We’ve had the Packster 80 for almost 4 years now. In that time we’ve put >8000 miles on it and it’s been at times my only bike, and at others a bike that I only put a few miles on during the weekends. Through all of that though, it’s remained my favorite bike. The bike I would keep even if you forced me down to only one bike. It was supplanted from primary bike status by the GSD only by the fact that the Packster just cannot fit on the water taxi that I took to work after we moved to Vashon. Now the pandemic has forced me to change up my work situation so that I’m part time and fully remote and I’m back to riding the Packster as my primary. How has it held up to all those miles and why is it still the bike I pick most often? Read on to find out.
Although I’m no longer putting the sort of miles onto the Packster that I did in the first year we had it, it’s still getting a respectable ~1500 miles per year since we moved to Vashon. That adds up to a total of more than 8000 miles since we first got the bike in May 2017. The motor was replaced at ~3500 miles due to the headlight port failing following a headlight upgrade that included a short developing as a result of wires that weren’t given enough slack before being pinned in place with a zip tie. I suspect the two things are linked and that such failures are unlikely if you manage to avoid such shorts. Most of the other components have fared better. Obviously I’ve needed to replace chains, cassettes, and brake pads on a regular basis, as one expects with any bike. I replaced the tires finally at about 6k miles, and in that time only had one flat, from a large piece of glass in the front tire. The seatpost was replaced about 6 months in after the clamp began to fail (as detailed in my Packster upgrades post), and I now ride with a GSD seat on the Packster because it’s just a nice match for my butt. I’ve had the pedals (replacements for the stock pedals, which I don’t recommend keeping) repacked once. I needed a number of spokes replaced about 2 years in due to them being damaged by the frame lock over time and multiple rounds of me forgetting to disengage it before trying to roll the bike off the kickstand. The frame, rear rack, box, etc. are all holding up well and haven’t really needed any attention from me.
There are 4 main components that aren’t particularly wear items (in the way brake pads and chains are) but have shown substantial wear.
The first is a small one, the rubber strap on the rear rack. This strap failed early in 2020 after almost 3 years of use and abuse. I didn’t realize how useful I found it until I couldn’t use it anymore. The replacement took some time coming but I finally got it last week and was so happy to install it! It cost $13 so not too big a deal for it to wear out a few years in. It’s a but of a hard part to come by though, so expect it to take a little time to get unless your local shop has a lot of R&M bikes and keeps them in stock.
The second is the kickstand. I’ve always been a bit unhappy with the Packster kickstand that came on the 2017-2018 models. It was OK at first, but over time the feet would loosen and it would become increasingly unstable. Tightening them didn’t particularly work, and by the middle of 2019 I was finding the bike much more unstable when parked than I would have liked. Thankfully, R&M updated the Packster kickstand sometime in 2019 and the new version is compatible with all Packster 60 and 80 models! The new version is much more like the Load kickstand that I liked a great deal, so I upgraded it earlier this year. This is not covered under warranty but I was frustrated enough with the old stand I decided it was worth the investment. I was able to do it myself, but if you don’t have a way to lift the bike I would definitely have it done by your shop (we have a kayak lift that can lift the Packster quite easily that I used for this job). The new kickstand is quieter when taking the bike off the stand, more stable laterally on all types of ground I’ve tried it on, and easier to engage than the old version. I’m mostly pleased with it. The biggest issue I’ve had is that the bike doesn’t set back on the kickstand quite as far as other similar stands I’ve used and thus is more prone to rolling forward off the stand than I would like. I’m still trying to tweak that to see if I can get it to be a bit more stable but it makes me nervous when my kids move around in the box while the bike is parked, especially if they move from the back to the front of the box.
The next is the front fork. In theory, this is a part that should be serviced regularly but shouldn’t need to be replaced often. Unfortunately, the one R&M used on the 2017 bikes proved to not hold up well over time and many users experienced premature wear. While mine held up fairly well compared to some, I noticed a loss of performance over time. Late last year I started pursuing a fork replacement with the new Suntour cargo fork that R&M have switched to using. This fork uses a through-axle instead of a quick release and it able to be serviced more easily than the old fork. It also should not be at risk of premature wear the way the old forks were (though there have still been some complaints). Knowing this upgrade was coming eventually, I picked up a through-axle front Packster wheel for the cost of shipping when an online-friend upgraded their wheelset last year. Then I waited a few months for the new fork to come in at the shop. Then we attempted the install for the first time and discovered that we also needed a new steering clamp because the stanchions on the new fork are thicker than those on the old one. Waited about 6 more weeks for that to get to G&O, another week for it to get to Vashon Bikes and me to be able to drop the bike off. It was *finally* installed last week, 10 months or so after I first started planning for the replacement. I’m sure we’d have found ways to make it happen faster if the bike had been unusable without the replacement, but the long delays in getting parts have definitely been frustrating regardless. The new fork is finally on though, and I can definitely notice the increase in performance! Well worth it.
