could spout a bunch of details about the quality of the parts, but why bother when that stuff is on the company’s website. The parts are awesome. Everything works better than you would expect. It’s great.
  • Here we are loaded up: two kids, groceries, and my stuff.

    Here we are loaded up: two kids, groceries, and my stuff.

    The front box is great, wide enough but not too wide. We still haul our two kids in the standard Bullitt box, which is narrower on rainy days. Four years ago I would not have imagined that this was possible with them now at the ages of 11 and 7 years, but what did I know? It can be done and it’s what they want. That said, there was way less drama about “get your ELBOW out of my FACE!” with both of them in the wider Packster box. And although I was initially concerned that the wider box would interfere with our ability to get through tight spaces, it’s not so wide that it limited our mobility much. Front loaders in general are fantastic because it’s easy to talk to the kids and see what they’re doing.

  • Quick release adjustment on the seat (there's a similar one on the handlebars)

    Quick release adjustment on the seat (there’s a similar one on the handlebars)

    The Packster has a number of features to help riders of various heights feel comfortable. These include a low step over (nice in general, necessary if you want to do something like put a child seat on a rear rack) and quick-release adjustable height handlebar stem and seat post.

  • NuVinci gearing on the right

    NuVinci gearing on the right

    The integrated NuVinci gearing and Bosch middrive assist work together seamlessly and go pretty much anywhere. (For some reason Bosch ranks its levels of assist from lowest to highest as “Eco,” “Tour,” “Sport,” and “Turbo” instead of the more logical 1-4 range. It is annoying and non-intuitive. Hindu-Arabic numerals were good enough for Brahmagupta so they’re good enough for me, and thus I will refer to the assist levels by numbers from here on out.) I’ve ridden an EdgeRunner with the infinite NuVinci + Bosch middrive assist before and didn’t have a good experience, probably because (I learned later) Xtracycle is shipping those bikes with a front cog that it is the wrong size for climbing. I have been informed by more than one person that swapping it (which many bike shops now do as a matter of course) makes a huge difference. And I thought that the Butchers & Bicycles trike I rode had that combo but it turned out to be a different assist. Anyway, this time I understood what the fuss was about. This combination makes for an incredibly smooth experience in which you can gear down and power up to go up hills, and gear up and power down on the way back down. Even with two kids on the bike I was able to shift down and stay at a level 2 assist to get up moderate hills without (a) slowing down enough that I worried about tipping or (b) feeling like I was going to pass out or (c) both. After that success, I took the Packster (unloaded) up our old preschool hill, a hill that has tacoed the rear wheels of at least two unassisted bikes hauling trailers, and that many assisted bikes have failed to scale. For that, I needed to use level 4 and gear way down, and it was not exactly effortless, but I could have done it with a kid on board, and Matt could do it with two kids. The Packster says: veni, vidi, vici.

  • Here's the box with seat cushions and restraints.

    Here’s the box with seat cushions and restraints.

    Do you have range anxiety when you think about riding an assisted bike, worrying that you’ll ride to one end of town and find you’re out of battery power? If so, this is the bike for you. The Riese & Müller front loaders can accept a second battery, meaning that whatever the normal range of the bike (typically 20-35 miles, depending on load and terrain), it can be doubled. That second battery isn’t free, of course, but for people with long commutes, or people like us who sometimes find ourselves riding distances beyond what we’d ever initially imagined, it could be worth it.

  • Do you worry about your pants catching in the chain? I used to until I realized that I could just wear skinny pants all the time. Matt and I both ride enough that we tear through the crotches of our pants pretty regularly, so it didn’t take long to resolve that problem. However the Packster has a belt drive, so I could probably wear palazzo pants if I owned this bike. Belt drives have other advantages as well: smooth operation, longevity, no rust and no need for lubrication (I could wear white palazzo pants), and reduced weight.
  • Front, with suspension and an outstanding light

    Front, with suspension and an outstanding light

    There are really great accessories, and most of them are included in the price of the bike. The wired front and rear lights are incredible. I don’t often have a chance to test ride bikes at night, but because this one stayed with us for about a week, I did, and the throw on the front light of the Packster is the best I’ve ever experienced; it lit up exactly the section of the road I needed to see to get around. The kickstand is sprung so that it’s easy to release down, and ranks in the stability range of the Bakfiets.nl, making it almost impossible to tip over, even when three or four kids swarm it. Because the stand uses an enclosed frame, you can also lock it to a ground puck through the kickstand—we recently started locking our bikes to floor pucks in the wake of several hot prowl thefts of cargo bikes from garages in our neighborhood. It has a rear wheel lock, which is of course totally inadequate as a primary lock here in San Francisco, but is enough in combination with another lock to discourage many bike thieves. The pedals and saddle are nothing special, but they’re perfectly adequate. If you are so inclined, you can add three-point restraints and a cushioned bench seat to the box (the bike I rode had these.) There is also a rain cover available. Although: no bell!

