The first month of waiting for our Packster 80 to arrive passed fairly quickly because we were busy with the move and getting settled in Seattle. The second month seemed to drag out forever. And in a way it did, as it actually took more than 2 1/2 months for the bike to finally arrive, including it accidentally being shipped to the wrong bike shop initially. I finally was able to go pick it up in Portland on May 19, having originally expected it to arrive around the end of April (and the order had originally been placed on March 3rd I think). The late arrival meant it arrived too late for me to use it for the CycleFemme ride on Mother’s Day, which I’d been looking forward to. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise because we went ahead and rented the Packster 60 with R&M rain canopy from G&O to do the ride. That served as an extended test ride and I learned a few things about the Packster (and the rain canopy) that I hadn’t had a chance to learn about during the short test rides I’d been able to do at Splendid.
First, although I found it fairly comfortable during the test ride with the stock flat handlebar on the bike, riding for longer distances (we did about 20 miles total on Mother’s Day) I noticed that it felt a bit reachy for me and made my lower back hurt because of the angle I was leaning at to reach the bar. I’m 5′ 6″ and have a very long torso, so I’d expect this to be an issue for most riders my height or shorter, and quite possibly for some taller riders too. At least those that like a more upright posture while riding a cargo bike. This prompted me to ask for a moustache bar with a bit of sweep to it when I took delivery of my Packster. Second, there are some issues with the R&M rain canopy that I hadn’t recognized just by playing with it in the store. When I picked up the bike I was instructed by G&O to keep the handlebars all the way raised while using the rain cover (and given instructions from R&M that said the same). This advice worked fine while we were using the rain canopy in the morning, because we had it closed all the way up and on the lower height setting for the canopy. But we would realize later in the day that it did was not sufficient to allow safe operation with the rain canopy on.
Eventually keeping the canopy closed and on the lower setting became restrictive. It was only an inch or so above H’s helmet (she’s 4 and average height) and the way it slants downward in the front left it not far from her face. Plus it was almost impossible for me to hear her with the sides + rear of the canopy down. So about halfway through the day, when it became obvious that it wasn’t going to rain anymore and had warmed up quite a bit, we went ahead and rolled up the sides and back of the canopy and raised it to the higher height setting. This seemed fine initially. It was a bit floppy because the supports don’t have enough tension to keep it all the way up, and the ropes in the back tended to come loose when we went over bumps, but I didn’t consider this to be a serious problem.
When we were leaving the Cyclofemme ride to head home I fell for the first time on the bike. It wasn’t too scary because we were going fairly slowly through a relatively sharp right turn on an uphill section and the harnesses kept the kids firmly secured so that no injuries were sustained beyond a small bump on H’s hand and the bruise to my ego. We couldn’t even find a single mark on the bike. I couldn’t figure out what I’d done wrong, though. It had felt like everything was fine and then all the sudden it was like there was a complete loss of power from the assist and my pedaling seemed to be ineffective as well. Since we were in the traffic lane on a road I didn’t really have much time to think it over so I brushed myself off, picked up the bike, and moved on under the assumption I’d turned too sharply and hit the curb or something similar. Then about halfway home it happened again. Same sharp right turn at slow speed on an uphill. Same abrupt loss of both assist and pedal power. This time a bit harsher fall for me because the box landed on my foot (ouch, I ended up with a nice bruise) but the bike and kids were both totally fine. And this time I realized what was going on.
When I raised the rain canopy height I hadn’t thought to worry about the interaction between the cover and the handlebars. And because we had opened up the back at the same time we raised the height there wasn’t any immediate interaction between them. But over time with the canopy bouncing loose in the back it reached a point where they came in contact during sharp turns, especially to the right (because of the way the rolled canopy drooped a bit on the left). This activated the brake lever so subtly that I hadn’t noticed it happening. When the brakes are activated the assist shuts off, so I was left suddenly with no assist and trying to pedal against the front brake. For the remainder of the ride home I used my hands to keep the canopy pushed away from the brake levers and was able to avoid it happening again. That’s pretty obviously not a good long term solution though. I checked the instructions for using the canopy and found no warnings about this issue, nor did I identify anything I was doing wrong in using the canopy. Nothing is mentioned among the instructions for raising the canopy height, and to be honest the higher setting isn’t very useful if you cannot ride the bike while the canopy is raised without activating the brakes. I tried a few different height settings for the handlebars to see if I could keep them from interacting but because of the way the canopy bounced in the back I couldn’t find a way to be sure they wouldn’t interact. IMO the canopy design as it is currently implemented is not safe on the higher height setting due to the interactions with the brakes that can occur and is too short for use with passengers past the age of 3 or 4 on the lower setting. I think there are some cool aspects to the design, and I do like that they were thinking of taller passengers and have the higher option, but it needs to be redesigned to prevent the canopy from activating the brake levers accidentally. In the end it made me a bit glad that there isn’t a R&M rain canopy for the Packster 80, because I think the design of the Blaq cover I’ve ordered will avoid this sort of issue. Unless you’ll be using your Packster for really young kids, I would avoid the rain canopy until they can fix this problem.
The final thing I learned from our rental was that I was very happy to have gone with the longer version of the bike. In practice, I don’t find the shorter version to be substantially more nimble or easier to ride and putting both of my children in the box left *very* little room for any other cargo. Since I really do want to replace the use of our car with this bike, being able to carry things in the box in addition to the kids is critical and I don’t think the short box would have worked for us for that reason. I’d been fairly certain this was true just from our previous short test rides, but it was completed confirmed for me during this ride.
Overall, despite rather dreary weather for much of the day, we were able to have a really good time on the ride. I got to test the limits of the kids patience for bike rides, I learned some things I was happy to know before picking up my bike, and we finally got to participate in a group ride and start meeting some other family bikers in Seattle! Mother’s Day was saved!