Stocking Stuffers for a Bike Commuter. Sprinter DIY

How does bike commuting relate to our Sprinter DIY project?

Bike commuting is what brought us here. We moved from Michigan to a university town in Oregon. We down sized from two vehicles to one. We lived less than 2 miles from my work and less than 3 miles from our kids school. There was a paved bike path and bike racks everywhere.

With that being said, I may have never successfully converted to a full time bike commuter if not for the fact that I was too cheap to buy a parking pass at work and I wanted to leave the car available for my husband and kids. My first day of work was the first day of winter term. There was an ice storm and campus was closed. I went in anyway, since it was my first day and I wasn’t sure what the policies were. My father in law dropped me off; I walked home a few hours later. That was day one of commuting without a car.

Day two went much better, I think. Although, I don’t specifically remember. In any case, I started bike commuting in the winter in Oregon. It rained. My bike had a back fender and my pannier was waterproof. I watched other people and tried some of the tricks. There were shower caps on bike seats, helmet covers, big brimmed helmet covers, all kinds of ponchos, shoes covers, rain pants, and the list goes on.

For Christmas that year CD had given me booties to go over my shoes. They looked ridiculous and I made fun of him. In fairness, he spent the summer of 1999 biking from New Hampshire to San Francisco. Apparently, he learned the value of dry, warm feet.

I bike commuted to and from work each day of winter term. The first four weeks were annoying. I fumbled with my helmet while struggling to get my lock around my bike the proper way. I failed to fully close my pannier and my clothes and lunch got wet. I dropped all kinds of things in puddles while trying to navigate the bike rack. The covered part of the bike rack was almost always at capacity.

I jumped fully on board with the rain gear. The booties were life savers. My feet were dry and felt amazing. My bike shoes and clips made the ride smooth and effortless. I only fell over twice. Both times I stopped fast and failed to release my left shoe. My left leg has always been slower at this. Thankfully, only my pride was hurt.

I stock piled clothes at work and even got out my dry bag to use inside my pannier on the rainiest days. By the time April rolled around I felt great! My only complaint at that point was that the commute was too short. I took a longer way home some days.

CD and the kids were bike commuting also. Sometimes it would be two weeks between driving our minivan. HB asked my why there were so many cars at the grocery store. I credited CD with this parenting success.

It has been four years. I still bike commute everyday. We moved and I am now just about a mile from work. By being one mile closer, I became too lazy to wear my bike shoes or booties. I just throw on my rain boots in the winter and sandals in the summer. I aspire to go back to my clips as I feel it was more efficient and way more fun. I also got lazy about wearing rain pants. I wear a pair of Kuhl hiking pants. Sometimes they get soaked through. On those days, I just throw them over a chair in front of an electric heater. I keep a couple of pairs of work pants in the cupboard by my desk and carry my work clothes back and forth each day. I stopped struggling to get my lock through both the tire and frame. Plenty of bikes get stolen around us but not from the rack in front of my office; I just take that gamble and just lock the frame.

I tried a front fender but it kept clicking and getting bumped off center. I found it more annoying than walking into work with mud on my face. I try to remember to check the mirror before I settle into work for they day. So far, I have hardly had anyone tell me that I have mud on my face. I assume that means that I typically don’t.

I consider myself a bike commuter now. I would miss it if I moved to a town where I couldn’t bike everywhere. It just makes sense and feels good.

Even though I don’t currently use all of these products everyday, here are my favorites. I have tried and personally endorse each one.

I didn’t get these gloves until 2018. I use them everyday, even in the spring and fall. They are warm but not too warm. They are dry. Be aware that they tend to run small. I ordered the medium first and they were too tight. I could get them on fine but pulling them on and off when they were wet or when my hands were sweaty was too hard. I kept them for my seven year old son and ended up getting the large for myself.

I have the slightly older model of this light. I use it everyday and hardly ever need to charge it. It is quick to release from its bracket and I typically just remove it and stick it in my pocket when I walk into work each day.