  • Locked to a floor anchor through the kickstand: this is cool.

    Locked to a floor anchor through the kickstand: this is cool.

    Thus far, the Packster is the only cargo bike I’ve ever been able to bunny hop onto a curb. I usually would never even attempt such a thing, but while I was riding the bike back to the shop, I got stuck behind two broken down buses, which had led to an epic traffic meltdown. After waiting a few minutes in the completely stopped car traffic, I figured I had nothing to lose by trying to drag the bike onto the sidewalk and walk it past the buses. I could barely believe it when the front wheel popped right up over the curb and glided up to the sidewalk. My bet is that this is related to the suspension on the front fork, but who cares why it works, the fact that it did work was totally awesome.

  • The Packster is surprisingly easy to park for a front loader. I was edgy when The New Wheel handed it off with a standard U-lock, which can be problematic for our other big bikes. However my cargo lock had gone with my bike to the shop for a tune-up, so I didn’t have a choice. While the Packster has a pretty hefty frame, the rear of the bike is pretty lean (the loaner had no rear rack, but I don’t think a standard rear rack would add any volume here,) so we had no trouble backing it into almost any rack or parking meter to lock up. The usual caveats apply about trying to lift it up a flight of stairs, though, meaning: no way. Yet combined with its ability to hop over curbs, the Packster is shockingly maneuverable for a long john.
  • This is a very clean look, and easy to operate as well.

    This is a very clean look, and easy to operate as well.

    It looks cool. Although I try not to get hung up on aesthetics, there is value to having a bike that I look at and say “I want to ride that.” I was particularly impressed by the way all the wiring has been corralled in front. In the past I have referred to the advice I once read to “buy the cool bike.” I think liking your bike is especially relevant for cargo bikes, which are sometimes kind of big and intimidating, and are used to haul loads that understandably may give people pause. In my case, that’s two squirming kids who are old enough to make their own fun, often by fighting with each other. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, of course, and my sense is that bikes with curvy frames seem friendlier than sharp-edged bikes like the Packster, but after years of drive-by parenting I’m actually not interested in looking any more approachable than I already do. Anyway, I found myself wanting to ride this bike.

What I don’t like about this bike:

Nice controller, oh look, we cracked it.

Nice controller, oh look, we cracked it.

Almost everything on the list of things that I didn’t like about the Packster could be summarized as first generation issues, meaning that they’re either aesthetic or correctable annoyances. One of the ones that hit us on the second day was the fact that this particular bike looks interesting enough, particularly loaded up, that people around us could be, frankly, jerks. When I was riding with the kids in Golden Gate Park I tried to ride to a bike rack to park, but was stopped by a guy standing in front of me on the street to “get a closer look at the bike.” I answered a couple of his questions, at which point he stopped talking and just stood there staring at us (as mentioned above: I’m already way too approachable.) Then I said, “I’d like to get to the racks over there!” He said, “Oh!” and stepped back, and then just as I started riding again, STEPPED RIGHT BACK OUT IN FRONT OF US. And because I am evidently way too nice a person I didn’t run him over, so instead we all went down. My kids started screaming, the guy immediately vaporized, and the controller cracked. I’m sorry, New Wheel. Anyway, I put this problem in the same category as vandalism and I hope anyone who happens to buy the bike will mow him down for me next time.  And generally: beware of looky-loos.

  • As always, I note that there is a learning curve for bikes with linkage steering. Don’t look at the front wheel, look at your destination. I can’t tell anymore how easy or hard it is to pick up the steering on a particular make or model, because once I mastered it on the Bullitt I had no trouble with any of the others. Some lucky souls pick it up right away, some people (me) struggle for a few days, and how quickly a person picks it up seems completely unrelated to experience riding other bikes, so who knows. The possibility of dropping the bike on a test ride is real and it’s something to keep in mind. I expect that owning a bike shop that sells front loaders offers a real challenge to one’s equanimity during test rides.
  • Similarly, the turning radius on all front loaders is pretty terrible, what with the long wheel base, and this bike is no exception. Tight U-turns are a thing of the past.
  • It may be hard to see, but this is too much reach.

    It may be hard to see, but this is too much reach.

