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Old 04-01-2019, 06:19 PM   #1
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less is more

Hi all, First post here

Ive been going back and forth about chronicling a build thread for my van here. It seems there are so many examples of #overland #vanlife builds out there and exhaustive, bordering on nauseating (not so much here) analysis paralysis discussions on minute details of how to accessorize your van with every last nook and cranny filled with stuff and every accessory under the sun. I think they look cool, but when it comes down to it, for my purposes, a lot of what seems to be out there is excessive. However, I know that I have benefited from the shared information of others, and i figured that maybe someone might benefit from one of my ideas, so here goes.

Over the past few years my wife and i went from sleeping in the back of our subaru, to the bed of my old ranger, to a minivan, and finally, now that life has allowed for a bit more space and a garage, we have moved to a full size van.

I was fortunate to find a great deal on an extended body high top E250 5.4 limo with 42k miles one year ago





I definitely dont consider myself an overlander. all of our adventures are human powered, and the purpose of the van is to take us and our plethora of gear to and from the trailhead and provide a comfortable place to sleep and charge phones for a weekend at a time. Based on this, when I bought the van I decided not to immediately rip it apart and build it out, but instead install a basic bed in the back of it and use it for a whole year while I figured out what i did and did not need.

I learned a lot.

Heres what I figured out i DONT need

4wd - in the northeast the most ill do is hit a dirt road now and then. I do a lot of winter sports and jump on the chance for powder, but a good set of snow tires this past winter did not let me down in any storm. while a big tired 4wd van looks cool..i would honestly have no use for it.

Kitchen - we are not good cooks, and in fact i really dont like cooking, so i dont need to worry about stoves and running water and all that jazz. If im cooking something (home or camping) it mostly just involves boiling water, and i can do that on a camp stove outside the van without issue.

standalone heater and heavy insulation - the van has a ton of windows which you have to consider when youre thinking about insulating the van. We have been super comfortable with winter sleeping bags in the back down to temps of -15F. In the morning. i get up and start the van and warm it up so that my wife can emerge from her cocoon. its simple but it works.

A complicated house electrical system - since im not going to be cooking, i dont need a fridge. since the van is really for weekend trips and long weekends, an all in one battery/power inverter should provide enough juice for running some interior LED lights and keeping our phones charged for a few days. this makes things a bit cheaper for me and helps with the idea of building something simple.

Heres what i figured out that i DO NEED

flexible space and a maximization of open volume - In addition to particpating in human powered sports. I also direct adventure races and swimrun events. This requires me to load up the van with tons of race equipment, so i need free space. lots of built in cabinetry would just get in the way.



racks - I have found that there will be times where i will need to transport 4 or more bikes in addition to people and more gear. this means the addition of a roof rack for ski equipment and boats





A high bed and seats for 4 - ideally i want to be able to take a trip with 4 people and sleep in the back like a bunk bed. the main bed will be high enough to put plenty of gear underneath, or if i want to i can have two people sleep under there with sleeping pads and bags.


Here is where my van sits as of today. I removed the ribbon stuff (still need to get the residue off, and swapped out the stock wheels with the snow tires for some black aluminum wheels that were on sale with summer tires. There was already a lot of black on the van so i just decided to run with it and made the chrome bumpers black as well.




The interior tear down begins this week. the plan is for new flooring and a simple built in bed with some cubby space for the lithium ion battery pack and tools, with lots of free space underneath.

I hope that wasnt too long winded.

hi.
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Old 04-01-2019, 06:31 PM   #2
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Good for you - less is more. Every time I take out my motorhome, I'm reminded! The best feature of any vehicle is someone to squeeze at night. The rest is gravy. Have fun.
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Old 04-01-2019, 07:09 PM   #3
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Welcome aboard - Sounds like you have a good handle on what you want, koodos!
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Old 04-01-2019, 09:45 PM   #4
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This is an awesome thread. Thanks for sharing! I love vans of all types because they are a big steel bubble you can do whatever you want inside of......or not.

We need a few more folks like yourself around here to even out our extensive, overly elaborate overlanders.

Not too long winded at all, keep us in the loop on your adventures.

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Old 04-02-2019, 05:01 AM   #5
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Plus 4. Using it for a year and figuring out what you need makes total sense. Weekend use is much different than long term traveling. Thanks for posting and look forward to seeing how you build it.
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Old 04-02-2019, 06:59 AM   #6
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I have a similar van and similar needs. Watching van build videos and whatnot, it's definitely a temptation to go down the over-build rabbit-hole.

For me, the van needs to accommodate "the four S's": Sleep, Shower, Sh!t, Storage. Mainly for just myself and maybe one other person should the stars align.

