The spacious and flexible Riese & Müller Packster models introduced last year are already selling like hotcakes for having more space than their brother model, the Load. So how come the newest Packster version is super small?

Riese & Müller’s CEO Sandra Wolf knows why.

THE CROSSOVER: Riese & Müller wants to blur the lines between classic ebikes and cargobikes, and made this shorter and slimmer Packster for those who just want a more practical bicycle without having to deal with a huge monster in the streets. This is one of two cargo box alternatives – note the new headrest for the backwards-facing child seat. All products photos: Riese & Müller

But before we head over to my interview with the strategic brain behind the explosive growth of the German premium brand, let’s have a brief recap on Riese & Müllers recent history.

And let’s start with the crazy thing they did back in 2013:

They axed every model that didn’t have an electric motor from their legendary line of touring and city bikes. From one model year to the next, they were all gone.

THE WHEELBUILDER: Riese & Müller are making their frames at their partner factories in Asia, but every frame is being meticulously controlled at the assembly line in Germany, where wheels are built and all the parts installed.

Yep, Riese & Müller, the expensive feinschmecker brand, renowned for their full suspended touring bikes and folding bikes, loved by thousands of loyal customers – suddenly decided to go all in and join the cheaters on the dark side.

At least that’s what a whole bunch of their conservative dealers must have thought.

After twenty years in the premium bike business, Riese & Müller shocked the industry by going all electric on everything but the Birdy folding bikes. They had already seen how their few electric models took off, and simply went for it.

Looking back now, everyone can see that they obviously knew what they were doing:

The bike sales for Riese & Müller has grown by incredible 50-60% every year since 2012, measured by number of bikes sold.  

BUILT TO ORDER: Riese & Müller doesn’t build your bike before you order it. With the customer having several choices between different drivetrains, colors and details, this ensures that every bike is made just the way the end user wants it. The downside: It takes a few weeks before you get your new bike.

By now they have grown to 270 employees in their 6 000 square meter bike factory in Weiterstadt, close to Darmstadt where it all began back in 1993, but it isn’t enough: The meteoric rise in electric bike demand is the reason why Riese & Müller just began building a new, green and clean production plant that will be ready in early 2019.

But let’s switch back to 2013 again, a year which brought another big decision at Riese & Müller:

TWO LOADS: During a photoshoot in Oslo with the Load on the left in 2015, another Load suddenly emerged from the building to the right. These bikes are still the only full suspension front loaders on the market. Even if many dismiss the rear suspension as unneccesary, it makes for a super nice and stable ride. Photo: Geir Anders Rybakken Ørslien

They decided to enter the cargo bike market with the full suspension Load model, a pretty radical concept that is still unique. The Load is a sweet riding bike, but unfortunately, it’s also too small for a lot of people with two bigger kids or loads of stuff.

That’s why R&M introduced the Packster in 2016 – with a much wider cargo box, and even two versions: One with 60 cm and another with 80 cm length of the cargo bed. If you are gonna compete with a big car, you need space, right?

EASE OF USE: Just the way you would chuck your handbag into the passenger seat in a car, the Packster 40 provides a handy space for whatever you bring with you of everyday luggage. If you remove the front wheel, the bike comes down to 200 cm and can be carried on a regular bike rack behind your car.

Soo… What’s up with this? A much smaller and narrower Packster for 2018? But why?

Being a sucker for cargo space, I couldn’t quite wrap my head around this idea when I saw the Packster 40 being launched a few weeks ago: A 40 cm long cargo deck, with a super slim box. Why would anyone choose a cargo bike with less cargo space than any of the others?

I sent the question straight to the source – to one of the brains behind this bike:

Dr. Sandra Wolf is one of the three CEOs at Riese & Müller – along with the founders Markus Riese and Heiko Müller (her husband) – and she is also the Chief Strategy Officer responsible for growing the company into a new era.