    At several points while I was riding I wondered if Riese & Müller had a single woman test ride this bicycle before bringing it to market, or even a non-German person, by which I mean a smaller person. Although there are signals that it’s intended to be accessible to people of a range of heights, including the low step over height of the frame and the quick releases to adjust the seat and handlebar heights, one miss that stood out for me was the huge reach required to reach the brake levers. I felt uncomfortable going down steep hills for this reason and for a woman, I have long fingers; I could reach a tenth on the piano back in high school, an advantage that kept me playing far longer than my talent supported. Dialing that back to a shorter reach is something that any bike shop that wants to sell this bike to moms should probably do (and I know it can be done.) Similarly, the box is a sort of origami structure held together by what I assume (based on what my neighbor stores in our shared garage) is a motorcycle tie-down strap. The ratchet (cam?) that secures it is placed at the back left of the box. This is perfectly positioned for anyone who is swinging a leg over the top bar to hit their right foot on it as they dismount. Several times. Ouch. I presume that the (tall, German) men who designed the bike were always lifting their leg over the back of the bike to dismount so this never came up for them. I learned to pull back on the dismount after a while, but it kind of ticked me off.

  • So many times I hit that thing on the dismount

    So many times I hit that thing on the dismount

    While the kickstand is rock solid and goes down to support with a mere touch of the foot, it can be tricky to get back up. What’s supposed to happen is that you push the bike forward and it snaps up automatically. What actually happens depends on what type of surface happens to be under the bike. When we were on rough asphalt, the kickstand gripped enough that it popped right up. When we were on smooth cement, like on the sidewalk, it sort of dragged along and wouldn’t go up without riding for a while, or without me sticking a foot under it to nudge it before I got on. I suspect that applying some kind of grip tape on the bottom of the kickstand would provide enough friction to resolve this, but as is, it’s finicky.

  • Incredibly stiff and annoying rear wheel lock

    Incredibly stiff and annoying rear wheel lock

    Although the Packster mostly rides like a dream, the wheel lock and battery attachments are very stiff. I like having a rear wheel lock but I loathed trying to operate this one so much that I almost gave up on it. It was bizarre because the U-lock I was using was also made by Abus and was easy to operate. Yet only the fact that I did not actually own the bike combined with the high levels of bike theft in San Francisco made me endure messing with that wheel lock. The plug attachment for the battery is also persnickety and hard to connect. Similarly, the quick release adjustments on the handlebars and seat post, while awesome in principle, are not particularly intuitive or easy to operate. I felt a weird dissonance between the times that I was riding the bike (this bike is great!) and the times that I was getting on the bike, getting off the bike, or locking up the bike and charging it (this bike is so annoying!) Some of this may be the fact that it was just unboxed and not everything is working smoothly yet. My experience with the older Abus U-lock would support this hypothesis, however although the battery plug seems designed to be annoying.

  • Note that at this level, we were constantly doing a helmet v. handlebars contest

    Note that at this level, we were constantly doing a helmet v. handlebars contest

    While the bike itself sometimes assumes a tall rider, the accessories are sized for the littlest kids. We did not have the rain cover on the bike that I test rode, which is just as well, because I could tell just by looking at the photo that older kids like mine would not fit under it. My daughter’s attempt to try the three-point restraints left her laughing maniacally at how impossible it was. While my kids appreciated the width of the box, their legs were a bit cramped. The box is a bit shallower than we’re used to as well, so although it was possible to put both kids and a pile of groceries in the bike, we weren’t breaking any maximum load records. And because I didn’t figure out how to make height adjustments until I returned the bike (see above), the handlebars and brake levers struck their helmets when we were riding together. At the highest height point there’s clearance for tall kids (and short adults) but I couldn’t get it there when we had the bike. Overall, the length and width of the Packster 60 is roughly comparable to the Bullitt, but the standard box is shorter, shallower, and wider, although the Packster 80 would presumably be longer.