I should wear this but I don’t wear it often anymore. It is comfortable, easy to use, fit over any clothes. Recommended.

These are really great if you use them. When I used them, I loved them. My co-workers use them regularly. I started wearing my rain boot but hope to go back to clipping in and using these.

KIDS BIKE TRAILERS:

Now a quick word on kids bike trailers. We love them. We used them and still do at times. Our all time favorite is the Chariot. We had a Chariot before it was owned by Thule. We have used all of the accessories: Skis; Jogging wheels; Swivel Wheels; Bike trailer. We have had the single and the double. We still have both, though we hardly use either. Even if our kids aren’t using them, you may see me loading up my groceries at the store.

I could go on and on about the years we have spent with the Chariot. Please comment or ask if you have questions at all. We welcome any opportunity to talk about it!

Please note that our Chariot was made prior to being owned by Thule. I continue to hear good things about the product but cannot speak to it directly.

Next, in a different category, is the Weehoo. We got this for the trails in the forest. We used it there once. In fact, we hardly used it for the first year or so we had it. We really embraced it last summer when Grace broke her arm and couldn’t ride her bike; the Weehoo saved the day! She still likes to use it occasionally and it is great for last minute commutes on a tight timeline. The biggest “con” is storage. It is long and awkward.

As a side note, we had debated about the double Weehoo and have overwhelmingly agreed that the double Weehoo would have been a mistake.

CD hung our Weehoo from the ceiling of the garage. Without that I don’t know that I could have tolerated storing it. It hangs from the ceiling perfectly and is there in such a way that it is easy to get down. Thank you CD!

Sprinter DIY Low Roof vs High Roof

As you know, our first Sprinter didn’t work out. It was a low roof.

What did we learn and how did we learn it?

We bought our Sprinter in May and were on the road by mid-June. Our inaugural trip was 3062.1 miles from Oregon to Michigan via British Columbia and Montana.

Our first stop was an hour from home. CD thru hiked the PCT using a homemade beer can stove. Car camping isn’t something that comes to him naturally. Sprinter camping is obviously even a step beyond that.

In any case, he agreed to let me buy a camping stove. We parked at an REI just South of Portland and bought our stove. Since we were already parked, I ducked into Whole Foods. I must have been in the store for only 15 minutes. The kids were standing in the van making lunch when I came out.

Then HB decided to take a rest for bit. Sprinter DIY

A couple of hours later we were back on the road. It seemed like we were off to a slow but good start.

Now on to the cruel realities of the low roof Sprinter.

  • My head bent 45 degrees when I stood up. CD’s was even worse. My back and neck were sore
  • I could prop up on an elbow when laying on the bed but couldn’t sit up beyond that. This was less than ideal
  • The kid’s bike laid down in the back under the bed. This meant that everytime we got the coat box, shoe box, suitcases, or anything else out of the back, the bikes had to be removed. This usually meant untangling a peddle from tire spokes or something along those lines

Was the low roof a mistake? YES. Is the high roof really that much better? Yes.

Interestingly, prior to buying our first Sprinter, I read a blog written by a family that traveled by Sprinter. They had bought and sold a low roof and recommended not buying a low roof in the first place. I appreciate that they were trying to help me and I wish I had listened!

Why is the high roof better?

  • I can sit straight up when on the bed. The kids can sit up fully on their knees
  • CD and I can both stand up fully on the floor. My neck and back no longer hurt
  • The kids bikes slide under the bed and stay upright. CD built a fancy bike rack to make this even easier
  • The vertical space offers many more options for storage
  • The high roof allows us the stack 2 mattresses on the back bed and storing the mattresses this way is key to our 2 bed conversion. Even with 2 mattress there, I can still lay and sit up on them.

Is cross – wind assist worth it?

We are not sure but we think so. We drove our high roof during some strong wind across the plains and think it really helped.

