Tag Archives: travel

KyMotoVan Travel Report

It was about this time last year when we decided to get either a 3/4-ton Diesel truck or a Sprinter. I didn’t know much about them then, but by September we were test driving one and by October a brand new 4×4 Sprinter was in our driveway.

Side View
Side View

One of the primary reasons for the Sprinter purchase is that it really suited our type of traveling. It secures the load (motorcycles and sewing machines), it is NOT a trailer (which I hate to tow), and it is one awesome and comfortable ride! Our recent westward trip confirmed all of this and taught us several things about the van.

I am honestly surprised at how comfortable the Sprinter is from a driving perspective. The seating position is great for long periods of time, it has every adjustment you can imagine, and the seat foam is firm but comfortable and provides excellent support. Power seats would be nice but the adjustability is still there.

KyMotoVan
KyMotoVan

Seems like so many folks get a Sprinter and immediately get upset at how it rides. Well think about it . . . it was designed to have a load. One motorcycle and associated riding gear makes a noticeable difference but having a full traveling load makes it ride like a dream! Once again I was pleasantly surprised with this big monster and how it behaved on the interstate. Cruising along at 75mph to 80mph was not a problem and the steep inclines were clobbered by the little turbo-charged V6. It would just pull and pull with no abandon!

A Full Travel Load
A Full Travel Load

Kim learned that it was easy to just stand up and walk to the back and sit on that bench seat. She could stretch out, get something from the cooler, our luggage or just enjoy a different view with no great effort. The spaciousness is second to none! Something about the additional space that makes traveling less tiring. I guess you don’t feel quite as confined as you’d be in a car or truck.

When traveling in our trucks, the whole back seat area would be crammed full of stuff. There was barely enough room and everything was wedged into place making it hard to get to things in the middle or on the bottom. We “kinda” had a system but nothing was efficient about it at all. With the Sprinter, all of our luggage, Kim’s sewing machine, and my gear bag all fit between the rear bench seat and the partition. Plenty of room. Very nice for a change!

Luggage Loaded with Room to Spare!
Luggage Loaded with Room to Spare!

One negative point regarding the Sprinter is its sheer size and how that impacts driving in strong winds. It does have the new Cross Wind Assist but nothing can prepare you for driving across Wyoming! Going out, it was hitting us in the front and on the driver’s side. I’d say there was about 5 hours of driving, where both hands needed to be on the wheel. Basically, you just didn’t know when it would hit, so you had to be ready with a dual-handed grip on the wheel. On the return trip we encountered similar conditions but it was not as long in duration.

We took the big rig on several Forest Service roads and it did very well. Our trip up towards Basin Butte Lookout was a good climb with several newly graded water bars to test the clearance. I started out in 2WD to see how it would do and in the end we never needed 4WD. The BFGs and manual shifting made it very easy. Really learned to love the manual shifting option on those dirt roads. I can think of many situations where it will be an advantage.

KyMotoVan at a Trailhead on the Basin Butte FS Road
KyMotoVan at a Trailhead on the Basin Butte FS Road

Most would think that fuel economy would be terrible in such a large, high-profile vehicle. Well, I’m very pleased! I’d been getting 13.8mpg -17.6mpg around the house which mainly included trips to Casey County to ride and maybe once every two weeks I’d drive it to work. On the trip, the worst I got was 14.6mpg and that was during the windy portion of Wyoming on the way out. Interestingly enough, the best I got on the way home was 18.9mpg and that was when the wind was working in our favor. Plus, there is a lot more downhill driving on the way back! There was no way I could achieve this type of fuel mileage in a 1/2 or 3/4 ton pickup truck. Especially if there was some type of trailer involved!

You know how folks that ride motorcycles on the street always do that “low wave” at each other when the pass on the roadways. Well for some reason, Sprinter folks seem to be that way too. I don’t know how many times we’d see someone approaching in their Sprinter and they’d be waving with enthusiasm. Didn’t see that one coming!

KyMotoVan near Craters of the Moon
KyMotoVan near Craters of the Moon

One evening I was standing out on the deck enjoying the view and a couple pulled up and parked out front. They jumped out of their Honda Element and ran towards the Sprinter. The guy got down on his hands and knees to look at the drivetrain and his better-half was just taking pictures like crazy. He jumps up and says, “It is a 4×4!” and she pointed at the emblem on the rear door. I never said a word and just took it all in. They were pumped they’d seen a 4×4 Sprinter to say the least! Gotta love it!

A couple weeks before the trip I was all torn up about the “biodiesel” availability between here and Stanley. I researched all sorts of things and studied Google Maps for appropriate fueling locations. Geez . . . that was all just a waste of time. We had no problems at all finding B5 or better . . . non-issue. I will know next time . . . having the diesel rotopax containers as a backup is still a good idea though.

Rotopax Diesel Containers
Rotopax Diesel Containers

One more note. The BF Goodrich KO2 tires are simply awesome. The ride is great, they did wonderfully on the forest service roads, there is no doubt they improve the look of the vehicle, and they are yet to show any wear after over 8,000 miles! If you have 4×4 Sprinter get some and make sure that you MB Dealer does the install and balancing. If you don’t, they will wear out sooner and will not give you the wonderful ride that I’ve enjoyed.