And finally, in late August, 2020 the front brake lever on my Packster failed and began leaking mineral oil whenever I squeeze it. If I were happy with the brakes this would be a fairly quick and cheap fix. But the truth is I’ve never really been happy with the brakes. I don’t like the rather lacking power I get from them. I don’t like the heat management issues I experience using them on hills with such a heavy bike (related to the power issue of course). I don’t like the experience of changing the pads, which I find is very fiddly compared to changing the Magura pads on the GSD. I don’t like the brake levers, which are GIANT and require my entire hand to pull effectively. They are also impressively cold in the winter compared to other levers I’ve used. On the whole I find the Tektro Auriga Comp brakes that came stock on the Packster to be underpowered and unimpressive and I’ve wanted them swapped for a long time. The broken brake lever, combined with the already impending fork swap, meant the time was right for a change in brakes. I spoke with Brain at Vashon Bikes and got the ball rolling to figure out what brakes I should try next, expecting to end up with something like the Shimano Zees. After a lot of back and forth, we settled on the TRP Evos. These are high end downhill mountain biking brakes and should have dramatically better stopping power and heat management than the current Tektros. The levers are much more pleasant to use and much smaller in size (less interaction with my rain canopy). They also have thicker rotors that should mean less warping under heavy braking. Because this swap couldn’t be completed until I had all the parts for the front fork swap, and because it took a long time for the extra long hydraulic line to get made, I only recently finally got the new brakes on. And because of a mistake with that hydraulic line I actually still don’t have the correct brake lever for the front brake. We’re getting close though! I’ve only had the new setup for about a week, and I haven’t been doing any big hills yet with it, but so far I’m impressed with the power and the levers are much easier to use with 2 fingers than the old levers.
All this discussion of replacement parts brings us to why? Why would I drop the money for fancy replacement brakes and a new fork for a ~4 year old bike with >8000 miles on it? Why did I keep riding the partially broken Packster for flat trips instead of taking the Load 75 until the brakes were replaced on the Packster? The announcement by R&M of the Packster 70 was a big part of the reason for the former, and the size/shape of the box is the biggest reason for the latter. The Packster 70 looks like a really cool bike in a lot of ways, but it barely resembles the Packster 80. Since I really love many of the features that did not make it into the Packster 70 that means I need to make my P80 last. No stock box on another 2-wheeled eBakfiets really compares to the box of the P80, and that box is a huge part of what makes me and my children love the bike so much. After a couple of weeks riding almost exclusively in the Load 75 my kids were so excited to spread out more in the Packster. The older two are very clear that they prefer it to the Load for that reason. A lot of my riding involves carrying more than just my kids and it’s just so much easier to do that with the Packster and it’s giant box than it is with other bikes that I find it hard to justify taking a different bike unless I’m going to be riding solo or maybe with just one child. I’ve also found that I really love the simplicity and visibility into the Blaq canopy. Since a big part of why I like bakfietsen is having my kids up front and visible to me this really matters. It’s just so easy to have a good view of my kids with on the Packster. From pictures the Packster 70 just doesn’t speak to me in the same way. It has cool features, yes, but not ones I’m looking for in a bike. I’m headed into Seattle for test rides this weekend (not in the market, just wanting to get a chance to test things out and give feedback on them) and it’s possible the P70 will change my mind, but I’m doubtful. Even if it’s an awesome bike there are a lot of reasons it’s not the right bike for me while the P80 is.
So would I buy the Packster again if we had the choice to make over again?
Yes and No.
Yes, because I love the bike. I still ride it pretty much every day. Even for trips by myself. Most of the parts have held up well. Truly it has proved to be a bike that our family was able to grow with. I expect to keep it for at least another 3 years, hopefully longer.
But there’s also a big thing that’s been nagging at me. Early on in my ownership of the Packster I had a chance to meet with a rep for R&M. I was excited for the chance to chat with him about some of the things I loved about the bike, along with a few things that were frustrating me and I thought they might be able to improve. I didn’t expect that he’d be thrilled to hear every complaint, but I was hoping to at least get a response that indicated they would think about some of my ideas, especially as I’d had similar feedback from other Packster owners. Instead, my feedback was met with dismissal and comments that were, frankly, quite rude. In a particularly galling example, when I pointed out that the seat clamp was an especially weak part that had failed on me very quickly despite quite easy use and suggested it would be really great to have a part that could function as a seat clamp, I was told that was impossible because they needed to meet a price point. I have to be honest, this was not something I felt happy to hear about a bike I had spent >$6k on. Other feedback was met with statements about how I was using the bike wrong (I wasn’t). I left the meeting pretty frustrated but I decided to consider it a one off and just move on.
Since then we’ve had to deal with R&M for a few issues (fork replacements on the Load 60, Tinker, and Packster being the main ones) but it’s gone through the bike shop and we haven’t had to interact with R&M directly. There are patterns I’ve seen emerging, though. That seat post clamp I complained about in 2017? The 2019 Load 75 we bought used had the same one. And it failed on our ride home from buying it, leaving T temporarily stranded with the bike and 2 kids. More than 2 years after I pointed out that it was prone to exactly this type of failure. Despite the experiences of multiple owners all over the world who have had it fail (and relayed those failures to R&M). But it’s not just that they ignored my feedback (and multiple customer complaints), even on something that was objectively bad and shouldn’t even be a difficult or expensive fix. It’s that there is a pattern of customer blaming in the responses I see to problems customers have with their bikes. It’s that the timeline of getting warranty (and other) issues dealt with is still often months long even after having years to work out kinks in the process, and even before the pandemic made everything slower. It’s reports I get from other R&M owners of being treated rudely and having their issues dismissed.
The world of electric cargo bikes is a new world for most of us. Companies as well as customers. It’s increasingly obvious to me that a really important component of picking an electric cargo bike is the support that the company will offer you over the years after you buy the bike. I think that’s something R&M aren’t doing as good a job with as they should be. And I think that’s something we need to be talking about.
As it stands I’m not sure I’ll buy another R&M bike, at least not new, because I’m not confident that the company will be there to help me if something goes wrong with the bike. I really hope they fix that.