Do I recommend rear AC? Yes, Yes, Yes.

The windows in the back don’t open. The rear AC works better than the front AC. I have walked to the back seat more than once to find that it is too cold back there. One of the main complaints we heard from other Sprinter owner’s prior to buying our own was that the back was too hot in the summer. We have not had that problem.

It should be noted that if you have passengers, the AC is great. If you don’t have passengers, it may not be needed.

It is also worth noting that the AC takes up room on the roof. This is a consideration when looking at racks or solar panels but we don’t consider it to be a barrier at this point.

What about lane change alerts and back up cameras?

Our low roof version did not have these and it was possible to drive around without these but life is way better with these accessories. I recommend these!

Is an electric sliding step worth it?

I don’t know what this cost or if it is worth it. We bought our van used and this was included but I find it to be handy. It has been a shelf for cooking supplies when I am cooking next to the van with the door open, a door mat to scrape off mud and sand, a bench to take off shoes and socks or just rest a bit, or as an alert to let me know that I haven’t shut the door all the way. Would I get this feature again? Sure

Our current van is a 2015 Mercedes Sprinter 144 passenger van. It has cross wind assist, back up camera, lane change alerts, and rear AC. If you haven’t spend much time in Sprinter’s yet, please know that the most fancy feature we have found is the giant Mercedes symbol on the front. The inside of the van has been quite underwhelming. If they made the Sprinter with even a fraction the features of my Toyota Sienna, it would be a traveling family’s dream!

Please comment or contact us if you would like more specific details about space in the low roof vs high. CD handles measurements and that sort of thing and is happy to share what he has learned.

Sprinter Van Shopping List For The Minimalist

I could write dozens of blogs about products we use and love in our Sprinter. Each time we change the layout of the van or try a new design, we end up with new products. Some last the test of time; others are quickly proven ineffective and re-purposed or passed on to the next person. The most important products are best discussed in detail with friends on a Friday afternoon. In any case, here is a minimalist’s Sprinter shopping list.

Disclosure: Please note that this post contains affiliate links. This means that we may get a small commission if you click a link and purchase something that we recommend. Clicking these links will not cost you extra money but will help us grow our website. Thank you for your support!

Light My Fire Titanium Spork

Light My Fire Titanium Spork: We stand by the titanium model but please beware that if you pair stainless steel plates with a titanium spork, you may have to tolerate the metal on metal scraping noise.

For those of you that are not quite ready to commit to titanium, there is a plastic model as well.

3 mm Accessory Cord

3 mm accessory cord: CD’s exact words are: “3 mm cord is handy“. It may be because CD knows every knot and when exactly to use every knot but I actually am starting to believe that string is an important travel accessory. Regarding everyday use, we have a piece approximately 6 inches off the floor of the van, extending from one end of the kids seat to the other. This cord keeps the storage boxes under each seat from sliding across the floor and it is quite effective!

Plastic Soap Dish

Plastic Soap Dish: When CD recommended this, I laughed. It reminded me of going to the community pool in 1985. That led me to consider going to garage sales looking for one. I don’t really like shopping, however.

I soon admitted that the best option was to just spend a few dollars, sacrifice a little plastic, and buy a soap dish. Wow, what a game changer. Our Sprinter has a hand washing station and now our bar of soap stays nicely in its soap dish.

No Mess! Clean hands! This was a win!

National Park Passport Books

National Parks Passport Book: Pick up at any National Park. Warning: May be habit forming.

CD has commented that he is glad we didn’t have one of these before we had kids or else we may have doubled the length of all of our trips by just driving around to get our stamps.

Hydroflask

Hydroflask: We live in Oregon. This is standard equipment. It really keeps hot drinks hot and cold drinks cold. It doesn’t leak. Try it!

Dustpan and Brush

Dustpan and Brush: This is another one that I thought I would never use. CD had this in his Honda Civic when we met. I never used it and was actually against using it. I just thought it was crazy and the car would be sandy anyway.

