Two and a half months after we ordered it, and more than 2 weeks after it was originally projected to arrive, our Packster 80 finally made it to Splendid Cycles in Portland in mid-May. Of course, we live in Seattle, so there was still one more leg of the journey it needed to complete. That Friday I rented a motorcycle trailer from Uhaul, having compared measurements of the trailer and bike online and decided it would be close, but doable. I did not have a backup plan for getting the bike home.
After a slightly harrowing start to the trip when I ended up getting on the I5 express lanes on my way out of Seattle (first time! while driving with a trailer for the first time in ~10 years!) things went pretty well and I made decent time to Portland. The bike was assembled and ready for me and Joel asked if there was anything I’d like to change before taking it home. Based on my experience with renting the Packster 60 from G&O, I asked for a bar that was a bit more swept back than the flat bar it shipped with and they were happy to set it up with a Satori Vienna that Joel says is popular on the Bullitts they sell. I also added a mirror and upgraded ergo grips from Portland Design Works. After a quick test ride to confirm things felt good and some time spent finalizing the sale it was time to see if the bike was going to fit on the trailer. Lucky for me my calculations were correct and it fit with about a foot of extra space. It took about 10 minutes to get the bike strapped down using the cargo straps I brought and then it was time to get back on the road. There was almost no movement of the bike in the trailer during the return to Seattle and I was lucky enough to only hit traffic near JBLM and for the last few miles of the trip when I got to Seattle.
When I arrived home the kids were really excited to see the bike. They both insisted on jumping into the box while the bike was still on the trailer. We’d been without a cargo bike for a long time (other than a few days of rentals) and they were thrilled to have one at the house again. Eventually we were able to get them out so we could unload the bike and take a short test ride. And after a weekend of visiting family we were able to start using it as our primary daily transport. In this post I’m going to focus on my overall impressions of the bike, but if you want a more complete run down of how it works check out the excellent and in depth review at Hum of the City.
I was a bit worried that after such a long wait there would be things about the bike that weren’t as I’d remembered or expected. That hasn’t been a problem. We’ve had a couple of minor issues: there was an extra spacer on the rear fender making it rub, the rear brake has a tendency to rub a bit due to how much braking we do in Seattle, the saddle sometimes tilts backward a bit and has to be adjusted. And there are also a few things I’d change if I could: I’m not sure why they set a 20kg weight limit on the rear rack and I’m disappointed that it’s not 25kg so I could feel confident using a Yepp Maxi back there, the rear rack design isn’t as supportive for panniers as I’d like, the front headlight isn’t as nice and bright as the one we on the Load we rented. They’re all pretty minor things but this is an expensive bike and I’d love to see these little things addressed.
I remain very pleased that I went for the longer version of the bike, although the turning radius is pretty impressively huge, even compared to other large cargo bikes like the Mundo or Edgerunner. There have been a few places where the only option is for me to dismount to make the turn, and sometimes even do a 3 (or 5) point turn. But these are rare and not part of my normal routes so it hasn’t been a major concern of mine. I’ve used the bike for bicycle camping (both where I had to carry pretty much all the gear on the bike with me and on a supported ride where I only needed to bring the kids and H’s bike) and there is no way I’d have been able to carry everything I needed without the extra space up front. I regularly pick up ~4-5 bags worth of groceries while I have both kids and ride home with no problem. I picked up a set of Basil Basonyl panniers at G&O for the rear rack and each fits about 1 bag of groceries and then I put 2 bags worth in a Trader Joe’s soft cooler bag, which fits neatly in the front of the box with a gallon of milk next to it. I’ve transported 14″ and 16″ bikes and a couple of tricycles for the kids to ride at the local parks. In terms of capacity expansion I’d love to be able to add an easily removable way to seat another kid or two in the box. I’d also like an easy way to “bag and drag” a 16″ bike behind me instead of putting it in the box. In the long run I’m considering asking whether I can have a Caddyrack built for the bike to make that a possibility. But the take home from my view is that if you want to use this bike as a do everything bike with more than one kid you will be well served with the longer box. If you really need to be making tight turns, go for the shorter one or maybe just consider a longtail.
The other big choice we made was to get the derailleur instead of the internal hub. This was 1) to save money and 2) because I wanted the larger gear range it offered. In theory it also makes removing the rear wheel for flat repair easier but I can’t see myself being able to do that regardless given the weight of this bike. The tradeoffs are that the derailleur setup wears faster and is messier and I can’t shift it at a standstill. I’m not too worried about the mess, since I wear almost exclusively skinny leg pants already so they aren’t interacting with the chain ever. So far wear isn’t a problem for us, but obviously in the long run it will play a role. Especially come ~September when the rain returns. I’m pretty certain the gear range is worth it for our situation though. I regularly use gears 1-8, sometimes 9 and there have definitely been times I’ve wished for a lower granny gear. Eventually we’ll probably tweak the gearing a bit to make that happen. The assist seems to play nicely with the gear changes and I rarely forget to downshift before a stop. When I do I can get by with bumping the assist to help make it easier to take off. I’m sure I’d appreciate being able to change gears at a stop but it hasn’t been a big problem.
