Bikes

Troubles in paradise

I LOVE my Packster. But nothing is perfect. Over a few thousand miles with a bike problems crop up that aren’t obvious in the first weeks or months of ownership. I think it’s good to come back around and talk about those things so people have an idea of longer term reliability and issues they might encounter. Particularly since most reviews (including most of mine!) involve people riding the bikes for short periods of time or are written during the first month or so of ownership.

When I had about 800 miles on the Packster it got a firmware update. It’s never been quite the same since. I didn’t have any reason to tell the shop not to do the update, and they did ask beforehand. If I’d known what it would change I might have decided otherwise. That update added eMTB mode to the Packster’s Performance CX motor. This mode replaced the “Sport” setting and is intended to keep the rider from needing to change the settings for the assist during climbs while mountain biking (which is the intended use of the CX motor). Perhaps in that context it’s great. But I don’t use it in that context. I use it as a 120 lb rider pushing a 100+ lb bike and 70+ lbs of cargo up a bunch of hills. And I seriously hate eMTB mode because it’s just not aggressive enough assist for what I’m doing. It took away a setting I found really useful and did most of my climbing in and replaced it with something that is underpowered for my needs, forcing me to put the bike into turbo for everything that I would have previously used sport for. I end up getting worse range than before the update and I’m left with nothing between the relatively underpowered (for the Packster) tour mode and the mostly overpowered turbo mode. To add insult to injury, Bosch has made is so that this change is not reversible and you cannot opt out of eMTB being enabled after the update. I understand their desire to appeal to the target market of the CX motor but I really wish they would throw the rest of us a bone and let us stick to having sport mode if we preferred it. This problem does represent one issue that is fairly unique to ebikes: you can have a bike you are very happy with and have something about it change as a result of a firmware update, rather than a component failure or something of that sort. The good of e-assist, especially for cargo bikes, by far outweighs the bad for me but this is something worth keeping in mind when you decide which system you want to get.

The other Bosch-related problem I’ve experienced is a bit of an odd one. About a month ago I was riding to the bike shop and my headlight turned off and wouldn’t come back on, while the tail light worked fine. I expected it to be a minor wiring issue (previously the light had malfunctioned when a zip tie worked through the insulation in one spot) and thought I’d have the bike back shortly. As it turned out, the light and the wiring were fine but the port on the motor that powers the headlight had gone bad. In the end my entire motor had to be replaced. That meant a good bit of back and forth between the Bosch distributer and my shop and a couple of weeks without my bike (during which I got to ride the Metrofiets, so not a waste but still frustrating). Definitely not what I was anticipating. It also means my odometer set back to 0 with the new motor, which saddened me more than I expected. The bike as a whole now has ~3600 miles on it but the new motor only has a bit over 100. I know of one other motor failure in a Packster, though in that case it appeared to be a water intrusion problem and the motor itself failed rather than just the headlight port. The shop reported no sign of water intrusion with my motor, so hopefully it was just a one-off. The issue was handled under warranty and I do now have the bike back with a working headlight port *and* motor. I’ll admit that if it had happened outside of warranty I’d have been a lot more upset though because I don’t think replacing the motor just to get the headlight port working would have been viable for me.

The final longer term issue hasn’t actually been a problem for my own Packster as of yet, but has shown up on our Load and on a number of other Packsters. The front suspension fork appears to wear down relatively rapidly in some cases, leading to corrosion in parts of the shock that aren’t visible externally. This has cropped up in as little as ~500 miles for some users and not happened at all on other bikes (like mine) that have many times that mileage. R&M have switched the manufacturer for the forks for the new bikes so hopefully this problem will be contained to the first generation Packsters and Loads. R&M have been replacing the forks under warranty, though not with the new ones due to a shift in the type of axle used with the fork. If you’re experiencing this problem with your Packster or Load I would be interested to know. I have mixed feelings about this problem. I think it’s cropping up too early and I’d like to see more guidance from R&M about maintaining the shock. There wasn’t much information about this when I bought my bike, and most cargo and ebike shops don’t have tons of experience maintaining shocks so clear instructions from the manufacturer would be helpful to me as an owner. I will say that this was something a known risk to me when I bought the bike. Suspensions are moving parts and on a cargo bike they are relatively untested and subjected to many miles under fairly heavy loads. I’m not surprised to see there are issues but I’m hopeful it’s something that will get better as we go along. For my personal uses the front shock is still worthwhile. I’ve ridden in the box and can attest that it really does make a difference in the ride quality for the passengers. But it does need to be accompanied by reasonable maintenance costs or it won’t be worth it for many people.

Overall, despite a few problems, I’m still very happy with the bike. We’re approaching a year of ownership and 4000 miles and I have zero regrets about the purchase. The Packster has been almost everything I was looking for it to be (the biggest letdown has been the rear rack but along with some friends I’m hoping we’ll develop a fix for that). I’m glad that R&M seem to be addressing the fork issue and I still hold out some hope that Bosch will decide to make eMTB something that the rider can turn off and on rather than something that replaces the Sport mode that some of us were very happy with.

What longer term problems have you encountered with your cargo bike?

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4 thoughts on “Troubles in paradise

  1. Haha. We visited the Butchers and Bicycles shop in Copenhagen today for test rides. I asked Jakob at B&B about the “Sport” mode for the Bosch motors. He said Europe still has Sport mode on their CX motors. Easy fix – take your bike to Jakob.

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  2. It’s not quite a cargo bike, but my two chief challenges with my Organic Transit ELF (https://nerd.bike/ – about 500 miles so far) are (1) a lack of suspension resulting in such a bumpy ride that my kids lost enthusiasm quickly, and I’ve lost my enthusiasm only slightly more slowly. My kids prefer to ride in the car than in the ELF, which is a real shame. (2) it’s difficult to do any kind of maintenance. Most bike shops don’t want to touch it, and my own bike-maintenance-fu has never been that strong.
    My Kalkhoff Tasman Tour has probably 3,000 miles on it, and apart from a chain failure early on (the factory-supplied chain was far too weak, but the aftermarket replacement has gone the distance), I’ve been very happy with it. The front headlight developed a flaky connection about 2,000 miles in, but that’s easily solved. Overall, I’m happy with it.

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    1. I’ve heard a fair number of similar complaints about the ELF. It’s unfortunate that it has so many design flaws. Glad to hear your Kalkoff is working out well though. I really think ebike reliability has been improving a lot in the last few years.

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