Monday, 14 March 2016

Vans for transporting bikes - My Experiences so far...

I thought I'd do a bit of a post about my experiences of using vans to transport bikes around...

I've both used and seen a fair few methods now and some are excellent, others are really hard work and frustrating...

My current van falls into that later category for me hence the reason for this post.

I've owned vans for years now, two of the old shape vitos, a Nissan Primastar and currently a new shape vito. We've also used bigger vans, Mercedes Sprinters, Ford Transits and the like... All of my vans have been standard body shapes with no high tops etc.

The two old shape Vitos were very good, the load space was square and the anchor points were well positioned, bike sat really well in them, all shapes and sizes of sports bike and trail bikes. They drove really well too and were pretty reliable. In the two vans I did well over 100k and only had very minor poblems with an alternator and a starter motor. Their bodywork was the let down.

Apparently Mercedes tried to save both weight and money in the manufacturing process by using thinner steel on the bodywork and then not treating the metal with their usual high quality protection sprays and paints. This resulted in a short lived van as the bodywork fell apart. A real shame as for me these were a vehilce of choice.

The Nissan Primastar is part of a package of three vans, all made by Renault and then badged up as the Renault Trafic, the Vauxhaul Vivaro and the Nissan. There were small differences in the cab and lights etc to set them at least slightly apart, but if you pulled out the fan motor or an electronic part it would have a Renault lable on it. Parts were shared and bodywork was the same which of course reduced manufacturing costs and thus allowed them to be sold cheaper than other vans on the market.

A good strategy to improve sales but they forgot to make a gearbox that stayed together and as with a lot of the French manufacturering, reliability is an issue with running costs from a repairs point of view considerably higher than the Mercedes and the earlier VW's.

The load space was pretty near perfect for bikes though, good tiedown points, square shaped internals, a good bulkhead and a low rear entry floor so easy to get the bikes in and out of. A benefit of front wheel drive really. There was also a fairly good head clearance height for a standard shaped van.

I liked my van and did about 40k miles in two years in it, if the gearbox and the repair bills weren't going to cost so much to sort I'd probably have kept it longer.

I've gone back to the Vito's based upon my previous ones but it has to be said, the body shape is crap. the low back door, the curved sides all look nice but are a real pain to live with. The internal height of the standard van means you skin your knuckles with a standard KTM bar height and I've lost count of how many times the bikes have fell over in the back now just in the 3 short month's I've owned it as it's really difficult to move them around without them either falling out the back or over..

From a driving point of view this is the best van I've owned, its comfy for long distances and not too noisy, the cab space is open and visibility is good. The mirrors are superb too.

Reliability has been a question though, the brakes aren't that great and despite fitting all new calipers and discs/pads they are just not right, so back to the garage it's going again. The gears are a pain to enguage and the build quality just isn't there really with some rust spots appearing very quickly. I'll not have another one once this goes!

I reckon to be honest that bigger is better. The more space you have in the van the better it is to live with. Fuel costs are higher and they can be a pain to park, but being able to move the bikes around without damaging your back, having space to put them into corners etc and then hang all your kit up and carry spares and fuel just goes beyond a cost consideration.

I've driven several Ford Transits over the years and found they have great space and a square shapre, but they are noisy on a long drive which I find really tiring and they also seem to need a lot of TLC. Used ones are often well battered and abused too. Not a favourite for me but I haven't tried the new shape Custom as yet.

Nigel, one of the lads I ride with, has a Peugoet Boxer van, the long wheel base high top. He bought it new for work and this has loads of space and as it's new it's been reliable so far, but Nigel says that nowadays if you can afford it buy new and get rid of them in three years as all vehicle manufacturers seem to be purseuing the modern ethos of short lived.

I have two friends who have the Mercedes Sprinter and these are my van of choice for the next one I think. Again the build quality on the older models was the same as the Vitos, ie crap, but they do astronimical miles with regular services. Dearer to buy but longer lived.

So like always with vehicles, you pays your money and makes your choice...  they all have their faults, it's more about whether you can personally live with the ones on your van and whether your finances can affords to buy newer/different.

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