  • The model I rode was better sprung for riding unloaded than loaded, which was interesting. This is pretty nitpicky, because the ride is great regardless, however the handling improved when it was unloaded; in this it is unlike our Bullitt. When I returned the bike to The New Wheel they mentioned that Riese & Müller supply stiffer springs that could be installed in front that would probably reverse this, making the ride better loaded than unloaded. If I were planning to use this bike for heavy loads (and why get it if not?) I would want to make that switch.
  • The Bosch middrive assist is not silent. The higher levels of assist are extremely not silent. I had a boyfriend in college who later went to law school and after he graduated he took a job at a big firm and decided to buy an “affordable” sports car with his new salary, a Mazda Miata. As we still hung out at times, I rode with him in it occasionally and thus I had the opportunity to experience why it was an “affordable” sports car: the engine noise was like a chorus of howling demons. By comparison, the Bosch at level 4 I would classify as more like the whining of a moderately annoyed demon. For a bicycle, it’s pretty loud; relative to cars, it’s not offensive, but relative to other bicycles, it’s a Miata.
  • Occasionally, the general awesomeness of the ride was interrupted by a weird thunking sound from the gears on hill starts. It never persisted, and it didn’t happen often, but it was unnerving.
  • Last and certainly not least, this bike, like all front loaders, is pretty expensive. The version I rode is priced at $5900, which does include the lights and whatnot. However the kid accessories like the rain cover and so on are extra, as is a second battery; I can’t price those accessories as the bike just came out so I couldn’t find them listed.

Things I can only speculate about:

  • As always, with a new bike on the market, I can’t speak to reliability. That said, this is not a one-off manufacturer, the parts are all pretty high-end, and German engineering has a reputation for reliability, recent exceptions like Volkswagen notwithstanding. Personally I wouldn’t feel any real concern.
  • I’m not sure how well the Packster would handle a fully loaded start on a steep hill, although it is great starting from zero on moderate hills, and for those living outside of San Francisco, that’s probably more than enough. After I dumped the bike my kids were not eager to get back in the box for extended test rides, so the steepest hills I rode were all without them on board. Our usual bikes are BionX assisted, and we use the boost buttons to make the steep uphill starts. As a comparison I tried making a steep start from a dead stop with the assist dialed up to 4 and the gearing down low, and the Packster took off pretty fast. However where we live, I’d want to test ride it with the kids on board before I felt completely confident. If that’s relevant, The New Wheel has the Packster I rode sitting out in front and available for test rides at 420 Cortland Avenue in Bernal Heights.

I realized how I felt about the Packster when I rode back to the shop to pick up the EdgeRunner and they wheeled it out. The EdgeRunner is super-practical and maneuverable, but I admit, although I am fond of it, it looked like a beat-up warthog next to the shiny new Packster, and also, I realized once I started riding it that it squeaks and rattles a bit at higher speeds. These are not things that I noticed about it before I rode the Packster.  It is unquestionably true that the abuse we put our bikes through is a big factor in that. Nonetheless, I curse my lost innocence.

We’re not in the market for a new cargo bike, and I am increasingly longing to return to the days of solo biking. So the question I ask myself when I test ride is more along of the lines of who it would best serve. It would serve a family like ours, it turns out. So I asked myself whether I would want it as a replacement for one of our cargo bikes in the (not unlikely, actually) event that one was stolen. It’s a close call. The Packster and Bullitt ride differently, both in appealing ways, however the Packster climbs more smoothly than our BionX assisted Bullitt (the middrive Bullitt may be different), can be upgraded to have double the range, is less expensive (assuming a single battery,) and the slightly wider box would probably eke out a year or so more of carrying two older kids at once. Thanks to the belt drive, I could wear wide-leg pants, should I ever be so inclined. I’d have to live with noise from the middrive on the hills, and plugging in the battery would irritate the crap out of me, but these seem like acceptable tradeoffs. The answer at this point, weirdly, comes down to the rain cover: our kids wouldn’t fit under the Packster’s rain cover. This is probably the closest miss ever for a bike I’ve test ridden. The rain cover would stop me from buying it, unless Riese & Müller come up with a better one. For families with smaller kids though, or hardier ones, it’s a fantastic choice.

 

37 Comments

Filed under cargo, commuting, electric assist, family biking, reviews, San Francisco

37 responses to “We tried it: Riese & Müller Packster 60

  1. Anthony

    All Bullitt frames manufactured after 2016 now have a split rear triangle to accommodate a belt drive.

    Another awesome review… you’re like the consumer reports for mini van replacements.

    • What a great upgrade! Thanks for the information.

    • We bought our Bullit in June 2016, and unfortunately it has a regular frame, no opening for belt drives. We still have a lot of negative feelings from our Bullit purchase.

      We ordered a Bullit with belt drive, we even looked at the blog post of Bullit which said it is possible. However, when we went to the shop to pick up the bike, to our surprise it was delivered with a chain drive, and they didn’t even made the frame belt compatible for the future. We were not told in advance, the bike was manufactured and shipped without telling us first that it will be with a different drive train, is it ok for us or whatever.