Making a layout work with the "storage" part has been the most challenging. Like you guys, I have mtn bikes, but every one of my bikes cost more than I paid for the van - so there is no way in hell I will have them sitting on a rear or front rack. But as you may be aware, modern trail bikes have gotten long. The new MegaTower I'm building has a 48" wheelbase. It's huge and takes up a lot of space and designing a layout that allows them to be inside has been challenging.

I do want some level of a kitchen. While I'm also not much into cooking, I still need to eat and sometimes cooking on a table outside isn't possible. Plus, for registration and insurance reasons, I really want to get the van re-titled as an RV and that generally requires a kitchen.

For a bathroom, I think I've finally come up with one that allows it to be useable when I need it and out of the way when I'm in situations where I don't. We shall see.
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Old 04-02-2019, 07:38 AM   #7
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Thanks for the warm welcome, all!


on the topic of mountain bikes...yes it would be ideal to fit them all inside and under the bed. but ive ultimately decided not to move forward with this for a few reasons.


1. i ride an XL frame and have long legs. I dont want to lower the saddle every time i put the bike in, so this would require the bed to be higher than i think i want, as i want to be able to get in it without a ladder and also sit upright


2. sometimes im only packing bike stuff..but more often than not, for a weekend ill have more than one activity planned, bikes take up a pretty decent size volume for how much material is actually there. all that space is now unavailable for climbing or paddling equipment.


so yeah, bikes stored outside of the car on racks isnt ideal considering the value of them, and when they are on the front they get a ton of smased bugs, but everything is about compromise i suppose




I think one of my current dilemmas i have in my head is what to do with the interior panels. I have the factory plastic panels in there, I want to install window blinds in all of the windows for night time (even with the dark tint, at night with the interior lights on, there is zero privacy)


I havent decided if i want to re-use the factory plastic panels or try and build something. that may be a game time decision once i remove things and see what it looks like from a blank canvas point of view.
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Old 04-02-2019, 09:11 AM   #8
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I'm in a similar boat with the original interior. My van is what you see in my avatar pic. The big rear side window is duplicated twice on the driver's side. Fine as a passenger van - like yours, my van is a retired limo service van. So there's a lot of "stuff" inside that is somewhat superfluous for camping.

One of the "fun" tasks will be removing all of the rear passenger seats. The P.O. removed two of them, but there's still six more. With some, the nuts underneath are accessible. With others, they're buried above the fuel tank or other components.

Dropper posts help a lot with storage height, but yeah - no matter what, a 29er is still a big bike. I haven't built the bike yet, but I'm fairly sure the bars will be the high point, even with a L frame, due to the 160mm travel 29er fork. I originally wanted to store the bikes inside without removing the front wheels, but I gave up on that and will live with some sort of fork mount.

Yep... it's all about compromises... that's one reason why I'm somewhat stuck with a DIY build - what I want doesn't really exist. At least for any sort of budget that doesn't require a mortgage. The SMB EB164S layout is pretty close, replacing the rear beds with a platform bed with a garage underneath.
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Old 04-02-2019, 12:27 PM   #9
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Originally Posted by axcxnj View Post
Thanks for the warm welcome, all!


on the topic of mountain bikes...yes it would be ideal to fit them all inside and under the bed. but ive ultimately decided not to move forward with this for a few reasons.


1. i ride an XL frame and have long legs. I dont want to lower the saddle every time i put the bike in, so this would require the bed to be higher than i think i want, as i want to be able to get in it without a ladder and also sit upright


2. sometimes im only packing bike stuff..but more often than not, for a weekend ill have more than one activity planned, bikes take up a pretty decent size volume for how much material is actually there. all that space is now unavailable for climbing or paddling equipment.


so yeah, bikes stored outside of the car on racks isnt ideal considering the value of them, and when they are on the front they get a ton of smased bugs, but everything is about compromise i suppose




I think one of my current dilemmas i have in my head is what to do with the interior panels. I have the factory plastic panels in there, I want to install window blinds in all of the windows for night time (even with the dark tint, at night with the interior lights on, there is zero privacy)


I havent decided if i want to re-use the factory plastic panels or try and build something. that may be a game time decision once i remove things and see what it looks like from a blank canvas point of view.
I would recommend re-using the factory plastic panels. It is harder than you think to replace all that stuff with covered plywood that actually fits properly. I have a cargo van and thought I would build my own walls... not going to happen. I found some free plastic walls off craigslist that I am going to cover with fabric and insulate the back and then put those up. matching all of the interior contours is harder than it looks. Having the plastic panels from the start is a big advantage IMO.
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Old 04-02-2019, 01:35 PM   #10
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check this youtube for a bike rack idea -
and they have another video showing helmet hooks.
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