THE THREE CEOs: Sandra Wolf, Markus Riese and Heiko Müller at their offices in the small town Weiterstadt, just 15 minutes south of Frankfurt Airport. Riese and Müller met as engineering students and started the company with the folding bike Birdy in 1993. Sandra Wolf came into the company in 2013 to be in charge of growth- and strategy-related topics.

Being an accomplished business graduate, Sandra joined the Riese & Müller team in 2013 – to strengthen the strategic leadership and complement the two engineers at the helm.

She holds a Master of Business Administration from the Universities of Augsburg and Berkeley (USA) and a PhD in economics on the topic of «signaling family firm identity» (sic!).

They all share the CEO title, with Riese focusing on product research and development and Müller taking care of the multitude of daily operations.

THE TRIO: Packster 40, Packster 60 and Packster 80. Take your pick! Also: Note the number plate and the rear view mirror on the Packster 80 – it’s there because this is the high speed model, allowed up to 45 km/h.

Here is the email conversation I had with Sandra Wolf this week:

CARGOBIKE MAGAZINE: Thanks for taking the time! What made you feel the need for a shorter and slimmer Packster?

SANDRA WOLF: One of the initial inspirational elements was a handbag. I am a woman who loves handbags and I was fed up of crumpling my nice handbag into a functional pannier. This was something I was always complaining about and that honestly kept me away from constantly riding bikes.

When I started to ride my Load, I immediately loved that I can throw my handbag in the front, just like when entering a car and placing the handbag on the passenger side. This simple use case was discussed in one of our product development workshops, and later on with other people who all confirmed this ease of handling.

Together with the need to develop a lighter version of the Packster and the target to increase our cargo range, we came up with the Packster 40 idea. We all felt immediately that the Packster 40 is a wonderful product and a crossover from E-Bike to cargo bike that it can bring more people on the bike, which is great.

TARGET GROUP: Have a look at this picture, and try NOT to think «cargo bike» when you see it. Try instead to think «practical everyday bike with a nice trunk in front where you can see your stuff while riding». That’s what Riese & Müller are trying to accomplish with the Packster 40 – a fusion of city bike and cargo bike, for those who just wants to bring a little more.

CARGOBIKE MAGAZINE: So who is the main target group for the Packster 40?

SANDRA WOLF: I would say that cargo bikes in general do not have that one specific target group. We see a general movement to cargo bikes in urban mobility, especially if you look at target groups that plan to ditch one car and to live a more sustainable lifestyle.

However, the Packster 40, the shorter and slimmer version of our Packster family is supposed to attract people who want a cargo bike, but do not have the space to store it or want to commute and need to take it to the train.

It is also an attractive vehicle for people who rather want to have an agile bike or want to cross from a normal bike or e-bike to a cargo bike. It is for families that mainly transport one child or for people who just want to have a bigger trunk and not only one basket. Basically, it is for everybody.

FACE TO FACE: With the shorter cargo bed and the slimmer box, the Packster 40 has room for one child only. The box extends above the front of the frame, to accomodate a headrest for the passenger. A clever glovebox in the floor can be opened and make room for the passenger feet – check out the detail shot further down this page.

CARGOBIKE MAGAZINE: How will you describe the public response and reception for the Packster model after the launch last year?

SANDRA WOLF: The response to the Packster concept is tremendous, not only in Central Europe, but all around the world. It is interesting to see that the Packster seems to be the right product for almost everybody – from young people who want to have ditch their car to families that are looking for a sustainable lifestyle to cities that use the Packster as a public transport service. The Packster seems to be the ideal sharing product which is something great to observe.

SPORTS UTILITY VEHICLE: There is a rather distinct difference between the Riese & Müller cargo bikes – like the Load here – and their Dutch competitors: The riding position. A lot of front loading cargo bikes place the pedals further forward, while sweeping the handlebar back and having a relaxed seat angle. It makes for very upright and comfortable bikes, that are almost impossible to stand up on for the steepest uphills. R&M instead design for sporty handling, as they are coming from a long tradition of efficient touring bikes.

CARGOBIKE MAGAZINE: Do you find that the Packster customer group differ from the Load customers in any particular way?