BFGs on the KyMotoVan
BFGs on the KyMotoVan

Bottom line . . . we’re hooked. There are lots of other cool things about the Sprinter but I don’t have enough “free cycles” to commit at this time. If you have a Sprinter, then Congratulations . . . if you don’t . .  then maybe you should?!

See you on the trail!

Idaho Riding 2016 – #4

Day 4 of riding in Idaho was great as usual. Dwayne, Chip and I set out on the Little Casino trail around 9:30am or so. Dwayne hadn’t ridden this trail since the re-route they’d done 2-3 years ago. I’d only ridden it once when the trail followed the original route but honestly don’t remember much about it except that there were multiple creek crossings.

About three miles in we stopped and Dwayne said, “This new trail sucks!” He preferred the old route that had less exposed side hill, more creek crossings and a good climb to the top of the ridge. It is not a bad trail, its just not what he’d ridden for so many years. My understanding is that the new route gets you up to the ridge sooner and it never crosses the creek. This is all part of a strategy to keep trails further away from running water thus reducing erosion and sedimentation.

Next stop was a couple logs down across the trail. They weren’t huge so we stopped and cut them with the hand saw. This section of the trail had been cleared recently and whomever did the work certainly earned their wages. Dozens of logs were across the trail just a week or two beforehand and the sawdust piles were still visible from the fresh cuts.

Chip wanted to stop where there is a good view of Redfish Lake and the Sawtooth Range. With that in mind we made our way up the trail looking for the best place to get some photos. A little climb and a few corners later the perfect spot came into play. Ended up being a great view in all directions! Chip got the photos he wanted and I took a few as well.

Chip & Dwayne - Redfish Lake in the Background
Chip & Dwayne – Redfish Lake in the Background

When we headed up the trail from where we were in this photo, I rode Dwayne’s new Beta X-Trainer for about a mile. The bike was very nice for the type of riding that we do. It’s plushness and linear power delivery are perfect for mountain trail riding. Anyone with a short inseam should try the bike as well. Dwayne said it is 10% shorter in both directions which makes it very maneuverable. It is a 300cc engine and all you have to do is dial it back a bit and you’ll be reminded it is a big bore. Oh . . . and electric start too!

This view is along the way . . .
This view is along the way . . .

Onward to the “4-way” where the Casino Creek trails come together with the trail up to the Rough Creek Fire Tower and Martin Creek that leads down to the Warm Springs Meadow. On our way up the hill you pass the junction with Boundary Creek Trail. I went down that trail about a week ago at the recommendation of a local bicycle rider. He said that anyone who can climb up Boundary Creek without stopping on a bicycle has iron lungs and legs!

At this junction we saw a bicyclist coming up that trail. We stopped and talked with him for a few minutes. If I understood correctly, he only stopped once on the way up. One thing for sure . . . this guy was fit! We told him where we were headed and he indicated he’d be going the same way. I’d cleared several logs off the trail ahead the week before so I told him it was probably clear. He waited for us to depart and then headed up the hill.

Martin Creek Trail was the plan so we took the right hand turn and made our way down the trail. I’d forgotten how darn rocky it was. I’d been up it once and there is this one rock step up that is just plain tough. As we approached the Warm Springs Meadow, the downed timber became more and more frequent. Looked like a big game of pick up sticks. That is just the best way to describe it. Forward motion was slow at times throughout this mess.

Dwayne & Chip in the Pick Up Sticks
Dwayne & Chip in the Pick Up Sticks

So we are sitting here on the trail, taking a break after crossing 50+ downed logs, and the guy on the bicycle rolls up. Yep. he’d caught us. Very impressive to say the least. I know Martin Creek is almost all downhill but he’d climb another 750+ vertical feet since we’d seen him and made his way down the trail and across all those logs and over all the rocks. Wow!

We were just getting ready to leave so once again he let us go first. About 20 more log crossings and we rolled into Warm Springs Meadow. What an awesome place! For many years I’d eyed this valley on the aerial photography and topographic maps. It was 2013 before I actually made my way to the valley. Awesome views!

Dwayne on the Beta - Warm Springs Meadow
Dwayne on the Beta – Warm Springs Meadow

About 1/4 mile past the location shown in the photo above you take a right and head up the valley. It is really marshy in that area as beavers are active nearby. We carefully picked our way through the wet spot and as we were getting back on the main trail we saw the guy on the bicycle coming our way. Geez!

Warm Springs Meadow
Warm Springs Meadow

The next mile or so is flat and there were several downed trees along the way to the next creek crossing. This crossing has a “bridge” if you  want to call it that. Essentially, there are about two dozen logs laid lengthwise across the creek. No boards or anything on top. We came to a stop got off and carefully walked our bikes across.

On our heels once again was the guy on the bicycle. He was incredible. Chip told him it was all “downhill” just ahead and onto the Williams Creek Trail. Chip had forgotten there were two more small ridges to traverse before the final descent. Oh well, this guy was in the for the long haul.

