Bikes

Initial impressions: Blaq rain canopy for the Packster 80

When I first decided to get the Packster 80, R&M were not yet making a rain cover for the longer version of the bike. Since half the point of getting a bakfiets instead of a longtail was that we live in Seattle and want to keep the kids warm and dry for the 8-9 months a year that it rains most every day, that meant we needed to find another solution for the rain canopy. Luckily, Splendid Cycles has been working with another Portland Company, Blaq Designs, to make rain canopies for a variety of cargo bikes for a while now. So we placed an order at the time we ordered the bike in March. In September the canopy was finally ready to be installed (we weren’t putting too much a rush on it since Seattle is so dry during the summer). We had it put on at G&O here in Seattle and I’ve had it on the bike for about two weeks now. While we haven’t dealt with much rain yet the temps have been lower in the mornings, so we’ve spent a lot of time with the cover on the bike. I’ll write up something more exhaustive later on this year when we’ve had more rain but I thought I would post my initial impressions about the canopy for anyone trying to decide which cover to get or whether to get one at all.

Build quality and materials:

The canopy is definitely made of high quality materials. Both the cloth and window sections are thick and I have no worries about them getting damaged under normal use. The poles are flexible but sturdy and are not going to break unless you somehow managed to run one over while it was bent or something. The windows are very clear and easy to see through, which I know my kids appreciate. The snaps are a type used in attaching weather covers used in marine applications, so I have little doubt they’ll hold up to regular use in a wet environment.

Design and performance:

In comparison to the R&M canopy this one is taller, has a simpler design, and has an open back. There are plusses and minuses to these differences, but I’d argue that in most contexts the Blaq canopy is going to be the better option.

The extra height is great for anyone who will be using this to carry kids older than 4-5 years. In a flat place with excellent biking infrastructure where your kids can be on their own bikes at an early age this might not be a big benefit. In somewhere like Seattle, where your kids are unlikely to be biking any real distance on their own before 7 or 8, and may need to be on your bike until 9+ if you aren’t using a car, this is huge. I’m 5’6″ with a long torso and I can sit underneath this canopy without bending over, so pretty much any kid will fit comfortably until at least age 10. Additionally, the taller canopy means that the rider is better protected from the elements while the bike is being ridden and there’s less chance of interference with the handlebars (which was a serious issue I had with the R&M canopy). Additionally, because this canopy is taller in the front, as well as the back, when compared to the R&M canopy, you can do things like carry extra kids or large objects in the front of the box without having to ditch the canopy. The drawbacks of the canopy being taller are that you’ll be unable to use handlebars that are substantially wider than the stock handlebars, there will be more surface area getting pushed on by the wind, and you cannot have a closed back while also having a canopy this tall.

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Lots of headroom and clearance for the handlebars, even if they’re on the highest height setting
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There’s even enough headroom for them to sit in the seats I made in the front of the box!

The open back of the canopy is something that initially seems like a big drawback to this design, but ultimately has a lot of things to recommend it. It extends to useful season for this canopy (which does not have removable/rollable sides), because there’s enough air flow to keep the kids from getting too hot later in the day when things warm up. It makes it easy to talk to your kids, which is one of the great benefits of having a bakfiets in the first place. With the R&M canopy closed up I had to yell for H to hear me and she was basically impossible for me to hear. It makes it easy to put stuff in the bike without undoing any part of the canopy, and facilitates the loading and unloading process. And when the bike is parked inside any water that did get inside the box is going to be able to evaporate away without the need to open anything up. On the other hand, in a colder environment this canopy isn’t going to be able to keep passengers as warm. And if you need to leave the bike in standing rain, you’re going to get more water coming into the box than with a closed-back design.

The simplicity of the design, with just a few snaps and two blocks with holes to slip the poles into, is pretty amazing. Zippers can be great for access, but they are a weak point in terms of leaks and can be frustrating to use, especially one-handed. With the Blaq design you undo one snap and can pull pretty much the entire side of the canopy open without letting rain into the box. The poles are kept under a good amount of tension the entire time the canopy is in use, which prevents the canopy from being pushed into the handlebars (or the passengers) by the wind, something that played a role in my negative experience with the R&M canopy. Mounting the canopy to the bike is a reasonably simple affair as well, though I admit that slipping the canopy onto the main poles is a bit of a challenge at least the first few times and requires a good amount of space to work with. The primary drawback here is that you lose the bells and whistles that come with a more complex design, like adjustable height and the option to close up the back to complete the bubble around the passengers.

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The wooden blocks with holes for the poles to be inserted that were added to the box as part of installation
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Undoing a single snap provides easy access to the box without letting rain in

I’ve now ridden the bike with the canopy on for 2 weeks and experienced some moderate rain while using it. So far the biggest drawback is that you do get pushed around by the wind while it’s on. With light winds, this isn’t very noticeable, especially if you have some weight in the box. Unloaded and with higher winds, it starts to become more problematic. Cruising down a hill in the bike lane and being passed by a tractor-trailer going ~35 mph definitely was the most unnerving. The turbulence behind the truck came from many directions in a short space of time, which made it harder to adjust for. Even then, it only pushed me a few inches from the path I was trying to take. In most circumstances that isn’t going to be a big deal. There are a few places where I find I need to be extra careful with the canopy on though. Most obvious is bridges, where there is more likely to be wind and you are likely to be in a narrow lane with little room for error. Situations where you emerge from behind the cover of a building or hill, where you are next to high speed car traffic, or next to bodies of water are all places where you might encounter higher winds and wind that comes from unexpected directions or gusts suddenly. Keeping both hands on the handlebars and being a bit more aware of the potential for gusts is advisable in those situations. So far I haven’t encountered anything that needed more than a little extra care and giving myself a bit more space next to parked cars or other hazards. If you are new to the bike I’d recommend a week or so of riding without the canopy first so you get used to the handling before adding the extra wind resistance of the canopy.

On a related note, I am happy to report that at no point has there been enough flex in the canopy to push it into the handlebars in a dangerous way, as happened to me with the R&M canopy. That said, I have several times had the rear snap come undone with the bike in motion, which does allow the canopy to push into the handlebars on the side opposite the open snap. This is obvious when it happens and I was able to execute a safe stop and fix the problem every time it happened, but it was annoying. Each time it happened a kid had been pushing on the canopy from the inside. I’ve since adjusted the placement of the cross pole and haven’t had it happen again. I’ve also been discouraging the kids from pushing on the canopy. It has not happened from light contact like a kid falling asleep and having their head rest on the canopy. If it continues to be a problem there are a few potential solutions (adding a hook and piece of elastic at the back, for example) that I can try and will only require minimally more effort to open the canopy up when needed, so I’m not too concerned.

And finally, while I’m not ready to fully assess the performance in the rain, we did have our first true rain ride today and I was completely satisfied with how well it kept the kids (and me for that matter) dry and warm. Seattle rain is typically fairly light, and this was no exception, but it was still enough to leave my helmet dripping wet and completely cover my softshell jacket. The kids counted rain drops and bickered over toy cars and didn’t even need rain gear for our trip to the store. I loved it!

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Dry and warm in the rain in nothing but their hoodies

 

4 thoughts on “Initial impressions: Blaq rain canopy for the Packster 80

  1. Great review, nice and good photos and congratulations on the custom 2 seats added, this tops the Urban Arrow :D. The raincover looks gigantic and great, cool did you do it that way

    Like

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