      Because we already paid the advance, we had been waiting for it for quite long, and it was also super uncomfortable for the shop to stock yet another Bullit worth of 6000€ just for testing purposes, we decided to buy it. But we were very disappointed, angry, and we at the verge of just leave the scene. Also, I felt disappointed that we were not offered any kind of compensation for this [huge] mistake, not extra warranty, insurance, extra maintenance service or anything. Just take it or leave at full price. This was one of the poorest customer service experience for us in the past years.

      Of course, any other request for specifications we had about the bike, tyres, lights, saddle, rack, seatpost was not possible to be built by Bullit, we received the bike with the configuration on the homepage, and had to pay extra/double to the shop for every change we wanted, increasing the price, and creating waste.

      Afterwards, I had an e-mail exchange with Bullit about the belt drive, pointing out their blog post. They said the belt drive is possible, except for Alfine Di2 with electric drive, for which it is not possible.

      The belt drive was and is quite important to us, as we want to get rid of the annoyances of lubricating, cleaning, adjusting the chain, and probably we would have chosen a different bike, which has a belt drive. Especially that they shipped a “traditional frame”, so it is not even possible to upgrade in the future to the beld drive.

      Sorry if all this sounds negative, but we were/are still quite disappointed with this service, and I felt I need to react to your picture on belt drive frames.

      Here’s the link to the blog post that mislead us, and a picture of our frame.

      http://www.larryvsharry.com/gates-carbondrive-and-shimano-di2/

  2. I was so interested to read your review, because you seem to cover the points that I also find important, vs. a lot of other reviews that focus on technical things that usually don’t matter in everyday life.

    I have also tested the Riese and Müller, however I had the Load version, and I had many of the same conclusions like you. The whole bike was great, but it had those few annoyances that come with first versions.

    We have tried several bikes with the Bosch motor and NuVinci hub gear, and all in all, my conclusion was that although it does the job in a robust way, I wouldn’t chose it (yet). We have tried Urban Arrow (Bosch + NuVinci), Nihola electric, Winther electric, Bullit STePS, Butches and Bicycles Electric, Riese and Müller, and in the end we bought a Bullit Steps with Di2 automatic shifting and Shimano Alfine 8, so these are my comparison levels.

    First, with the NuVinci:
    1. Although it advertises continuous variation of speeds, in practice, I thing it is equivalent to a 6 speed hub gear. I never managed to really adjut the speed in small enough increments. We have three other bikes with Shimano 8 speeds (hub), and two with 7 gears, and they are similar in “number of speeds”.
    2. The NuVinci required the motor to be always on, even on flat terrain. Our Shimano Alfine 8 is happy without electric assist on flat terrains, and if I only use it on hills and for speeding up, I can get 80-100 km range. With the NuVinci, I was always limited by the battery capacity.
    3. At full stop, it was not possible to change back to the easiest gear, when the bike was standing. It needed to roll a bit to be able to switch. But that’s one of the key advantages taken away!
    Indenpendently of the bike, this was the same problem, Urban Arrow, Butcher and Bicycle, and also on a Riese & Müller standard electric bike.

    Canopy:
    One of the big points for the Bullit was the really great Canopy. Actually, this was the only bike with a good Canopy. Our understanding is that a good Canopy is as important for hauling children, as the rest of the bike. When we tried the Riese and Müller Load, they didn’t even had the canopy yet, and on the photos it didn’t look impressive either.

    Belt Drive:
    After using a belt drive on one of our bikes, I discovered how much I hate chains. Our Bullit with the Steps motor has a chain. And it needs cleaning, adjustment, picks up dirt, and already ruined two of my trousers. I asked several shops to cover it with a Hebie Chainglider, but they didn’t manage so far.
    However, I can’t understand why manufacturers can’t put a cover on the belt drive. It’s still moving, and although not oily-greasy, it still picks up dirt and the moving belt smears on dust on my pants with great efficiency. A chain (or belt) cover costs 30-40€ at max, but after the bike has been produced, it’s almost impossible to fit it on – none of the shops I know managed to do it.

    Suspension:
    I totally miss the suspension on the front fork from the Bullit, and I cannot understand why they cannot offer it! Brussels is full of potholes, cobblestones, and up-and-down-to-the-pavement rides. We went to Copenhagen, rode around the city for 4 days with various bikes, and in fact in Copenhagen suspension is a waste of money. The city is flat, beautiful asphalt everywhere, super wide bicycle lanes where a three wheeler Nihola can overtake a three wheeler Butchers and Bicycle in the bike lane itself.
    I wish the Bullit would offer at least the Big Ben tires, but they don’t fit in the frame, so we had to content with wide-ish tyres.

