The bakfiets, or box bike, is much less well known in North America than the longtail and has often been dismissed as not being suited to the longer distances and large hills that many need to traverse in North American cities. For older styles of bakfiets these criticisms were largely true. Compared to longtails (like the Edgerunner or Mundo), classic bakfietsen are heavy, not very good at climbing hills, and have brakes that aren’t strong enough for descents with heavy loads. But now there is a new crop of bakfiets-style bikes that are changing all these things. Among them is the Riese and Müller Packster 80.
I first learned about bakfiets shortly after buying our first cargo bike, a Yuba BodaBoda V3 that I was using to cart two kids around a fairly flat city. I was becoming frustrated by not being able to protect the kids from the rain on the back of the bike and how wiggly the whole thing felt as they got larger. When we found out we were going to be moving to Seattle I was determined to trade the BodaBoda in for something with weather protection. But what bakfiets was going to work for those famous Seattle hills? And would we really be able to carry everything we needed once we filled the box up with our 2 kids? After a couple of weeks spent furiously reading up on my options I was fairly certain I wanted a Packster 80. About a month and many test rides later we placed an order and almost a year ago we got our bike. With more than 3000 miles logged since we brought it home, I can say I’ve never regretted the decision at all. This bike has all the benefits of a classic bakfiets, a cargo capacity that rivals even the largest longtail, and provides a fun, safe ride for me and my kids all over hilly Seattle.
Review in a Nutshell
- Huge cargo capacity
- 5 point seatbelts for 2 kids
- Front shock for a smoother ride
- Bosch Performance CX electric assist system can handle all but the steepest hills, even fully loaded
- Low standover and highly adjustable handlebar positioning fit a variety of riders
- Lackluster rear rack
- Stock seat post is low quality
- Giant brake levers and finicky brake alignment
- Large turning radius and hard to store and transport
Price and where to buy:
- Base price (USD): $6439
- As reviewed (USD): $7488 (including rain canopy from Blaq Designs in Portland, OR)
- Riese and Müller bikes can be purchased from Riese and Müller dealers. Find one here: https://www.r-m.de/en-us/dealer-search/
Riese and Müller Packster 80 Detailed Review
The first impression of the Packster 80 is pretty much universally that it’s HUGE. And it is. When I first saw it in person I wasn’t sure I would be able to handle such a monster of a bike. But when I got on and rode I was surprised how easy and fun I found it. I’ll point out that yes, there’s a learning curve to riding a bakfiets and although it was an easy and short one for me that isn’t always the case. If you’ve never been on a bakfiets before it’s going to take a few rides to get comfortable. After that though, you’ll be surprised how easy it is, especially once you load it up with a few kids and realize how much nicer the ride is when they get to moving than pretty much any other 2 wheeled cargo bike. Compared to other bakfiets the Packster 80 is actually more nimble than most, despite the length of the bike. It’s also a fairly smooth ride due to the front shock. And the low standover height and adjustability of the handlebar height mean that it’s comfortable for most riders between ~5′ and 6’4″ or so. The turning radius is very wide, and you feel that a lot when you are walking the bike and trying to position it at the bike rack. That said, the bike fits through surprisingly tight spaces and is much easier to ride than you would expect.
Cargo carrying and related options
We selected the standard box with 2 kid seats and I feel like this is a place where the R&M bikes are especially strong. The seat is padded (bottom and back) and has 5-point harnesses instead of the 3 point and lap belt styles that are much more common on bakfiets. This makes it more secure and comfortable for young passengers and lets you skip having to have a Yepp mini or other seat installed in the box for kids 10-18 months old as you might need to do in other bakfiets. My youngest was only 19 months old when we first got the bike, so I really appreciated this feature. It was also immediately clear to me that having the weight down low as it is on the Packster was going to make me much more comfortable carrying wiggly children and that has been absolutely true.
With the rear rack installed and the extra-large box, the Packster 80 has a cargo capacity that rivals bikes like the Mundo and Edgerunner. With both children on board, I can easily carry 100 lbs of groceries or all the camping supplies for a weekend of bike camping. And for regular weekly grocery trips, I often don’t even need to use the rear rack at all. A few months in I added seating in the front of the box for additional children. I’ve carried up to 4 kids at one time and still been able to put all their stuff on the bike with us. The rain canopy I use with the bike is made by a company in Portland, Blaq Designs, and provides plenty of nice dry space in the box for kids and cargo. From a cargo carrying capacity, this bike really does replace a car. And while it is a lot harder to park than a regular sized bike it’s much easier (and cheaper) to park in the city than a car. This is helped along by the fact that it comes standard with an Abus frame lock on the rear wheel (keyed the same as the battery!). Since the bike is so big and heavy that frame lock goes a long way to keep it safe, even when you can’t find something to lock it to for short trips into the store. Set the frame lock before you go in and no one can ride off on the bike without cutting through the lock first. It’s not suitable for leaving the bike for long periods, but it’s great when you need to run into preschool to pick your kid up and there isn’t a bike rack.