Warm Springs Meadow Pano
Warm Springs Meadow Pano

Dwayne took off and I rode just behind his dust all the way to the Williams Creek trailhead just of ID75 near Obsidian. Chip rolled in about 3 minutes later and we took advantage of some shade offered by a pine near the trailhead sign. There were two vehicles parked there and within 8-10 minutes bicyclists arrived, loaded up and drove away. About 5 minutes after that, the bicyclist rolled right up to us. I was amazed! He’d climbed up and over those two ridges and cruised down Williams Creek with ease.

In the end, we learned he was from Washington State and was not acclimated to the high altitude as he lived at about 800 feet above mean sea level. His bicycle was a “Felt” and from what I figured the frame alone cost around $10K . . . yep, just the frame. He’d been “glamping” (his term) with his family at Redfish Lake.  He was impressed with how we got our bikes over all the downed logs but we were blown away with the fact that he’d been keeping up with us for nearly 30 miles!!

Before he pedaled down the road, he took some pictures of us and grabbed a selfie or two. It is about 6.5 miles of flat pavement to the turn off for Redfish Lake from the trailhead. I estimate that the loop he’d ridden was ~36 miles. Wow! Dwayne put it best when he described the guy as “sculpted” . . . you can probably get the picture.

We too made our way up the road and back to the turn off for Boundary Creek. I was looking forward to climbing the trail back up to Little Casino. A group of horses was coming down and we all got off the trail as best as we could. One horse was spooked by the whole thing and almost bucked off the rider. It was kinda scary. Didn’t like it that that happened.

I met a hiker half way up so I shut off my bike. She walked by, said hello and high-fived me! Wasn’t expecting that! The trail was clear up to the junction and all the way back down to the Casino Creeks Trailhead. Simply awesome single track compared to anything we have in Kentucky.

Dwayne had an iced downed watermelon in his cooler so Chip cut it up and we enjoyed it before loading the bikes. What a wonderful way to finish up another great day of riding in Idaho. No doubt I’m fortunate to ride with these guys!

It was good to shed my gear and I was certainly getting hungry. Jumped into the Sprinter and pointed it towards the hotel for a shower and dinner. Already thinking about the next riding adventure!

See you on the trail!

 

Idaho Riding 2016 – #3

Day three turned out to be adventure! Chip and I went out for the day and started right where his RV was parked. The ride began with about 4 miles of asphalt heading out towards Stanley Lake. Another 3+ miles of two-track leads to a frequently used section of single track that traverses some awesome meadows where the views of the surrounding mountains are wonderful. We stopped about 6 miles in where the trail intersects with the Elk Meadow Trail. The photo below shows the view just beyond the trail signs. We have to cross that meadow.

Elk Meadow
Elk Meadow

I’ve only been across this “trail” four times now. Each “crossing” was memorable. The first year, the meadow was flooded with about 7″ to 9″ of water with thick reeds and grasses stretching as far as the eye can see. I was following someone that had been across before and magically we emerged at a 10′ wide running stream where there was a sand bar that made it easy to cross. After that, you turn left and head towards this tall wooden post way down the meadow where the crossing is easier. More than half of this 1+ mile crossing was through the flooded type area I described above. Sketchy.

The second year it was relatively dry and the crossing was not too bad at all. I had the GPS tracks so that made it easier to find the trail and the best crossing points. Year number three was an adventure for many reasons. Check out this video for a cool riding blooper captured on helmet camera in the meadow. Hats off to Philip for keeping the bike out the water!

This year was a challenge. The middle of the meadow was closer to 10″ to 12″ deep. I followed my tracks closely but it just kept getting deeper. We reached the point where the initial creek crossing was supposed to be easy, but that was far from the case. The sand bar was gone and a tall bank had been cut into the far side. (We found out later that beaver dams situated downstream had raised the water level in the meadow.)

Retreat! We turned around, backtracked to the edge of the meadow and started riding along the margins as best we could. Patches of willows, large sinkholes, and narrow but deep creek crossings were encountered. Our goal had been to find that tall pole where the second crossing was marked and finally it was within reach. Some quick searching revealed a place to cross that was easy and wouldn’t tear up the meadow or the opposing bank. Less than 20 yards beyond where we crossed, the tall pole highlighted the path forward.

A mile or so afterward, we were at the base of the mountains where the trail intersects with two others (see below). This was a good opportunity to take a quick break and regroup. I knew that the climb ahead promised to be the next challenge.

Trail Junction
Trail Junction

What we found on the way up was not fun. There were dozens of downed trees and some portions of the trail had deteriorated for a variety of reasons. Not good. At one point, I had to use the hand saw to cut a path so we could move forward. I should have taken my chainsaw on this ride. Bad move on my part.

With some effort, we reached the top of the climb. The last portion wasn’t steep but it sure was rocky. Momentum was the key! Elizabeth Lake is visible from this summit and a good view of the Sawtooth’s is just a few feet away through the white bark pines.

Elizabeth Lake
Elizabeth Lake

We paused for a while to enjoy the view and rest up a bit. What a cool place! I feel fortunate to ride on this great trail system with folks that appreciate it and know it well.

At the Summit - Elizabeth Lake is at my back.
At the Summit – Elizabeth Lake is at my back.

The next section of trail is notoriously rocky. Keeping a good rhythm is tough as there are places where you have to bulldog your bike through the boulders. Reprieves are few and far between until you reach the next trail junction. The scenery is nice and the wildflowers were on display, but concentration on the trail was important.

