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