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The Ultimate Mountain Bike Van Conversion for Under $6,000–Including the Van

Editor's Note: Macky Franklin and his girlfriend Syd Schulz are not only professional mountain bikers, but expert dirtbaggers. Like so many of us, living the dream only happens when you figure out how to live on a budget, and so Macky is sharing their incredible feat of putting together a pro-level #vanlife setup for under $6,000... van included. Badass!

Introducing Great White, the Adventure Van. 

We bought Great White the Adventure Van on Craigslist in late 2014, much to the chagrin of pretty much everyone we knew. A 1998 Ford E-250 cargo van previously owned by AT&T and bearing the sticker residue evidence of such. She was perfect. Which is to say, the price was right; she cost $1400. She had high miles (168,000) and the sort of rust you would expect from a 17-year-old vehicle from Ohio. 

Our test drive had been questionably informative, as we weren't able to hear the engine over the clanking of the metal cabinets that filled the back. But we had faith. When we pulled up the foot mat on the driver's side, we discovered well, not much. No floor, just a gaping hole and an excellent view of the pavement whizzing by beneath. But we patched the floor, and yeah, she was perfect.

Great White on a full moon night outside of St. George, UT. 

We hoisted a car top tent (Autohome, $2900) on top of Great White, attached a custom hinging bike rack to the hitch ($600 and our own design), filled the back with dirt bikes and other toys, and moved our life onto the road.

Excluding the car-top tent (which was a loan/gift), our "conversion" cost us under $1,500 because we eschewed standard van conversion requirements–namely aesthetics–and focused on making the van the ultimate toy hauler. In addition to the car-top tent and the bike rack, we purchased a rotating seat base ($250), moto chocks ($70), a  K2 cooler that holds ice for days ($329), some tape LED lighting ($8) and built some shelving out of discarded lumber (free). Then we called it a day and hit the road.

Moab, Utah.

Packed full with dirt bikes, clothes, cooking equipment–of course–beer.

After all, for us, living in a van is about financial freedom and pursuing our dreams of racing bikes professionally–not sinking $20,000 into a conversion. As long as we can ride our bikes everyday, we're happy cooking outdoors ( Eureka collapsable table, Jetboil Genesis stove and a plain ol' refillable propane tank) and sleeping in the fresh air.

Home, sweet camp.

Since November 2014, we've logged 15,000 miles in Great White traveling to mountain bike races around the U.S. We've hit 12 states, numerous trailheads, and many mountaintop sunrises and sunsets.

Check out the detail photos and van tour video below to get to know our perfect van:

Inside, sans dirt bikes.

Some details (the license plate and custom bike rack) are our own. The rust and random phone numbers scribbled on the ceiling are relics of a previous life.

Shelving for helmets, bikes, shoes, and other sundries.

The little stuff–hat rack and sticker wall–makes it home.

Inside the rooftop bedroom.

Here's the packing process:

See you on the road!

From The Column: Base Camp

“Bike rack of our own design…” I love that part…

    We actually didn’t design the bike rack, we bought it from a friend, who bought it from a friend, who built it 4 or 5 years ago, it was the hinging hitch receiver that we designed. Stoked you commented though, have been seeing your racks around and trying to figure out who made them! They look rad!

      Wasn’t intending to sound quite so pissed about it, hard to comment in a Starbucks drive thru before hitting the freeway again. Got my heart into these things, a bit overprotective yet to say the least. 8 years of broken racks and trashed bikes searching for the answer only to have people measure them in a parking lot then hack one together. Starting to get those emails with pics of broken copies asking if they’re mine! Frustrating!
      But your setup is insane, much jealous, I don’t leave the shop much these days!

Nice post
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Great setup as long as the weather is good.

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