We forged straight ahead at the next intersection and made our way down Swamp Creek trail. Someone had cleared most of the logs on that route, however some quads had pushed there way up the trail about 2 miles farther than allowed. Irresponsible use of the trail will eventually lead to its closure. The trail ends at the highway where we found a way across the meadow and over to Cape Horn road. After about 3 miles of gravel, we reached the Valley Creek trailhead. There is a short quad section that leads to some single track or another Forest Service road.

We chose the single track! The Forest Service had worked on this trail last summer and it wasn’t too bad considering it burned 2 years ago. The setting is surreal. The ground is seared black as are the trees. Wildflowers are abundant on the hillsides and the creeks in the valley are very lush in comparison. Riding the trail with the trees was certainly better but we still have fun on this slow and steady climb up to Basin Butte road.

A view towards the White Cloud Mountains from Basin Butte Road
A view towards the White Cloud Mountains from Basin Butte Road

Chip and I took another quick break at Basin Butte road. The view above is just a few feet from the trail marker on the opposite side of the road. Afterwards, we coasted down this trail which leads back to the Basin Creek trail. This mostly downhill route is favored by mountain bikers. All was going well until we encountered some downed trees in an old burn area near the end. Getting around a couple of the root balls was not easy and going over was not an option!

Some more nice single track back led us to another Forest Service road and then back to where Chip’s RV was parked. Just under 50 miles once again! Kim was nearby at the RV Park with her friend Kathy so she came over as I loaded up and peeled off my gear. It was about 4:30 and I was ready for beer! Back to Stanley for a shower, some beer, and a good dinner.

Doing a loop like this is nearly impossible in Kentucky. There are few places left in the US where riding like this is an option. I plan to ride as much of it as I can before it is all gone!

See you on the trail!

Idaho Riding 2016 – #1

Took a short ride this morning. Kim dropped me off at the Casino Trailhead around 9:30. I went up Little Casino and the trail was in good shape. Most all of the deadfall had been cut back. There were two places where I had get out the saw, one of which was an ancient six-trunked white bark pine that had fallen across the trail about 1 mile past the Boundary Creek. Some folks had been riding around it and it was all chewed up. Not good.

A Grand View of the Sawtooth Mountains
A Grand View of the Sawtooth Mountains

I ran into a large group of hikers that had come up Boundary and stopped to speak with them for a few minutes. There were about 12 teenagers with a couple guys that were probably teachers or camp directors. They were tired and wanted to know how far they’d need to hike in order to see the surface of both Redfish and Little Redfish lake. When I told them it was about 2 miles or so, they kinda decided to head back down!

I found a few snow drifts in the usual places along Little Casino as they’d been sheltered from the sun. Last year was the only time I’ve ridden that trail and not seen snow. From what I understand, the snowpack was pretty good this past winter.

Snowdrift
Snowdrift

Went up to the 4-way (Little,Big,Martin,Lookout) and took a short break and turned around. Went back down Little Casino to Boundary. I’d never ridden Boundary, so I took it down to the main road and then back to town.

4-Way Trail Intersection
4-Way Trail Intersection

On the way down I stopped for a mountain biker that must have had iron lungs. I was very impressed at his progress on the unrelenting steep grade. I shut off my bike and got it off to the side so he could get by. He stopped at the switchback just past me and thanked me for allowing him to come by easily. I told him Little Casino was clear which was going to make his loop much easier.

On top of the world!
On top of the world!

I didn’t have my helmet camera with me for the ride but I did get a few pictures along the way. That is good, as I rarely get to stop and take pictures when riding with a group.

Trails like this is why I ride!
Trails like this is why I ride!

I don’t like riding on the pavement but sometimes its necessary to make a good loop. Having the plated “WR” is nice for those occasions. I got back just before noon so Kim and I went to lunch. She was pleased and I was certainly ready to eat!

See you on the trail!

KyMotoVan – Report #12

Lately, work has been slow on the Sprinter. But as we’ve geared up for our annual westward pilgrimage, I’ve been prompted to make some additional improvements that are going to be handy while traveling.

Previously I figured that I couldn’t have two fender well boxes as the one on the driver’s side would interfere with the motorcycle tie downs. After eyeing this situation for a couple months I came up with a solution. A short length of chain was run between the two D-rings towards the front on the driver’s side of the van. Then, rather than put the tie down hook in the D-ring, I placed it 8 links forward on the chain. This was effective at offsetting the tie down so that it would easily clear the front edge of a fender well box. Easy enough and quick to do.

With the chain fix in place for the tie downs, I proceeded with building another fender well box. All I had to buy was two hinges, some aluminum channel, and a small can of Minwax black poly stain. There was plenty of plywood left over from my other projects and even some with the good veneer for the top.

Two Fender Well Boxes!
Two Fender Well Boxes!

Luckily, I kept the piece of plywood that was left over when I cut out for the other fender well curve. Perfect! That was all I needed for a template. It took me over a week to get that other fender well cover built, but this one went together in 3-days or so. The majority of my time was spent painting it with the Olympic deck coating that I’ve used on other surfaces.