    Bosch Motor:
    The plug is the worst plug I came across in years. In the decade of USB Type C plugs, I cannot understand why they design such a poor system.
    I loved the buttons: big, easy to press. The Shimano Steps has poor, small buttons, that are a pain to operate in any type of gloves.
    It is quite noisy! Especially that it had to be always on with the NuVinci. For the Shimano Steps, on falts I turn it off, and we ride in full silence.
    There are different versions of the Bosch Motor, and Performance version is really much better, and moves the cargo bikes more easily.
    The Shimano has an equally stupid system of “Eco”, “Normal”, “High”. Why can’t they call it simply 1 – 2 -3?

    Here I wrote a blog post last year about our experiences:
    “Family cargo bike tests: Urban Arrow, Butchers and Bicycles, eBullit”
    http://www.sparkpeople.com/mypage_public_journal_individual.asp?blog_id=6122669

  3. jaladhi

    Another terrific review! Haven’t seen any review of the Packster that goes beyond a quick test ride. Oliver’s comments are informative too!

    For the rain cover, I imagine Blaq designs would be able to do a custom cover just like the one they do for Bullitts and Metrofiets. I’d probably start with the Packster 80 box sine it would be a bit longer and get a rain cover made for it. Since you already have a Bosch powered Xtracycle (I’m assuming), you can just carry the second battery with you to double your range or conquer hills in assist level 4 without range anxiety.

    • We have a BionX Xtracycle, so carrying a second battery is not an option for us. Getting a Blaq cover would be great, although I personally wouldn’t want to be the first mover on that.

      • I think I’m going to end up being the first mover on this. We’ll see how it goes. I’ve got a long box Packster on order with Splendid (supposedly arriving at the end of this month) so the R&M cover isn’t an option. We’ll be working with Splendid and Blaq to get a cover made for it by the end of the summer so we have something before the rain returns to Seattle in the fall.

      • I would love to hear how the Blaq cover works if you have a chance to post an update!

      • jaladhi

        I’d like to hear about the blaq cover as well. Long box Packster should have plenty of room. Sounds like a great choice!

  4. Thanks for mentioning the Blaq canopy! Is this the one that you had suggested?
    http://blaqpaks.com/products/cargo/bullitt-canopy/

  5. Michael

    Great review. Just started following and look forward to checking out past postings.

  6. Jesse

    This is a very helpful review. We got to test a riese and muller ‘load’ today and an urban arrow. They are waiting for the packster test bike to arrive so we couldn’t try it yet. I’m agonising between the bikes. I also tried a bullitt but being small I simply prefer the step through on the other bikes as it’s hard for me to ‘mount’ the bullitt especially if we ever have a third kid that we put on the back. On the one hand I feel like I would enjoy riding the riese and muller bike more as it was incredibly smooth but on the other the urban arrow is like having a car as I could transport everything in the box easily so it’s more practical but not as nice to cycle. Do you have any thoughts on the packster versus the urban arrow from the perspective of someone who has been using a cargo bike for some time? I’m new to this so I’m only thinking about comfort and practicalities of both bikes rather than anything else.

  7. Billy Brazelton

    What version of the Bosch drive did you test? The HS (high speed) or standard ( high torque)? Thanks. Great review – very helpful.

  8. Erin

    Thank you so much for this blog as it’s super comprehensive!! We are torn between the Urban Arrow and the Packster. Since you’ve tried out both, do you have any advice for making a decision between the two? The rain cover is a big deal for us but not a deal breaker as I’d try to see if Blaq could make a custom cover.

    • When we tried the Urban Arrow for a weekend, the rain cover worked, but opening-closing on a stop-and-go daily basis felt unpractical. It’s ok for an occasional use, but if I need to open close frequently during the day, it needs fiddling. We live in a rainy-windy climate in Brussels, and the rain cover was an important factor for us.

      Otherwise, although I understand your concern about the step trough nature of the Bullit, we had put in 1500 km since we bought it last summer (2016), and it works without issues. The rain cover of the Bullit had the best of all the rain covers we tested.

      I’ve read a test of many cargo bikes, carried out in Germany, it was published in a free to download magazine (also in English). If interested, I can look it up and post the link. If I remember well the conclusion was that some of the newcomer cargo bikes needed reinforcements/upgrades, but I don’t remember what they have written about the R&M bikes.