My opinion has since changed. Last summer CD caught me brushing out the van floor, step, and seats. Once I started, I just couldn’t stop. I keep this next to the sliding door, secured by 3 mm climbing cord, of course.

A quick brush of sand or dirt off the step or floor is super satisfying. It may be the mom in me speaking but I just can’t see traveling without it!

All The World by Liz Garton Scanlon

All the World by Liz Garton Scanlon.

We travel with the smallest version of this book. We love it. It inspires us. The full size edition is great for a baby shower, grandparents gifts, or just anyone that appreciates a pick me up.

“Hope and Peace and Love and Trust, All the World is All of US”.

Headlamp

Head Lamp: The kids and CD love their headlamps. I prefer to use my “night vision”. Ha! I am sure we couldn’t travel without these!

Notebook

  • Notebook: An old fashioned lined notebook . There is just something great about it!

Portable Charger

Portable Charger: We charge this each day using our portable solar panel. Then we charge our cell phones or whatever else. It has saved us tons of times. We have the Jackery Bolt 6000 mAh

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Portable Solar Panel

Portable Solar Panel: We have the Biolite Solar Panel 5 and we like it. It even works on cloudy days.

Small Wooden Cutting Board

When you eat cheese and crackers everyday you need a good cutting board!

Have fun out there!

Please follow our blog for more tips and adventures!

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Sprinter Camping Shopping List: Stocking Stuffers. Sprinter DIY

I could write dozens of blogs about products we use and love in our Sprinter. Each time we change the layout of the van or try a new design, we end up with new products. Some last the test of time; others are quickly proven ineffective and re-purposed or passed on to the next person. The most important products are best discussed in detail while standing and staring at the van and drinking a beer.

In the spirit of last minute Christmas shopping, I put together a short list of small and inexpensive items that have withstood the test of time.

  • Light My Fire Titanium Spork: We stand by the Titanium model but please beware that if you pair stainless steel plates with a titanium spork, you may have to tolerate the metal on metal scraping noise. We each bought a plastic spork ten years or so ago and those have long since broken and been sent to the landfill. We typically use plastic camping plates if anticipating a lot of spork on plate scraping and metal plates if we are having finger foods. Everyone is happy!
  • 3 mm accessory cord: CD’s exact words are: “3 mm cord is handy”. It may be because CD knows every knot and when exactly to use every knot but I actually am starting to believe that string is an important travel accessory. Regarding everyday use, we have a piece approximately 6 inches off the floor of the van, extending from one end of the kids seat to the other. We have square storage boxes under each seat and this cord keeps the boxes from sliding forward if we brake hard. It works!
  • Plastic Soap Dish: I know, this seems completely out of place. When CD recommended it, I laughed. Then I thought of going to garage sales looking for one but I actually don’t like shopping. I soon realized that I would just have to spend the few dollars and sacrifice the plastic and get one. This was a game changer. We have a convenient hand washing station and our bar of soaps stays nicely in its latched soap dish. No Mess! Clean hands! This was a win!
  • National Parks Passport Book: Pick up at any National Park. Warning: May be habit forming. CD has commented that he is glad we didn’t have one of these before we had kids or else we may have doubled the length of all of our trips by just driving around to get our stamps.
  • Hydroflask: We live in Oregon. This is standard equipment. It really keeps hot drinks hot and cold drinks cold. It doesn’t leak. Try it!
  • Dustpan and Brush: This is another one that I thought I would never use. CD had this in his Honda Civic when we met. I never used it. I was actually against using it. I just thought it was crazy and the car would be sandy anyway. Well, last summer CD caught me brushing out the van – the floor, the step, the seats. Once I started, I just couldn’t stop. I keep this next to the sliding door, secured by 3 mm climbing cord. A quick brush of sand or dirt off the step or floor is super satisfying. It may be the mom in me speaking but I just can’t see traveling without it!
  • All the World by Liz Garton Scanlon: We have traveled with the smallest version of this book. We love it. It inspires us. The full size edition is great for a baby shower, grandparents gifts, or just anyone that appreciates a pick me up. “Hope and Peace and Love and Trust, All the World is All of US”.
  • Head Lamp: The kids and CD love their headlamps. I prefer to use my “night vision”. Ha! I am sure we couldn’t travel without these!
  • Notebook: An old fashioned lined notebook – there is just something great about it!
  • Portable Charger: We charge this each day using our portable solar panel. Then we charge our cell phones or whatever else. It has saved us tons of times. We have the Jackery Bolt 6000 mAh
  • Portable Solar Panel: We have the Biolite Solar Panel 5 and we like it. It even works on cloudy days.
  • Small Wooden Cutting Board: We eat a lot of cheese and crackers. Grace’s 5th birthday menu was a cheese stick for breakfast, cheese and crackers for lunch, and cheese pizza for dinner. We use our cutting board all the time!