When completed, it dropped right into place with no issues. There were several items that had been stowed underneath the passenger seats that now have a new home in the fender well box. The front half has been dedicated to motorcycle parts and the rear half has chain saw stuff, hand trimmers and stuff that came from underneath the passenger seats. A little bit of room still remains in each half.

Fender Well Box
Fender Well Box

Three days before we got our van, Jesse came over to the house with his Fiskars tree trimmer device. It has a long extendable handle that has a clevis type trimming mechanism that is great for trimming branches. There is also a small saw blade attachment that can be used to saw bigger branches than the trimmer can tackle. We used this trimmer for about 30 minutes getting all the branches off the trees that line my driveway. I knew that if they weren’t trimmed back they’d be dragging on the new van. Not good.

Well guess what I got from Jesse for Christmas? A brand new trimmer complete with the saw blade attachment. He knew I’d need one again to trim the driveway and of course it will be handy while cruising the forest service roads out west or back here in Ky while finding a good place to park for riding.

For weeks I’d wondered how to haul this tool in the cargo area of the van. I’d seen some nice roof mounted options but then I’d need a ladder and with my luck I’d probably fall off the damn thing and hurt myself. Best to keep it inside the van and at a reasonable height.

The option I settled on was a 6′ piece of 4″ Schedule 40 PVC pipe with two clean out adaptors. Both my trimmer and my nice 6′ extendable handle wash brush would fit in it. A piece of 10″ poplar hardwood was stained with the black poly stain and the PVC components and 4 metal straps were all painted with Krylon SuperMaxx spray paint.

Mounting Hardware
Mounting Hardware

The pipe was secured to the wood using the metal straps and 1/4-20 SS hex head bolts with self anchoring T-nuts on the rear of the wood panel in countersunk holes. This whole assembly rests on a 1/8″ ledge that is the top of the black wooden rail that runs just below the large cargo area panels. Some #10 SS screws were used to secure it to those panels.

PVC on Stained Poplar Hardwood
PVC on Stained Poplar Hardwood

I’m now working on a way to strap the trimmer and the brush to the PVC or one of the straps. They need to be secure so they won’t slide out under acceleration. I’m going to look at some nice rubber straps to keep them from moving around. I have a piece of black foam rubber than I’m going to use to isolate them a bit so they won’t rattle.

Trimmer & Brush
Trimmer & Brush

Lastly, I acquired a little 12VDC fan that fits right behind one of the cargo area exhaust vents. There are four vents back there just inside the back doors that direct air out some one-way vents that are positioned behind the rear bumper corners. The little fan is currently wired up to an 8 pack of 1.5 volt AA batteries with one of those old 9V battery clips. It will run all night on a single charging of the batteries. Why do I need this? Well I’ve found that if I hook it up at night after loading my bike there is no gas smell in the van the next morning. How about that! Dad said all I needed was a slight negative pull on the space and it would work. He was right. Need to wire this up to the van but that can wait.

Cargo Area Vent Fan
Cargo Area Vent Fan

There are a couple more things I’d like to do within the cargo area but I’ll know more about how to handle that after our trip. Also, the passenger seat area will be totally reconfigured by this time next year. Looking forward to getting that all lined out with a comfy seat/bed and some cool storage options.

See you on the trail!

KyMotoVan – Report #11

New Tires:  Originally, the van had 245/75 R16 Continental VancoFourSeason tires gracing the silver steel rims. It rode very well on the highway and there was minimal road noise. No complaints at all in that regard. However, I was told early on that the Continentals wouldn’t last very long . . . maybe 35-40K at the very best. So, my plan was to wear them out and do some research in the meantime regarding appropriate replacements.

Well this plan started to deteriorate very soon. My first bad experience was during our big snow this past winter. The van did very well on the icy and snowy roadways that had been plowed, but I got it off into some fresh snow about 10-12″ inches deep and climbing out was not easy. I had it in 4×4 mode but didn’t know to turn the ASR features off. Regardless, those Continentals just wouldn’t dig in. They’d sit on the top of the snow and just burn in a nice icy patch. I was concerned, but I also thought well I’ll just be careful where I take when it snows really deep.

Motovan in the Snow
Motovan in the Snow

A couple weeks later I went to park the van in a field where I’d parked my F-150 hundreds of times. It was a little wet, but certainly nothing bad at all. At least that is what I thought. As soon as I hit this one wet grassy area I could feel it spinning and the traction control warnings were lighting up the dashboard. In this instance, I was alone and there was no one there to pull me out if I got really stuck. So I eased on up to my parking spot trying not to spin excessively in the big rig. Immediately, I put it into 4×4 mode just hoping that I could get out later that afternoon with no issue.

Parking in the Field
Parking in the Field

When I climbed out to survey the damage to the field I noted that the tires were just packed full of mud. It was obvious that Continentals did not clean themselves well and my experience with the snow highlighted their lack of ability to dig in. This is not good. I have this nice big adventure vehicle with 4×4 and it is getting stuck in a damp, flat, grassy field.