The other question in my mind going in to all of this was power. The Bosch system is underpowered compared to several of the well-regarded after market options and Seattle has some BIG hills. I’m not a big person and I almost always have at least 60 extra pounds on the bike and not infrequently 100-150 lbs. So can I tackle everything I need to? Yes. There have been a couple of hills I’ve chickened out of because I wasn’t completely sure I could get up them and I did not want to get stuck halfway up with two kids in the box. In those cases I went a block over and tried the slightly less absurdly steep version of the hill and had no issues. Yes, I have to work going up big hills but I can get us up them, often without even needing to max out the assist. And less steep hills are downright fun because I can take it slow with minimal effort or put some power in and blast up at 15+ mph. The return from one of our grocery stores involves about 40 straight blocks of climbing. Not steep, but enough that on a regular bike you are slow and sick of it by the time you hit the top. On the Packster it’s fun. Even loaded with two kids and 50+ lbs of groceries. In terms of battery life I easily get 30 miles under normal use and still have some battery leftover. I put 30 miles on one charge during our first camping trip, which was heavily loaded (at least 120lbs in addition to me) and involved a lot of hills but at a fairly slow pace for most of it. At the end of that I had ~25% battery life left. I put close to 40 miles on a single charge during our second camping trip, which was less heavily loaded (~80-100lbs in addition to me) and very flat. At that point I still had at least 50% battery life. So range will depend a lot on how much you need to use the assist but you should get at least 20 miles with heavy use and lots of hills and potentially upwards of 60 miles if you are in a flat area and aren’t using the assist much.
Some other points based on things I’ve seen elsewhere or cool things I’ve discovered about the bike:
- I only hit the ratchet part of the strap a couple of times with my knee while using the bike. I was worried about this from the Hum of the City review but it hasn’t been an issue. **Edit: I have hit this pretty badly once now. Coming down a steep driveway onto a busy street I needed to stop at the bottom to evaluate traffic and bobbled a bit and while catching my balance I slammed my leg into the box right where this ratchet is. Left me with a nice bruise. Under normal operation I haven’t had much a problem though.**
- The frame lock is great but sticks a little so I have to push it a bit to click into place so I can remove the key.
- The strap makes a great U-lock holder!
- Pool noodles can be used as padding on the edges of the box to cushion things if your kids are prone to sleeping in the box.
- The harnesses are great and I find the buckles fairly easy to use but they’ll be too short for big kids (7+ or so) and too long for little kids (under 18 months or so). I don’t think this is a big deal because most kids over 4 or 5 can be trusted to sit in the box without a harness and it shouldn’t be too hard to make the straps shorter for a smaller kid if you need to. Little T is 21 months and on the large side for his age and the straps are loose, but not terribly so, when all the way tightened.
- I wish they’d cover the foam on the seat back in some way because my kids immediately tried to scratch it and yank it off the wood. I got on to them and they haven’t tried again so far but I could see children messing the foam up pretty easily just being kids.
- So far I love the front shock. It improves the ride in the box for the kids quite a bit. It’s not as a plush a ride as the Load by any stretch, but it’s still nice.
- While most double kickstands leave the front wheel in the air by an inch or so the kickstand on the Packster leaves you with both wheels in contact with the ground. I suspect this improves stability somewhat but it makes it a bit harder to work on the bike without having an actual stand for it since there’s no easy way to get one wheel off the ground.
We’re almost 2 months in to ownership now and the bike has about 360 miles on it. We’ve been bike camping twice, had up to 3 kids ride in the box, and carried kids + a week’s worth of groceries almost every week. We only use the car for stuff that is more than 5-10 miles away and are becoming familiar with the best bike routes for safety and avoiding traffic. The kids adore the bike and get confused when we have to use the car (H asked us why we couldn’t bike to Olympia and why we couldn’t bike to go pick up the trailer to transport the bike!). We get a *lot* of attention. I thought I was used to this from riding the BodaBoda but with the Packster it’s a whole new level. The bus driver opening the door to talk to me at a stoplight. The UPS delivery man stopping at the corner to ask me where I got it. At least 2 people a day asking if it’s hard to balance (NO!). People following me into the grocery store asking questions about it. Some days it’s a little much for me, given my introverted nature. But mostly I’m excited to be showing more people what a bike can do. I’ve noticed that it’s especially important to talk about the assist because it takes the perception from “wow, you’re amazing to be able to do that” to “hey, maybe that’s something I could do!”. Hopefully I’m convincing a few people along the way that it’s something they should try. The Packster is definitely a good bike to do it!
The big thing that I haven’t gotten to test yet is the rain cover. As I’ve previously mentioned, we’re getting a rain cover custom made by Blaq in Portland. We don’t have it yet, and even if we did it’s only rained a couple of times since we got the bike. In the fall when we’ve gotten some use out of it I’ll be sure to update with how we like the cover.