SANDRA WOLF: The concept “cargo” is similar, but we see slight differences. The Packster is supposed to be more functional as the Load. The Load attracts people who are looking for a sportive ride and a specific aesthetics. We find that younger target groups (18+) feel much more attracted by the Load than by the Packster. According to our research the Load is a more trendy vehicle, less functional, even though both products serve similar needs.

NEW BOX: When I say that the Packster 40 is slimmer than the 60 and 80, it’s not entirely true. All three models share the same shape and width for the cargo bed – it’s just the cargo boxes that are much wider on the bigger versions. The Packster 40 comes with a regular box with wooden walls, as well as this new box tailored for child transport.

CARGOBIKE MAGAZINE: Regarding the Packster 40: The rear facing position for the kid in the box is in line with the modern philosophy of child seats in cars, which is regarded as safer for the neck in case of an impact. Was that the main reason for this idea?

SANDRA WOLF: When developing a child seat – no matter which vehicle we are talking about – safety always is a main reason for any development, also with regards to the Packster 40. We wouldn’t say that it is the safer position, but it is safe. However, we also developed this version of a child seat as it best used the little space while generating a highly comfortable seat and as a parent you just like it if you can communicate with your child. Our kids who were used to ride in the Load and the Packster had to get acquainted to this position, but now love to talk to me and see me during our ride. It has something of togetherness which I personally like a lot.

ROOM WITH A VIEW: This is where the Packster excels over the Load for family use: The Packster passenger bench is more than 40% wider than the Load (45 cm vs 64,5 cm), providing ample room for two kids – and being among the widest in the two-wheeler market.

CARGOBIKE MAGAZINE: Cycling parents are used to a pretty high level of seat comfort from the child trailers, with padded seats and neck rests etc – making it possible for the kids to sleep comfortably. By comparison, many cargobikes are very simple in the seat bench department. Do you feel there is a need to improve cargo bikes in that direction?

SANDRA WOLF: The development of functional and (talking about child seats) comfortable cargo accessories takes a high portion of our work in the R&D team. So yes, I definitely see that improvements will lead into this direction. However, at Riese & Müller we also see that even in a family with little kids the cargo bike is not only a kids-parents vehicle, but has to fulfill many other needs during one day, one week or one month. In some families the needs even change from rider to rider sharing one cargo bike, e.g. father, mother, 16 year old daughter. So we rather think about versatile, flexible solutions that are able to give 24 hour happiness with a cargo bike.

FOLDABLE SEAT: This is the optional child seat you can buy with the Packster 40. When not in use, it can be folded into the lockable compartment in the floor. The child seat is only available in combination with the Carry System, consisting of a metal rail with padded side walls made from weatherproof and waterproof Cordura material. You can actually hang panniers on the rails if you need to!

THE GLOVEBOX: I’ve long been intrigued by the lockable glove compartment on the Butchers & Bicycles Mk-1. This glovebox in the floor gives you the option to secure small belongings in the Packster while you are away. Put a mat on top, and hope that the thieves didn’t read this article… With the lid open, kids can use the box as a leg room extender!

CARGOBIKE MAGAZINE: A lot of the new cargo bikes this year is compact versions, both from you, Tern and Babboe – and also small German startups like Sblocs, Muli and Chike. Does this mean that the general public are put off by longer and more bulky models, and that smaller size is the way to go forward in this market?

SANDRA WOLF: Smaller cargo bikes are an addition, not a substitution for longer and more bulky models. It just means that cargo bikes are about to play a strong role in urban mobility and that differentiation has started.

THE FIRST TRY: Riese & Müller delivered a batch of the Blue Label Transporter Hybrid for the 2013 season, but soon discontinued the model. While it sold really well here in Norway, where it is still sought after, it didn’t convince enough buyers on continental Europe. I hope to see a MkII one day, with proper load support bars down on the sides, child fence on top of the rack as well as big and roomy cargo bags, like all real longtails should have. This is the demo I tried at Eurobike 2013. Photo: Geir Anders Rybakken Ørslien

CARGOBIKE MAGAZINE: Speaking of differentiation: You had a longtail bike – the Transporter – briefly on the market back in 2013, and a lot of bike brands have tilting three-wheel cargo bikes coming out these days. How does Riese und Müller look at these options today?