The next weekend, I put the darn thing in 4×4 when I pulled off the main road. It was damp again and I was worried that I’d damage the field or worse, get stuck. It did well but I could feel it spin a couple times as I got into the grassy area. It didn’t slow down like last time or even feel like I’d get stuck, but it still spun a bit. Once again, the tires had packed up with dirt. That’s it! I’m getting some real tires for this ride!

From what I’d read online, it was obvious that the BF Goodrich All Terrain KO2s were the way to go. They are highly recommended, I’ve seen them on dozens of Sprinters online, and Jesse had gotten over 50K on his last two sets on a Chevy 2500. Lots of folks seemed to think that a larger tire size than stock was a good idea, but I just wasn’t comfortable with that. Narrower tires go the best in mud and snow and tires that are too big around could rub and would make the vehicle taller. Let me tell you . . . making that beast taller just doesn’t sound like a good idea at all!

BFGs on the KyMotoVan
BFGs on the KyMotoVan

It took some effort but I found a tire place in Lexington that would give me a good deal on just the tires. This way, I could have the MB Service Center do the mounting and balancing. In the end, this worked out very well as the MB Service Center had the best rate on mounting and balancing and they have the wheel weights made specifically for the “steely” wheels on the van.

Their turnaround was very quick and the Technician said I’d made a great choice on the BFGs. He indicated they’d be perfect for the type of traveling and off road excursions we’d be doing. One thing he said though was that, “They will talk to you a bit more going down the road.” At this point I was anxious to see how well it rode and how much road noise would be generated by the more aggressive and deeper tread.

My drive home was an eye opener. Pulling out of the parking lot I could tell that there was a bit more drag when turning at a slow speed. But, as soon as I hit the main road the steering and ride were just as effortless and smooth as with the Continentals. Hmmm . . . I surely didn’t expect that.

BFGs on the KyMotoVan
BFGs on the KyMotoVan

On the way home, there are about 12 miles of Parkway driving with a 70mph speed limit. As I sped up and headed down the on-ramp to the Parkway I was shocked. The road noise did not increase at all and it was silky smooth at 72mph. After a mile or so I eased it up to 80mph just see how it would feel. Wonderful! I simply did not anticipate that such an aggressive looking tire would ride that well and be that quiet.

One thing the BFGs did for the van was really change its appearance. Those new tires coupled with the nice black Aluminess nerf bars make it look like more of an adventure vehicle and less like and expediter’s van. My dad commented that it looked more “manly” now and Philip strongly agreed. Oh well . . .

BFGs on the KyMotoVan
BFGs on the KyMotoVan

I’ve parked in the same field twice with the new tires and never even had to think about engaging the 4×4. It doesn’t spin at all nor do they pack up with dirt. If there is one drawback it is that they do pick up rocks a bit more, but I can live with that. I now feel much more comfortable taking the van on some Forest Service roads out west this summer. I’m certain it won’t go where my old F-150 could, but the KyMotoVan will get a lot closer with the BFGs in the mix!

Stay tuned for an upcoming post on my partition door and some ventilation work.

See you on the trail!

KyMotoVan – Report #10

Nerf Bars:  I spent weeks looking at running boards and nerf bar options for the NCV3 Sprinter. There were abundant options for “generic” running boards. Many looked like they “kinda” fit and one person told me their’s were sturdy even with 5 kinds getting in and out each day. In the end, I went with the black powder-coated Aluminess Sprinter Nerf Bars for my 170 WB Sprinter (with a roof-mount AC unit) . . . the AC part will be important later on.

Aluminess Nerf Bars Website Photo
Aluminess Nerf Bars Website Photo

First of all, I must say that the nerf bars are extremely well made. My Father is a decent welder and he too agreed and examined the craftsmanship in great detail. They know what they are doing and do it well. Additionally, the staff was easy to work with when ordering. Coordinating a freight shipment from the San Diego area to a local business was painless to coordinate.

Installation of the passenger side was tackled first. Here is where the AC unit comes into play. Oddly enough, the AC lines for the roof-mounted unit emerge from above just behind the front door steps. On both sides. Unfortunately, the brackets for the nerf bars are impacted by the location of the AC lines.

After lots of examination and measuring, some modifications were made to the front two brackets. The modifications allowed us to kinda tuck and turn the nerf bars up behind the AC line with plenty of clearance. Holding them into place also told us that it was topping out on the back bracket so about 3/4″ was taken off the top of each of those.

We then used a floor jack under the rear bracket to position and push it up into place. Two holes were drilled in the vertical portion of the underbody where the brackets rested. The floor jack was moved up to the next bracket and once again we got it in place and drilled the holes and installed the mounting hardware. A similar process was followed for the last three brackets as we worked our way towards the front.

On the last bracket, the stainless steel screws were used to pull it up flush with the bottom of the step. It worked very well and end up being consistent looking from front to back.

Aluminess Nerf Bars (Passenger Side)
Aluminess Nerf Bars (Passenger Side)

From the look of things, doing the driver’s side was going to be more difficult. As with the other side, we took about 3/4” off the top of the back two brackets before starting. Both of the front two angle brackets were removed and the welds were ground down to a smooth surface. All but about 2 inches was cut away from the top of the second bracket from the front.

The heater hoses are not a problem at all although they look imposing. I removed the 10mm nuts on the AC hose bracket and removed the factory threaded tab. Removing the next 10mm nut up the line on the AC hose made it easier to reposition the hose during the install.