Happy Holidays!

The next post will likely be next week from Big White, BC! Cheers!

Sprinter DIY: MaxxAir Fan Installation

CD was sure that a MaxxAir fan would significantly improve our #vanlife experience. He presented a convincing argument. He laid out his plan.

Step one: cut a hole in the roof of our van.

Step one is pretty much where I got lost. Did he really say he wanted to cut a hole in our van? 

To be clear, our van roof  was perfectly fine. It functioned as it should; it kept the rain out and our things in. 

The fan arrived in Oregon. As any skeptical wife would do, I recommended that he consult a professional. 

We were headed on a road trip for most of the summer so we packed the fan. Another great advantage of driving a huge van is that we were able to tuck the van in behind our bikes, fishing gear, backpacks, toy box, jackets, and shoes. I barely remembered that we had it until two weeks later when we arrived in Michigan. 

CD took the fan and headed over to a family members body shop. I was fully confident that they would have the tools and the inclination to cut a hole in our perfectly good Sprinter. Well, they had the tools and gladly offered them to CD so he could cut the hole himself; they weren’t willing to do the cutting. I wondered if they were afraid of facing me if our van started leaking. In any case, I was starting to appreciate the less intense but more ridiculous side of saving a few hundred dollars by cutting a hole in our Sprinter. 

In any case, CD went back to the drawing board.  

He read blogs and watched Youtube videos. 

Ultimately, he decided to invest in a custom adapter by “DIYvan” (impactproducts). The vent adapter served as a template for cutting, as well as a filler to occupy space in the roof ridges. Hopefully this would ensure a level and snug fit. 

As usual, our timeline was tight. We were headed to our cottage in Canada the following week. It occurred to me that If we didn’t get the adapter before leaving for Canada, we would just driving it back to Oregon with our other luggage.

Working with “DIYvan” was great. The adapter arrived just in time. We packed the fan and the adapter and drove to Canada. 

After much anticipation, CD was ready to cut a hole in our van. He borrowed a jigsaw and bought new blades. I knew things were serious when he recruited one of my oldest friends to stand by as moral support during the cutting. 

While CD sometimes does projects like this with friends around, I have not known him to recruit help just for support. In any case, the kids and I went down the road for dinner and CD headed off to do the cutting.
The rest of the installation account would be pretty much second hand at this point. You can email CD directly for specifics. Here are my take-away points:

  • Safety glasses should be used, starting with the first cut
  • Rubbermaid bins stacked floor to ceiling may be helpful in catching metal shavings
  • You will have a hole in your van roof all night while the sealant dries
  • A plastic bin over the hole is a good way to keep out the dew
  • Cocktails come after
  • The anticipation is the hardest part
  • New blades are worth it
  • You may scratch the roof of the van but no one ever looks up there anyway
  • A MaxxAir fan really does improve the #vanlife experience
The first cuts
Apparently this was an effective way to catch metal shavings