Bike van

Vans to carry bikes and which you can sleep in

Two or three bicycles can easily be transported on a car rack, roof bars, or in a trailer. However, there are advantages in using a van: the bikes are secure, dry, and can be loaded and unloaded quickly without removing a wheel, mounting a rack, or messing with a trailer and towing bracket. And if the van is long enough for a bicycle then it's long enough to sleep in as well.

The simplest type is a panel van with a load compartment and no windows behind the front doors. Panel vans often have a sliding door at least one side of the load compartment, but some don't. I'm referring to vans about the size of a saloon or estate car and which may have rear seats and extra windows fitted – known as combi vans. It is worth noting that the UK HM Revenue & Customs does not distinguish between cars and vans but does classify commercial vehicles, which includes some models of car derived van. It gets a little bit complicated and may affect taxes: VAT and Vehicle Excise Duty (vehicle tax is not actually a tax but that is another story). For a 'bike van' the choice is either a panel van or combi van (normally the same size for a given make and base model), occasionally with a 'high roof' option. With some models there may be additional options: a tailgate rather than double rear doors, or full windows rather than door windows only.

ford-transit-connect

Ford Transit Connect High Roof van

A couple of bicycles can be squeezed (at an angle) into the Renault Kangoo, Peugeot Partner, and Citroen Berlingo vans, or more easily with the bike's front wheels removed, and you could sleep in one at a pinch, but (IMO) they are a bit too small for safety with bikes in the back; each bicycle must be secured to the load bay floor to prevent it flying forward in a crash. All those vans are available in a longer 'crew' version – safer but whether the load compartment headroom allows you to sit comfortably in a chair seems doubtful. Sit in a chair? We are looking for a van that (i) can carry some bikes, (ii) two people can sleep in, and (iii) can be used as a small mobile sitting room in bad weather (though not all at the same time).

Moving up in size: Ford Transit Connect High Roof LWB (long wheelbase), Nissan NV200, Fiat Scudo, Peugeot Expert, VW Caddy Maxi (there may be others).

nissan-nv200

Nissan NV200 van

fiat-scudo

Fiat Scudo van (similar to Peugeot Expert)

caddy

Typ 2K VW Caddy (not Maxi)

Volkswagen vans – Caddy, Transporter, Crafter – have the VW reputation for quality. The Caddy is car-derived (though it doesn't seem to be classed as such by HM Revenue & Customs), the Typ 2K derived from the Volkswagen Touran with Golf Mk5 front suspension. The Touran itself is a multi-purpose vehicle based on a vertically-stretched fifth generation Golf Mk5. The Caddy Maxi is a longer, slightly higher version, also available as Maxi Life – a passenger variant, Maxi Kombi – a van with rear seats, and Tramper – a campervan. There are also a few specialists who convert the Maxi Life into a fully-equipped camper (in my opinion the Caddy Maxi is too small for a viable camper but some enthusiasts seem to manage).

caddy-campervan

VW Caddy Maxi campervan conversion

The 'larger' vans referred to above are of similar size with load compartments roomy enough for bicycles, sleeping, and sitting but handle (more or less) as cars – it is not like driving a truck. Buying used is a matter of pot luck as to whether you can find a suitable one with rear seats, bulkhead screen behind the front seats, windows in the sliding doors, tailgate or double doors at the back, and the other usual options: passenger air bags (not always standard), air conditioning, electric windows, etc. For a 'bike van' I doubt if these things matter too much. A basic panel van should do fine if it is the right size and the bikes can be properly secured to the floor.