Drivetrain and electric assist
The final thing that makes the Packster work so well as a car replacement is the electric assist system. This was the first bike I rode with the Bosch system and I’m a big fan. There’s no throttle, you just pedal and it adds in a boost. The strength of that boost depends on what you have the assist set to. There are four modes (from weakest to strongest): Eco, Tour, Sport, and Turbo. Eco makes riding the empty Packster feel a lot like just riding a normal bike rather than a giant bike in terms of effort. Tour is what I use most often when the bike is loaded and I’m in relatively flat areas. Sport got changed to eMTB mode by Bosch recently and attempts to provide a smart level of assist based on what you are putting into pedaling. I could see it being useful for an actual eMTB but it’s too conservative in its application for my taste and doesn’t get much use for me. Turbo is the highest level of assist and is too strong for flat ground but very effective for hills, or for starting out when you accidentally left the bike in too high a gear.
The assist expands our bikeable range dramatically, makes the bike easier to ride in windy conditions, and makes riding in traffic or other situations with a lot of stop-and-go much more pleasant. It is very nicely integrated into the bike and is very straightforward and fun to use. There are hills in Seattle that the Packster can’t do, even with the assist maxed out but to be honest those are hills I am not interested in riding because they just feel unsafe to me and they represent maybe 2% of the roads in Seattle. In typical use, I get ~30-33 miles of use out of one battery. A little higher in the summer when the battery stays warm and a little less in the winter. In flat areas (which I am not in often) I’ve gotten 38 miles and still had more than 50% battery life. For ~$1000 more you can buy the bike with two batteries and likely never have concerns about range but 1 battery is more than enough to get through our average day. The only time I miss having the extra range is when we do things like bike camping and log extra long days on the bike.
I have the assist system paired with a standard derailleur and a 10-speed cassette. I had some initial concerns about whether the gear range would be adequate and whether I’d run into problems not being able to downshift before stopping on hills. Those concerns have been largely unfounded. The gear range is good, though long term I do plan to replace the cassette it came with one that has a better granny gear (42 tooth instead of 36 tooth) for easier hill starts and for making the bike more rideable without the assist. And since I *have* to downshift before stopping if I want it to be easy to get going again it’s become second nature and I have only run into an issue where I actually couldn’t get the bike going again due to failure to downshift 2 or 3 times in 3000+ miles. This is helped by the fact that shifting is very easy, responsive, and reliable on this bike. There is an option to get the bike with a NuVinci internally geared hub, which allows gear changes while stopped but for me, it wasn’t worth the added expense. I’ve spoken to people who got that option, however, and they love it. So, in the end, I think most people will be happy either way.
Problems I’ve encountered
In general, I’ve found the Packster very well made but there are a few small problems with it. The most annoying is that the clamp on the seat post failed within a few hundred miles and started letting the seat slip so that the nose pointed up. After looking at the design I’m not shocked it failed and I don’t think the clamp is adequate for use on a cargo bike. I opted to replace it with a fairly fancy suspension seat post but there are other options for a replacement that are much cheaper ($50 or so) and R&M will send you another stock seatpost if you wish to try your luck with it again. The disc brakes have been a little finicky for me. The pistons stick at times (though consistent sticking is a sign to get the pads replaced) and there’s fairly often some amount of brake rub going on. As a result, the bike goes through brake pads a little faster than I’d like. Also, the brake levers are very large and I hit my head on them a lot loading kids in the box with the canopy on and find them a bit hard to use if I need to brake with just a couple of fingers. The only stock part that I think must be replaced is the pedals, which are terribly slick in the rain. Like the seat post, this is a cheap switch, but it’s an annoyance and they could have selected pedals in the same price range that had better grip when wet.
Who should get this bike?
If you are looking for a bike that can replace your second car (or maybe even your only car), have multiple kids, and want to minimize how much you need to dress everyone for the weather or spend time strapping things into place, this is the bike for you. The Packster can do it all, sometimes even better than a car can (my Outback couldn’t fit 4 kids!) and you will feel safe and confident while doing it. When it’s cold or rainy you can just toss the kids in the box with a blanket. Their backpacks, your work bag, the groceries, whatever, can all just get tossed in the box with no need to fuss around with securing them. And the Packster has an extremely well-built frame and powerful brakes that combine with the assist to make it perfectly suited to hilly areas, longer distances, or lots of cargo.
If you don’t have a garage or similar storage area you may find it challenging to park the bike at your house. It’s not something you can carry down a couple of stairs to a basement. If you live in a very flat area, you might be better off with something that doesn’t have the extra expense of the electric assist. And if your kids are older and taller you may find that a longtail gives them a riding position they like more and works better for you.
This was a guest post by Genevieve Metzger. Genevieve is a scientist and mom of two living in Seattle, WA. She and her husband were sometimes cyclists before kids but discovered a passion for family biking after moving to Eugene, OR. In addition to science and biking they love camping, hiking, and just generally being outdoors. She blogs at https://genepedia.wordpress.com