      • Jesse

        Have you tried the Douze? We finally got to try the Packster, but it’s just not the right bike for us. We also took issue with the rain cover and the bike didn’t seem to fit either my husband or I very well height wise. But we loved how it felt when we were riding it. Sad to say it’s just not the right bike. Now we are trying the Douze and I thInk I love it. Same weight as the Bullitt, frame can be separated into two parts, rain cover is taller than packster. But it’s almost 50% more expensive than an urban arrow. So I’m hesitating, especially as it’s hard to find anyone with experience of the Douze. Do you know any of the pros or cons for it?

      • Hi Jesse, I have seen a couple of Douze cycles here in Brussels, I haven’t tried it myself. There was a test in the German E-bike Magazin last year about the Douze E-Traveller Bionx, they rated 1.5 (in Germany the custom is to give 1 to the best so the max score is 1.0). If interested, I can scan in the article and send it to you.
        Myself, I didn’t even consider it, as it has rear motor. I don’t like how rear and front-wheel motors feel, I prefer the middle motor. The middle motor variant is with the NuVinci hub, which requires the motor to be always on. So beacuse of the choice of the motors and hubs, it was not on my list.

      • Jesse

        Hi Olivier- thanks so much for the quick reply. We are in Belgium too – though not Brussels. Would be interested in what the German article said of the Douze. Very useful to hear your thoughts on the mechanics of the Douze, thanks for sharing. I didn’t realise the points you made. Food for thought. Though I’m getting close to saying this is the bike for us (rather than an urban arrow). I’m also very fond of the idea of getting the extra length box (80cm). I appreciate your feedback! Thanks!

      • Jesse, how could I send to you the article? I would scan in as pdf.

      • Jesse, did you read the ExtraEnergy Magazin No.14? It had a long list of cargo bikes tested. The Douze is not included, but very-very interesting to read. It’s a free Pedelec and E-bike magazin from Germany, printed in three language in parallel (English, German, Chinese).

    • The other best rain cover was on the Butchers and Bicycles, but the three wheel format is too wide for our city, so we considered only two-wheeler bikes. http://www.butchersandbicycles.com/img/extras/Butchers-and-Bicycles-MK1-_extras_Hood-with-skyview.jpg

  9. I got the chance to play around with the Packster cover today at G&O. It has two options for height. The lower one (which is how it is in the pictures on their website) is quite low. Only about 5″ of space over the head of my 18 month old with no helmet on. The higher level is maybe 3″ shorter than the Blaq cover that was on the Bullitt next to it. Much taller, though it does leave a little open space on the sides. In comparison to the Blaq cover it is much lower in the front though, which I guess could be either a good thing or a bad thing depending on what you want in a cover. I took a few pictures. If you’re interested let me know!

  10. I forgot the link, here it is:
    http://www.ebikemagazin.de/e_bikes/douze-e-traveller-bionx-im-test/a23219.html

    Douze E-Traveller BionX im Test
    25.05.2016 Uli Frieß – Der Transporter aus Frankreich hat eine tolle Straßenlage und folgt dem Richtungswunsch des Fahrers stets spurtreu und sicher.

    FAZIT: Sehr ­sicheres Fahrverhalten. Toller ­Antrieb, aber ­ein­geschränkter Komfort

    Preis 5.097 Euro | Kettenschaltung | HR-Nabenmotor
    Gesamtwertung* 1,5
    Komfort 2,9
    Gabel Alu starr
    Federung keine
    Sicherheit 1,1
    Bremsen Scheibe, Tektro Gemini HD M520
    Fahrstabilität sehr hoch
    Antrieb 1,3
    Motor/Akku** BionX D 250 DV/423, 555 Wh
    Kettenschaltung SRAM X7, 9-fach
    Anfahr- bzw. Schiebehilfe ja
    Praxis 1,6
    Reifen (v/h) Schwalbe Big Apple 50-406/50-559
    Gewicht (v/h in %***) 38,8 kg (43/57)
    Service 2,5
    Garantie 5 Jahre
    CE ja
    Geometrie
    Radstand 1.865 mm
    Lenkerbreite 620 mm
    zulässiges Gesamtgewicht 200 kg
    Lenkwinkel ca. 80°

  11. So while my bike was busy being shipped to the wrong shop I rented a Packster 60 with the R&M cover from the local shop for a day and put ~20 miles on it with my kids a couple of weeks ago. Thought I’d share my experience with the cover (I’ll put it up on my own blog too eventually but I’m certain you get a lot more traffic).

    The short version is the rain cover did not impress me.