Load bay internal size comparison (metres approximate, widths between rear wheel arches)

  • Ford Transit Connect LWB High Roof: 1.23 wide, 1.36 high, 1.97 long
  • Nissan NV200: 1.22 wide, 1.36 high, 2.04 long
  • Fiat Scudo, Peugeot Expert: 1.25 wide, 1.45 high, 2.25 long
  • Caddy Maxi: 1.19 wide, 1.32 high, 2.30 long

Different national speed limits, in the UK at least, apply to different types of van. Car-derived vans up to 2 tonnes maximum laden weight are as cars. The maximum laden weight is a van's own weight plus its maximum 'payload' – what the maker says it can carry. Sometimes referred to as Maximum Authorised Mass (MAM) this may be the same as 'revenue weight' in the vehicle's DVLA registration document or it may not!

Goods Vehicles (under 7.5 tonnes maximum laden weight) are limited to 50 mph on single carriageways (cars are 60), 60 on dual carriageways (cars are 70), and 70 on motorways (like cars). Taxation classes are slightly different: a Light Goods Vehicle (LGV) is one that is designed for the carriage of goods and with a revenue weight not exceeding 3.5 tonnes. But a 'combi' type van of the same weight with rear seats should be taxed as a Diesel Car – because it's a passenger vehicle, not a goods vehicle.

Does all this matter? I don't think so but it's worth bearing in mind that 'road tax,' insurance, and speed limits may vary a little depending on a van's classification so it's worth trying to understand these complexities a little before buying a vehicle. Functionality is what matters most.

More about light(ish) van speed limits at Honest John

Securing bikes

A fitted carpet in the load compartment stops things sliding around. Pull the metal rings at the anchorage points through slits in the carpet. An easy way to carry a bicycle is to slide it in upside down so it rests on the handlebars and saddle, but it must be prevented from falling over. The following photo illustrates some ring bolts fitted at high level and the standard anchorage point on the van floor. A bungee cord stretched from a ring bolt on one side, then through the bicycle's front wheel and wrapped once round the rim, then across to the corresponding ring bolt on the other side of the van, will hold the bike vertical.

van-load-compartment

Load compartment with high and low level anchorage points

Up to four bikes can be held in position, with pedals tied together to keep them from rubbing against each other:

Bike van side door

Two bikes in the load compartment – four or five bikes could be carried

The bikes must also be strongly secured to the van floor anchorage points. It is dangerous to carry 'loose' bikes behind the front seats unless a solid bulkhead separates the 'cab' from the load compartment. They can easily be secured with a Kryptonite cable passed through the frame main triangle (not the wheels) and clipped to the anchorage points with a carabiner. One per bike is a good idea.

transit-connect-load-bayfiat-scudo-load-bay
nissan-nv200-load-baycaddy-maxi-load-bay

Load compartment options: bulkheads, ply lining, etc (clockwise):
Ford Transit Connect High Roof LWB, Fiat Scudo, VW Caddy Maxi, Nissan NV200

Sleeping and sitting inside

Panel van load compartments are utilitarian by nature. The internal environment (including noise reduction) can be improved with a fitted carpet on the floor and lining the sides with plywood or a special carpet-like material that follows the form of the bodywork. Plus some thermal insulation perhaps.

Surprisingly, a height of 1.3 metres is enough to sit comfortably in camping chairs, for most people at least. A length of 2 metres is plenty for lying down to sleep. The Ford Transit Connect High Roof LWB, Nissan NV200, Fiat Scudo, Peugeot Expert, and VW Caddy Maxi are all big enough not just for transporting bicycles but to be used as a minimalistic campervan for a couple of people... minimalistic as in: (i) use sleeping bags and Karrimats (not a foldaway bed and mattress), (ii) fit temporary curtains fixed with clothes pegs or Velcro pads, (iii) install a hookup and consumer unit for mains electricity, (iv) use an electric ring for cooking, and (v) store as much as possible outside the van (small tent and/or roof box).