Front Bracket above AC Line & Heater Hoses
Front Bracket above AC Line & Heater Hoses

With these modifications made, the nerf bar has to be rotated into position so that those front two mounts tuck behind the AC hose. Very similar to how it was on the other side. Luckily it totally misses those heater hoses! A floor jack was used to position the rear mount and a barrel jack on the front three brackets as the holes were drilled.

In this instance, the rear bracket was set to straddle the back two body mounting points. On the passenger side the foremost rear tab was behind the foremost body mounting point. Also, it leaned a bit inward towards the center of the vehicle whereas the other side was more vertical. Typical body variations I’d say as it lined up well on the outside and along the bottom of the van.

Rear Bracket
Rear Bracket

Unlike the passenger side, the front bracket did need some spacers to do it right. We cut the piece of aluminum that was removed from the second bracket in half, drilled a hole in each half, and used those as the spacers. Worked very well. It looks really good, feels sturdy, and is “symmetrical” with the other side in terms of its positioning. I used most all of the supplied hardware.

Mounted!
Mounted!

Glad to get this all behind me. It is certainly easier to get in and out and as noted by a couple folks, it does provide some “side” protection as well. I really like the way they look and once again the craftsmanship is great.

Special thanks for my Son and my Father. My Son assisted with the passenger side and my Father on the Driver’s side. Both felt we’d done a good job of really securing to the body in spite of the dreaded AC lines from the roof mounted unit.

Getting new tires put on the van next week and still working on partition door mounting options. Stay tuned!

See you on the trail!

The New Travel Machine (KyMotoVan) – Report #8

Fender Well Box: I found several references to fender well boxes or covers on the Sprinter-Source forum. After noting how my motorcycle tie downs were routed it appeared that I could have one, but maybe not two.

Luckily, I had plenty of 3/4″ plywood leftover from making my partition and rear wall panels. All I had to do was figure out how I was going to put it together and secure it to the floor and walls. Making a template for the curvature of the wheel well was easy and with a few key measurements in-hand I went to work.

Initially the plan was to cover all of the box with the same Olympic deck coating that I’d used on the lower partition panel and door. However, I ended up having enough of the very nice maple hardwood plywood for the box top so I stained it with some black stain – polyurethane made by Minwax. Three sides are wrapped with 3/4″ aluminum channel to make for a nice look.

Fender Well Box
Fender Well Box

RattleTrap was employed for insulation and sound damping (not dampening) on the surface of the wheel well. Wrapping something that is square and flat over a rounded surface is never fun. Cartographers faced this issue centuries and decades ago when trying to “map” our “round” globe with flat, paper maps! As a result, there were some compromises made in this process.

I cut 1.75″ lengths of 1″ x 1″ aluminum angle and used those along with some allen-head stainless steel bolts and nylon-based stainless lock nuts in each corner. This approach ensured that the box would be very square and solid. Both of the leading corners (front and back) were encased with 1″ x 1″ aluminum angle as I knew they’d endure some abuse while loading and unloading bike and such. Those were attached with some #6 stainless screws and a bit of caulk.

Fender Well Box
Fender Well Box

The hinges I used were Austrian-made and ended up being the perfect solution. They are fully-adjustable in all directions, have a zero-clearance factor on the back side, and are soft-closing. Some foam-based weatherstripping pieces were temporarily added on the two front corners until I can come up with a permanent solution that is both functional and appealing.

Fender Well Box
Fender Well Box

Attaching it to the van was easy just above the wheel well and two 1″ x 1″ aluminum angles attached it to the floor. Once again I used stainless hardware to secure everything. It is very solid. Actually nice to sit on.

I now have my tow chain, a cable, spare tie downs, garbage bags, rags, along with stuff that was previously under the passenger seats. This is good. I’ve cleared up space up front and have shifted a bit of weight towards the rear which will further improve the ride.

Fluids Box:  I’ve really been worried about carrying “fluids” in the back of the van. That wasn’t a big deal in the truck but having them “internal” to the van is a different story. About three weeks were spent trying to identify good options for holding things like antifreeze, motor oil, premix, filter oil, chain saw pre-mix, chain saw chain oil, and so forth. In the end, an aluminum tool box made by Better-Built was acquired and deployed (see photo below).

Fluids Box
Fluids Box

It fit perfectly on the floor where I’d planned but when the top was raised it rubbed my nice black panel rails. After some contemplation, I figured out how to space it out from side just enough so it would clear and not scratch anything at all. Very good. So far, I’ve been able to put all my “fluids” in here and with the top being sealed and only two small holes (caulked) on the bottom it should be good to go!

My next project is to mount a fire extinguisher, first-aid kit, tire pump, and come up with a great option for securing the partition door. I’m also going to place some small D-Rings on either side of where a rear tire is situated. Once that is done, I’m taking a break from all this and getting back to more riding and bike maintenance. Spring is just around the corner and I need to get some trail work done before it gets all hot and nasty!

See you on the trail!

Riding in the Snow!

When I was young, we’d ride each time it snowed. Sometimes it was just on a small plot of land next to our house, but we’d ride. I can remember my Father, my Uncle and me going around and around a large figure 8. Once you got the hang of it, you could drift around the corners. Good practice!