    Although it does have some cool features (two height levels!) for the most part they aren’t that useful (do I really need a height level so low my 4 year old can barely squeeze under it?). And other aspects of the design range from annoying to potentially dangerous. Annoyances include it being difficult to load kids with the cover on, the tendency for the ropes that hold the cover in the back to come loose and leave it bouncing, and the fact that you can’t raise just the back part of the cover to make it easier to talk to your kids but rather have to fold up the sides *and* back together leaving limited protection from rain and wind. The potentially dangerous part comes in when you raise the rain cover from the lower height. When it’s on the lower height you can put the handlebars at their top height setting and they clear the cover. When you raise the rain cover to its higher setting you run into problems. The rain cover then starts to interact with the handlebars regardless of setting, leading to the brakes getting activated by the rain cover during turns. This caused me to drop the bike twice before I realized what was going on. None of us got hurt beyond some minor bruising (hey, those restraints for the kids aren’t just for show!) but it was scary and I still get anxious making sharper turns because of it. As it stands I wouldn’t be able to recommend that cover until it undergoes a redesign to address that issue. I guess you could get it and only use it on the lower height setting but I think most kids will outgrow that quickly.

    My bike is now here and I picked it up just over a week ago. I’ll be getting a rain cover from Blaq as soon as possible, but it’s in line behind a couple of other projects so it’ll be a little while and I may not have good weather for testing it until September or so. I’ll report back when I’ve been able to test it out!

    • Wow, that sounds like a really poor design flow. Did they ever test it in real life conditions? I’m happy we chose the Bullit, we are still quite happy with it, despite the poor experience about the missing gates belt drive and the local shop.

      We have asked the shop to put a Chainglider to cover the chain. They charged a whopping 120 Euros for it, but at least it doesn’t grease our trousers anymore. It supposed to make some silent noise, but I can barely hear anything. So if you get your bike with a chain, I can recommend the chainglider! 🙂

      • I’ve got the 10 speed deraileur setup on my Packster. I switched to skinny pants for the most part years ago because they worked so much more easily with snow boots, so I haven’t had an issue with the chain. I seriously considered the hub + belt drive option but I wanted the wider gear range (and honestly, the cheaper price) of the 10 speed setup.

        And yeah, the R&M rain cover is pretty disappointing compared to the other aspects of the bike which are so much better thought out. I can see what they were trying for with it but the execution is lacking, resulting in something that takes a lot of fiddling to get right and then is still potentially dangerous even when you’ve installed everything properly. I even went back and reviewed the canopy instructions after we got back from the ride where I’d gone down twice because of the brake/rain canopy thing to make sure I hadn’t misread anything or missed a warning. Nope.

    • Thanks for this information–very helpful!

  12. Updates on stuff since I’ve had my bike a couple of months now:
    Seattle is not quite SF but starting heavily loaded on steep hills hasn’t been an issue. Unless I forget to gear down before stopping (I don’t have the Nuvinci version). I rarely forget at this point. There are a couple of hills that I’ve decided against trying to get up because I encountered them with both kids on board and didn’t feel like trying my luck. In both cases I went a couple of blocks over and the version of the hill there was less steep by enough to be fine.
    I’m female and fairly small but haven’t encountered problems with the reach for the brake levers or with hitting my leg when putting it over the top tube (I never swing it over the back of the bike). I have kneed the cam a few times and that did suck by I seem to have trained myself not to anymore. I did find overall reach (seat to handlebar) was too much for me with the stock bar and had a different bar that is a bit swept back installed when I picked the bike up. They liked this so much at G&O that they put a similar bar on one of the test bikes.
    The frame lock was a little sticky at first but it’s about 90% resolved already and still improving. Haven’t encountered any issues with the battery attachment being difficult.
    I’ve had adult riders in the box (through 6ft tall) and while their heads are above the handlebars even on the highest setting it hasn’t been a problem. Even very tall kids should be good until age 8+ and past that it still shouldn’t cause too many issues.
    BlaQ has delivered the production version of the canopy for my bike to Splendid and I should have it in my hands in the next few weeks. I’ll update on my blog when I’ve had a chance to use it (which may be a while given our current extended forecast).
    I’ve tried the bike at G&O with a suspension seatpost and it was great. Supposedly the Nuvinci version is now shipping with one but this is a change I’m planning to make to my bike.
    If anyone wants a longer term look at the Packster feel free to check out my latest blog post on it!
    https://genepedia.wordpress.com/2017/07/14/two-months-in-with-the-packster-80/

  13. Got a post up with my initial impressions of the Blaq rain canopy for the Packster 80! Well over 1000 miles on this bike now and I still love it.

    https://genepedia.wordpress.com/2017/09/20/initial-impressions-blaq-rain-canopy-for-the-packster-80/

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