That is just a short list of creature comforts that require no permanent alteration to the van, so it can be returned to its original use as van or passenger vehicle the rest of the time. In fine weather, of course, you can sleep in a tent. The vans I've illustrated can't have swivelling front seats fitted because the space is too narrow for the seats to turn – hence some camping chairs in the back. Camping chairs are always useful anyway. Combi vans are usually fitted with a tailgate instead of the typical double rear doors on panel vans; the tailgate can be opened to horizontal as a simple awning to protect from rain if you are, say, outside the van using a cooker at the rear of the load bay, or sitting over the rear bumper changing shoes, etc. More about vans on What Van? and Camper Van Life.

vw-caddy-maxi-kombi

VW Caddy Maxi Kombi with roof box

March 12: 2 bikes laid flatApril 12: 3 bikes vertical
May 12: 2 bikes verticalBike van: electrical sockets for cooking, lighting, etc

Van load compartment with bikes, camping gear, etc

18 comments on “Bike van”

  1. Hilary wrote:

    Interesting post Patrick. I've got designs on a Berlingo once our 14 year old Xsara gives up the ghost. It needs to fit in the garage as we have no other parking space and only needs to hold one bike so will probably do the job.

    Years ago I used to go Munro bagging in a friend's ancient Transit. We slept on Karrimats on the floor, cooked on a primus and sat on old bottle crates. I like a bit more comfort now! 🙂

    Your setup looks excellent.

  2. Patrick wrote:

    Karrimats, primus, bottle crates – sounds good to me Hilary!

    I've got designs on a Berlingo...

    Good thinking. I think the Berlingo passenger seat folds flat (in case a tall person wants to sleep inside – LOL). Some that I've seen also have a ladder frame thing behind the driver's seat, for safety I think. This seems an excellent feature.

    Alternatively (added later):

    citroen-h-van

  3. Mary wrote:

    Love the citroen. Robbie, a friend of Shedman owns a small horse box exactly like that citroen in the pic, it used to belong to Mrs Simpson when she lived in France, so I understand. Robbie uses it for camping too. Vans on our ferry are really expensive as they are charged commercial rate, cept if they have a window cut out of them, curtains up and a camp bed inside! 🙂

    I reckon Tina will be hankering for one of these once we're back from camping in the rain in Northern Ireland!

  4. Hilary wrote:

    Forget the Berlingo, I want the van in the pic! 😀

  5. Patrick wrote:

    I know what you mean Hilary (the grey Citroen H). One of my first 'cars' was an Austin A35 van like this (the same colour too):

    a35-van

    I should have kept it, obviously. Not much use for transporting bikes though.

    Mary is right about ferry charges and windows.

  6. Chris wrote:

    I can testify to the bike van's usefulness. It was welcome on a loop from Market Weighton a few months back. And I hadn't really thought about locking down the bike when in the back of my car until you pointed it out, Patrick. Actually, we threw a bike and two loose wheels in to the back of a car last weekend after a young rider had fallen off his bike. Oops.

  7. steve wrote:

    Hi, I did a bit of investigative work on swivel seats and the NV200 can be converted to have front seats rotate around to face the back, see in the video here (from Germany, but I guess UK market soon?): http://youtu.be/ViuIi763z_g?t=1m10s

  8. Steve wrote:

    Just found this company doing a side window conversion for the NV200. Looks like a good job: http://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/NISSAN-NV200-SIDE-WINDOW-CREW-VAN-CONVERSION

  9. Andy wrote:

    Hi Patrick,

    great post, just stumbled across it whilst researching a van solution for me. Need something big enough to hold all my training gear (resus manikins for first aid training) plus a bike and allow me to spend the odd night in it. Been looking for a few years now to find a panel van the size of a Kangoo or Berlingo but tailgate is a MUST. That combination seems to be hard to find, tailgate is available on the car versions but not on the vans, why?!? Hm, seems the VW Caddy or Caddy Maxi might be the answer, bit pricey but hopefully will last. Available new with tailgate for an extra £30 but hard to find used with a tailgate though.....hm, I'll keep looking, if any of you hear of any going give me a shout 🙂

  10. Andy wrote:

    Hi Patrick,

    I've just spotted the electrical sockets on one of your pics, first time I've noticed this in a small van conversion. I have now purchased a VW Caddy Maxi panel van and think that might be a good idea to have. Can you tell me more about how you installed them and if they work for you?

