Visit any bike retailer website and the first thing you have to do is pick what ‘type’ of bike you want: road, electric, commuter, mountain, road racing etc... this is one bike that is pretty hard to categorise, and it’s so versatile that we can only safely say it most definitely is not a mountain bike or a racer!
It’s the smallest of Riese & Müller’s cargo e-bikes, and while I know its proportions look a little wacky, I promise that its weight and heft almost entirely disappear once you’re riding it. The first time you get on is quite peculiar, with the front wheel far out in front of you, but it quickly becomes so natural that switching back to a normal bike had me wobbling all over the place.
Its 2.23m length doesn’t seem so stretched when you’re riding it – you’re sat halfway along, for one thing, and I was quickly confident enough in its handling to throw it round corners at an angle, even laden – but it’s definitely there when you’re not. You’ll likely often need to do three-point turns when walking it around, and one of the few downsides of this bike is that it often won’t easily fit into bike parking spaces. R&M do say it can even fit on a car rack for longer journeys, but you do need to take off the front wheel first.
The combination of superb components and build quality, plus a powerful Bosch Performance Line CX motor, means that its weight and size isn’t an issue when riding the bike. The only time I felt it while riding was when I took one hand off the handlebars, and was having to keep the whole thing rolling and balanced with the other. Handlebars are wide-set for stability, but although you can adjust the bars and seat height easily, if you’re on the smaller side you may find it a bit of a stretch; I’m 5′ 8″, and had the seat as low as it could go, and handlebars just one increment up from the lowest.
The experience is nothing short of glorious. You sweep along gently and confidently, with the ride cushioned not just by the front shock-absorbers, but with your seat absorbing bumps that you might not avoid on other bikes thanks to a Cane Creek Thudbuster ST suspension block. The motor is powerful, but not in a flashy, boy-racer way; instead, working in conjunction with the responsive belt drive transferring power from your pedals and motor to the rear wheel, it just immediately pulls away effortlessly from a standing start. Set the power assist to max, use your gears, and what pedalling you do at low speeds feels mostly advisory. If you’re in good shape, you can step the power down through its five assistance levels, but you will start to notice the weight of the bike, and the only reason to do so (other than pride perhaps!) is to give yourself some more range.
Range is something you may wish to consider, because since the motor is doing a lot of work on a heavy bike like this, the range on a full charge isn’t stellar. It’s hard to give a definitive figure, even after the system learned my riding habits over a whole month, because it depends on topography, temperature, level of assist, and your riding style; but I consistently got between 40-65km of range from the 500Wh battery. That’s probably enough if you’re using this for anything up to light delivery duties, but if you need more, you can spec an additional battery; although this will add another £800 to the price.
That front storage space isn’t actually enormous, but you could add panniers on the spec we reviewed or even a small trailer. It’s big enough for a weekly shop, fits all the important stuff like 12″ pizza boxes and I found it’s even perfect for transporting a large dog. For child-carrying duties, an optional seat folds out from the lockable glove box in the base, with a highly adjustable five-point harness keeping your most precious cargo in place. The wide kickstand means the bike remains completely stable as you load up. Your passenger faces you on this bike, and it was lovely to be able to chat as we rode, since my daughter is usually in a Thule Chariot behind me. She reported that it was far comfier than her (quite expensive) trailer, and was most grumpy when we had to give the bike back after testing! If you have two children, it’s worth mentioning that this bike’s big brothe, the Packster 80, can take both.
In the spec we tested, there was a waterproof tarpaulin to protect cargo, and it could be set part-way along the top of the storage unit to offer some protection from light rain for a passenger. You can also buy a full waterproof canopy that sits on top.
Alternatively you can spec this bike with a shorter, rigid box in its cargo zone, which is kept in shape with a wrap-around strap, allowing it to be dropped down to accommodate wide loads. You can also spec it bare-framed, as there are bolt points for mounting your own custom solution.
I didn’t ever feel anything less than in total control, no matter what cargo I was carrying. With so much weight and momentum, for example, you want to make sure you can slow and stop reliably, and the Tektro Auriga Comp HD-500 disc brakes are superb. It did take me a surprisingly long time to adjust to the Enviolo 380 R&M custom hub gear, because it’s a twist system unlike most other derailleur or hub gear system that have fixed indexed gears. As you twist the control on the handlebars, you have infinite points where you can set the gearing, and a little graphic on the screen depicting a cyclist climbing a changing incline indicates whether you’re towards the high or low end of the gear range. It’s a little unsettling if you’re used to clicking through gears, but I did enjoy being able to be so precise with the gearing I wanted for every circumstance.
As we were reviewing in summer we didn’t have a proper opportunity to test the lights in pitch darkness, but I’m confident they’d be bright and clear. There’s a built-in immobiliser lock too, but given the bike’s value, you might be best locking it up in a garage.
There’s just one component that seems out of place, and that’s the control panel for the motor system. By default, this bike comes with Bosch’s Purion display, which is nice and neat, and certainly gives access to the core functionality you want: speed, assistance level, remaining range estimate and more. On such a high-end expensive bike though, you’d be forgiven for feeling a little short-changed when even the mid-range Intuvia – with its bigger screen and more information – surely wouldn’t cost R&M too much more. You can instead choose to spec the COBI.Bike sport system in place of the Purion, but it will cost you over £200 because it puts your own smartphone at the heart of controlling the bike’s systems, and has a built-in sat-nav ,music control and much more. R&M has clearly judged that people either want all the bells and whistles of the COBI.Bike system or the most basic system Bosch makes, but I think some potential customers might want more options.
After using this bike as my daily driver for a month, I’m more convinced than ever that e-bikes have a vital role to play in our society. Its flexibility means it’s eminently practical as sole mode of transport or as a healthy, cheap-to-run alternative to a second car. Of course, it can fulfill the job you’d ‘expect’ of a thing called a cargo bike; the shop which loaned us this bike to review, Electric Bikes Scotland, has sold them to estates and maintenance departments at two local universities, and to companies such as florists for last-mile deliveries. Because they’re not subject to the laws that most motorised vehicles are subject to, in most cases you can ride it right up to the front door of where you’re delivering to, using routes closed off to delivery vans or inside London low-emission zones.
The Packster 40 is also a hugely practical option for regular people too. Grocery shopping, taking your dog to the park, dropping your child off at nursery on the way to work, or even just going for a leisurely ride and ignoring its cargo-carrying abilities – all in all this bike is a wonderful thing.
The only bad things are its size limiting your ability to use bike racks and cycle parking spaces, and the price; it’s not that it’s overpriced as such, but it’s definitely a major investment, with a starting price of £4,099 and £5,192 in the spec we’re reviewing here. Running costs will be buttons, and depending on what you do with it the cost of your electricity etc will probably be somewhere between £5 and £20 a year. There’s no getting away from the fact that this is more than many will pay for a second-hand car, but numerous retailers do offer 0% finance options. If you’re lucky enough to live in Scotland, a government-backed scheme unlocks up to £6,000 loans for e-cargo bikes, also at 0% and with payments spread over four years. It’s still a lot of money, but these schemes take the pain out of spending so much in one go.
If you’re a company looking to add or replace cargo capability, it wouldn’t take long at all to work out that a bike such as the Packster 40 would pay for itself very quickly. If you’re using it privately the sums are probably a bit tougher, but if you’re fortunate enough to be in a position to buy this bike, I think you’ll adore it and be delighted by how practical and flexible it is. If you’re anything like me, you’ll be irked and astonished when you come up against jobs it can’t actually do: “What do you mean I have to use the car to take this dismantled wardrobe to the recycling centre? Nonsense, dear!”