Space, space, space

Space in a van like our sprinter is always tighter than you think it’s going to be, previously I had a Toyota hiace, upon collection of a big red sprinter I thought I was going to have so much space, the reality is different, the more space you think you have the more clutter you tend to bring along for the ride. The original cooker unit was huge, like REALLY BIG! But pride got the better if me and we managed with it for about 7 years before admitting defeat and conjuring up a simpler idea, after all, we only make pretty simple meals in the van.

Getting rid of this giant plywood box from the van instantly freed up enough space to make a good sized sofa, bonus! Knowing we need some sort of cooking equipment to keep the insurer happy I set about finding a suitable location to relocate the food prep area. It was going to be another (slightly smaller) plywood box half in the doorway like so many other race vans but then I thought about hiding a permanent cooking device somewhere that slides or hinges out, top idea right? Yeah I thought so too and my initial idea was to make the cooker slide out of the side door on the van from under the seat, pitfall here would mean cooking outside, hmm not such a fantabulous idea really given the fact that we are in the UK and the fields/trees are predominantly green for a very good reason!! The next idea was to lift the cooker out (upwards) from under the seat base, this plan faltered at the drawer sliders, to get something that would lock in the “up” position was going to cost more than I wanted to spend so back to the drawing board until I found some up-out hinges online, within budget and make the best compromise for space saving.

  
This prototype is not completely finished, but it’s a clean simple way to make the use of the space in the van, we use our race van for climbing, motocross, mountainbiking, working away. We rarely use it for hosting dinner parties so we can make do with a minimal set up.

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Learning to weld

I’ve mentioned a few times, I like to make my vans strong enough to not feel flimsy, I like steel frames. Although it’s popular to assume steel to be heavy and clumsy we use thin wall steel which makes for an incredibly strong, robust and durable base material. My dad is the welding brains but he has been teaching me the art of metal glueing, I say art because it really is an art to get everything right, neat and consistent.

Starting off, firstly, he just left me the welding plant and some steel to have a play with, of course I eagerly splattered molten steel in every direction, oblivious of the settings, sometimes it would look kind of ok but mostly it looked like Spider-Man had done it from across the street. So began a bit of direct supervision, firstly learning to set the plant up for the metal I’m using, power, feed rate, gas. Getting this good is pretty important and unless you are pretty lucky, having someone show you is invaluable.

Moving on, having an experienced welder there to show you how to manage your weld, do you push/pull, do continuous runs or short blasts, when do you need to do different types of weld, seeing the effects of the metal heating up, dealing with the heat-soak all help improve and build upon the basic skill and even if you have no intention of becoming a master welder, having the basic knowledge of what’s possible and how things work has helped me get a better understanding of how I can design things and means I can at least do the basic assembly fabrication to save time and confusion during the main build!

If you would like to learn the basics of mig welding, we are based in the midlands and from £120 we can offer simple tuition to get you started. If you already have a welding plant we can come to you and help you get it set up and start making some nice clean welds. If you don’t already have a machine we can bring a small welder to you to learn with for a day. You won’t get a qualification from it but you will benefit from decades of experience of an aerospace welder. If you have a tig plant, stick welder or gas and want to learn to get the most out of it, get in contact and I will hook you up to discuss with the old man!

  
This was the product of a day learning to weld, before that day I’d seen welding done but never tried it.

The devil in the details

I’ve looked at hundreds of race vans, literally hundreds, some are good, some are ok, some are terrible and some are outstanding! It’s all in the detail. If you are speccing a van out to build or have built try and put the most time into the aspects you will use the most, betting a wine rack with LED’s won’t be right up there…. If it’s all about mx make sure it can withstand a bit of dirt and abuse, that you have space to wash (yourself and the bikes!) how many people are coming to your race weekend? Do you really need to sleep 5 or are those extra 3 beds going to eat into your storage space? Washrooms? Do you need it or do you want it? 

For me, this is just for me mind…. I want to be able to get bikes inside the van (not on a rack/trailer). I want to be able to sleep comfy (I’m tall and don’t like to be curled up). I’d like somewhere nice to sit down. I want to be able to get a brew or a bit of simple food. I value open space over cupboard space. I’m happy to pour water rather than use a tap. Try and make a checklist of things you want your van to be able to do, rank them in importance otherwise you are going to end up buying the first snappy looking van you see on ebay only to get it home and realise you can’t sit on the bog with the door shut or you need to be an Olympic standard gymnast to get into bed etc, etc, the list of calamity is virtually endless and can all be so easily avoided by paying good attention to the details!