    Many thanks

    Andy 🙂

  11. Patrick wrote:

    Hello Andy. I didn't install the electrical sockets myself. I took it to a motor electrician. It works well with a 240v mains hookup under the rear bumper. I am in the process of having a leisure battery fitted in a small trailer that is wired like a caravan so we also have 12v power from an extra lighter socket in the load bay and 12v lighting for safety (and for when there is no mains supply). A 'loom' has also been fitted in the van along with the tow bar but I can't remember what the loom does exactly – allows the engine to recharge the leisure battery maybe. This extra battery could go inside the van but the trailer will have other uses (we are ditching the roof box because it is too high for underground car parks, as I discovered when it got crushed under a beam in Biarritz – it's a long story).

    The Caddy Maxi is an excellent van IMO.

  12. Nick Ingamells wrote:

    hi – very interesting and timely article as we look for a way to transport a Tandem on days out/holidays etc. One question – 7 seat Caddys can easily be reduced to 5 and the 2nd row of seats folded. I notice from your pics however that you have a completely clear load bay. Is this because your variant of the van is a 2 seater or can the 2nd row be easily removed?

  13. Patrick wrote:

    It has a second row of seats factory fitted. So it's a 5-seater. But the second row of seats can be removed to create the long load bay. The rear seats are actually configured as a double and a single so you can remove either, or both (which is quite useful).

    I suppose if you wanted to carry something really long you could remove the double rear seat and fold the left front seat forwards. A passenger would then sit in the remaining rear (single) seat behind the driver.

  14. Steve Lindley wrote:

    Nick,

    With regards to your tandem. Have you thought about having S&S couplings fitted?

    We decided against a Van as it was too expensive. We have just bought a Debon trailer with a front and side door to pull behind our Kia Picanto. It will be used as a camper Van, bike storage and occasionally run to the tip. We are going to fit a caravan window in it.

    i176.photobucket.com/albums/w182/steveindenmark/imagejpg1_zps8fbee847.jpg

  15. Nick Ingamells wrote:

    hi Steve – we have S&S and ended up buying a Touran. In the end we didn't want two vehicles or something as big as a Ford Galaxy etc. The Touran is pretty much identical in wheelbase to a Golf but the cabin is higher and further forward so the bike fits in neatly. Not as easy as a LWB T4 but that will have to wait for the lottery win and the house with off-road parking!

    Best wishes
    Nick

  16. Patrick wrote:

    Steve wrote: ...have just bought a Debon trailer with a front and side door ... will be used as a camper Van, bike storage...

    That's neat, the trailer. Lends itself to all sorts of things.

    I've lined the bare metal bits inside my van with dark grey Mercedes-Benz carpeting where it was single skin (a big improvement).

  17. Liz wrote:

    Hi Patrick thanks for the post, very interesting!

    I'm organizing a charity bike ride from Brighton to Pars next June and hoping to attract about 20 riders. I've been racking my brain to work out how many vans I'm going to need to pack in all the bikes to get them home again.

    With careful loading and lots of padding, what is the maximum number of bikes you think I can load onto one large transit van (high long wheel base)? (No sleeping space needed!)

    Thanks
    Liz

  18. Patrick wrote:

    In answer to Liz... I've had five bikes in my Caddy Maxi, all slid in upside down with transverse bungee cords through the wheels at roof level and the pedals tied together. That's with all the wheels on. In a large Transit van you might double that, or even twelve bikes. I think it all depends on how much time you want to spend packing them in, padding in between, pedals off, bars turned, other luggage such as bags etc. I bet you'd get 20 bikes inside if you really tried hard but convenience is a factor so my guess is 12. Just a guess.

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