SANDRA WOLF: With regards to stability, riding safety and dynamics as well sportiness, a three wheel cargo bike has never been an option for Riese & Müller. It basically just doesn’t fit to our DNA. The longtail has unfortunately not been accepted by our target group or maybe we were too early with this concept. It is a great vehicle in my eyes and reflects a distinct, fun and easy lifestyle. It is about sharing the space you have which is kind of nice. We should think about it again. I’ll keep you posted…

THE TRUCK: The Packster 80 has a lovely, big cargo box up front – but sadly no rain cover for child transportation, like the Packster 60. You can get a regular cover for loads like this, but we are still waiting impatiently for the taller, tent-like rain cover we need for making this an all-year family bike.

CARGOBIKE MAGAZINE: Thanks, I’d love to see you make a MkII Transporter, as I’m a longtail rider myself! What was your personal relation to cargo bikes before Riese & Müller started to develop the Load building up to the 2013 launch?

SANDRA WOLF: I have always been a heavy user in terms of cycling. To be honest, before we developed the Load I suspiciously looked at cargo bikes and always thought – even being a mother of two kids – that the existing models do not fit to my personal lifestyle. Furthermore, non-electric models were not an option for me, as riding with two kids and the grocery for a four-person household is no fun at all.

When I first saw the Load, I was sceptical. Even though I am an experienced, sporty and fast rider, I thought that I may not be able to maneuver the bike with the kids. I guess that this is the fear of many parents. Luckily, I had the chance to sufficiently test ride the bike and today I am cargo-addicted.

SLIM SHADY: This image really shows how slim and nimble the Packster 40 is – finally a cargo bike that makes the Load look big! Note that Riese & Müller shows the models out touring the countryside with regular cargo, a context that shows how they look to tweak the perception that cargo bikes are only for kids or urban use.

CARGOBIKE MAGAZINE: Which bikes do you ride most often today?

SANDRA WOLF: I personally ride a Load HS (high speed, max 45 km/h) and I definitely ditched the car. It is so much fun and with so much daily functionality that I don’t need a car within a radius of 20 km any more. If there is one moment in a month where I think of taking the car (because it is raining, too cold, to floppy etc.), the kids force me to ride the bike.

This shows how important mobility socialization is and that kids can definitely make a difference. They love to ride in a cargo bike. Sitting in a seat in the back of the car, hermetically sealed from nature, parents on the phone, standing in a traffic jam, looking for a parking spot is never an option for them.

CARGOBIKE MAGAZINE: A few years have passed since Riese & Müller decided to switch to 100% electric for all your models, apart from the Birdy. I assume that was a pretty dramatic decision to make – and I don’t know if any other brand have dared do the same. How do you look at that move today? Did it pay off, and if so: How?

SANDRA WOLF: For Riese & Müller this decision was the best entrepreneurial decision ever. It was dramatic in a way, but it also was the clear “yes” to a movement and to new mobility. Many things are much easier for us now, e.g. development and production processes. As a dedicated e-bike specialist you also get higher attention from the outside and for many suppliers we are a great technology partner. It paid off in any case. We have a clear mission «to be the maker of tomorrow’s mobility» and this is a sake.

CARGOBIKE MAGAZINE: Thanks, I’ll be happy to follow Riese & Müller’s next steps, and I’m crossing my fingers for a new longtail bike rom you in the future!

 

Posted by Geir Anders

Geir Anders started Cargobike Magazine – formerly known as Transportsykkel – back in 2012, to stoke up the new boom of electric bikes and cargobikes. He is also co-founder and the first editor of Scandinavia's leading mountain bike magazine Terrengsykkel, and works as an independent writer and photographer in Oslo, Norway.

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