Building materials, me, I don’t like MDF but some folk do, I prefer ply. Not going to say either is right or wrong, make up your own mind and satisfy yourself, most builders will want to do it to their spec but if you really want somethig, really make sure you get it ok?! I’ve seen loads of beds base up with 50mm square profile pine, takes a up a lot of space and is probably ok for people less than 50kg, I’m not joking when I tell you I’ve seen £20k builds with an adult bed made from simple planed wood like you would buy from B+Q. If you are expecting something better than that, make sure (before you pay for the build) that you are getting what you expect.

Race van??? What’s that then?

So, I realise that not everyone who wants a campervan is quite as fanatical about taking their motorbike camping so why bother looking at race vans? Might as well just get a regular camper withe beige cushions and net curtains etc eh? Race van conversions are worth doing for almost any camper enthusiast for a couple of awesome reasons.

Storage space… If the van can accomodate a couple of race bikes imagine what else you can get in there, maybe some mountain bikes, a whole heap of climbing kit, walking clothes/waterproofs/boots, a kayak (well, maybe a small one eh?). If you really want, you could fit an extra bed in there or still use the van like a van, if you don’t know what I mean yet, wait until you have your van and sit back and marvel at how many new “friends” you acquire who really want to go to the tip with you…… You’ll see!!

Stealth mode… Just like it sounds, your average race van looks more like a clean work van than it does a holiday on wheels! We tend to work away a lot and used our race van (parked in a work car park) for almost 5 months, this just wouldn’t have been possible in some swanky coachbuilt van. If you like the sound of a bit of stealthy camping a race van stands out far less.

Driving… Regardless of what big motorhome owners say, their ultimate behemoth does NOT “drive like a car” it drives like a jelly and whilst I’m not going to rave on and on about how quick a sprinter is (frankly mine isn’t!) they’re generally better on the move than something much bigger, goes without saying really doesn’t it?

Bed time story

Show of hands, who has looked at the bed-over-garage option and thought it looks a great idea only to try it out and have a mild panic attack at the thought of getting stuck and requiring the fire brigade attending with a giant tin opener to cut you free? Yeah, me too right… Still it’s a great idea to make best use of the precious space and we have a couple of bed designs that let you use that space and not need lubing up to get in and out of but still give you the space to fit bikes in

  
This is our super slick, split panel “open plan” bed which has been carefully designed to make best use of a MWB size sprinter/crafter to allow for occasional race bike portage, maximum comfort as a camper and retains as much space as possible in a limited van size. As nice as a fixed bed is, some vans just can’t accommodate one without compromising sitting space or cooking facilities. If you want one of these making it’s approximately 2 weeks lead time and fully powder coated, ply covered and carpeted with all the fixings to install for the princely sum of £450. They’re incredibly strong, light and we can fabricate them to fit any height within your existing van, simple to install and best of all, if you need the van to be a van you can take the panels out of the van completely!

We have some other beds but they’re presently in the prototype phase, you can be sure you will see pictures as soon as we have something I’m happy to put out there!

Washrooms

  
The eternal debate, do I fit a bathroom or not? Personally, I’ve never had one in my van, we have a pop up shower tent and wash in there, I’ve absolutely zero interest in carting a small plastic bucket (named after a town in Norfolk) sloshing about, full of crap, around with us.

Shitters, the more you spend, generally the better things get, for under a £100, you are likely to find yourself squatting over something quite low, probably in the middle of your van, not glamorous. £250 should see you on something similar in stature to your throne at home, better but remember, someone still needs to empty/clean the tank…

Showers, showering at home is easy, so easy we take it for granted. Showering in a van you suddenly realise how much water you are using and just how hard it is to get the desired temperature. Collecting and storing water is the main consideration for showers.

Cubicle, I’ve seen some hillarious attempts at making a shower cubicle fit, the taper of the van side walls really mean you need to practically consider giving up 1/2 the van width for the planned cubicle area. I’ve seen cubicles that are too small to get into and close the door quite often! You maybe need to ask yourself, do we NEED a shower cubicle? Is there an alternative (you know there is!😉) and ask yourself “roughly, how long am I going to spend each day showering/shitting” is it worth taking up so much space in the van?

Le race van man cometh!

Got a van? Use it for racing or pukka outdoor adventures? This blog is for you my friends… You won’t find any crappy plastic wine glass holders lurking in my creations, nor will you find ply glued to other bits of ply we make good, solid stuff, stuff you can trust to take your weight, stuff that will take the beating and stuff that just works! 

This isn’t really too much of a business, we make stuff to use in our own vans but we do make some things for sale and if you have an idea you want to bring to life you need to get in touch and we can see what can be done! If we make something, it’s made for you, there is nothing generic about it, it’s yours, suited to you and your needs!

I will post photos of things we make as we make more, I will put up pictures of our vans and anyone’s who we make things for but whether you want a bed system, galley unit, seating or anything else, feel free to get in touch!

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