Sometime in the early 70’s we got a really big snow that shut down things for days. My Father rode his Suzuki TM-250 to a factory in town where he worked in Maintenance. I’d say he was one of the few people to show up for work!

Basically, riding in the snow teaches you a lot about traction, momentum, and weight distribution. Anyone that rides a dirt bike should try it at least once! Like David said after riding last week, “That was mucho fun!” He’d never ridden in the snow before and thoroughly enjoyed it.

Single Track in the Snow at David's Place
Single Track in the Snow at David’s Place

I’m nearly 50 and at this point, I’ve probably ridden in the snow less than two dozen times. Sure, we get snow in Kentucky, but its occurrence is rare and in most instances there isn’t enough on the ground to justify loading up and heading out.

Out West, now that is a totally different story. Their riding season is so short that they take to the snow in the winter. They talk about snowmobiles with turbos, throttles on both side of the handlebars, and “boondocking” in the back country. Dwayne, out near Tahoe has a KTM fitted with a Timbersled and Gary in South Dakota has knobbies with spikes that are just plain gnarly. Obviously, the snow doesn’t keep them inside over the winter!

Gary's Studded Rear Tire
Gary’s Studded Rear Tire

To this day, one of my most memorable snow riding experiences occurred down near Duganville (bet you don’t know where that is). It was in the early-90s and I had a 1991 Honda XR600. There must have been 18″ or more on the ground and I went down to my friend Bob’s to ride. We had an established loop that was about 7 miles long around his three properties. Well I made the whole loop. I put that XR600 in fourth gear and held it at about 3/4 throttle and went everywhere. Up and down every hill, across every creek, and through each “cedar tunnel” . . . it was a blast! The snow was so deep in most places that I could just step off the bike and it would stand up in the snow with no support. I have yet to ride another bike in the snow that was better than that XR. Period.

The XR600
The XR600

Finally it happened. We got some snow a little over a week ago. Actually, we got a lot for Central Kentucky. There was about 12″ at the house with larger drifts here and there. At the end of the road, the drifts were over 2 feet deep. That was on Friday, and on Sunday, Jesse and I went to ride down in Casey County.

For some reason I expected there to be less snow on the ground down that way but when I hit the Lincoln-Casey line the road went to hell. I was driving the Motovan and it was not in 4WD so I eased on down the road noticing that everything “covered” with snow. I’d say there was 17″-19″ of snow on the ground where we parked. Never a dull moment!

Motovan in the Snow
Motovan in the Snow

I had spent 50 minutes or so putting sheet metal screws in my tires on Saturday evening and it paid some dividends. Regardless, forward motion was slow at times and a bit hard on the bike. A big-bore . . . that is a big-bore four-stroke would probably be the best for “big snow” riding but the YZ went ever place I pointed it.

On the Ridge
On the Ridge

We only covered about 4 miles and 50% of that was just logging roads. Towards the end of the ride, we came down this one hill and the snow was piled up almost 3 feet deep! I almost went over the bars getting to the bottom of that one.

Taking a Break
Taking a Break

The next Friday evening was spent removing the screws I’d installed the weekend before. It was going to be in the mid-50’s on Saturday and at our house, the snow was 95% gone. Mistake. Should have left the screws intact. Every North-North West slope was still covered with at least 6″ of snow. In most places it was more. Totally unexpected. Luckily it was heavier and not as light and fluffy as the previous weekend. We got around well but it was tricky and a bit tiring (see video below).

Bottom line. If you own a dirt bike and it snows at least 6 inches where you live, get out and ride in it. You don’t need to go far, just get out. Don’t be a “fair-weather” rider. You’ll be surprised what you’ll learn and fun will be had in the process!

See you on the trail!

The New Travel Machine – Report #7

Partition: The C-pillar partition is nearly complete. Olympic deck coating was used to cover both the main panel and the door. There are a total of 3 coats on each side but none on the edges. I taped them off using painters tape and it worked quite well. All three panels fit perfectly. The photo below shows the panels prior to any finishing.

Initial Panel Placement
Initial Panel Placement

I placed a piece of 1×1 angle aluminum across the front of the partition where it meets the floor. I’ll be using 3-4 screws to secure it to the floor and some larger 2×2 angle aluminum braces on the backside of the main panel. Those, along with the existing brackets at the bottom of the header panel, will do a fine job of holding everything in place.

Upper Brackets
Upper Brackets

Each panel is attached to the frame using 1/4-20 stainless steel hardware. The partition frame was drilled and tapped at each anchor point and a thin nylon washer was placed between the panels and the aluminum frame. I know the van will flex and things will rub and squeak and so forth.

Front View
Front View

In the end, I’m very pleased with how it is coming together. I’m still exploring options for securing the door panel. I’ve looked at a few plastic knob options but have some other things in mind as well. Getting all the curves to look good as they wrap around the AC unit, headliner, and sidewalls was a challenge.

Header Panel along Headliner
Header Panel along Headliner

The upcoming installment will include a final update on the partition,  some info on my “fluids box” and a custom wheel well cover that does at least triple duty!

See you on the trail!