The ultimate bike carrier......(Part 1 of 2)
I think at some moment in time, every man should own a van. Certainly most men, when I pronounce I've become a van owner, show signs of what I now term 'van-envy'. It's a modest vehicle and truth be told probably seen better days, but I've discovered the simple fun of just 'knocking around' in 'the van'. More importantly, it's also the most evolved method of carrying a bike or bike(s) you can have.
I had been considering buying a van for a while. I mean it's just so practical. Carrying or moving possessions, trips to the dump, food shopping made easy.....you could do anything and go (almost) anywhere when when you've got a van. The only drawback might be the number of seats in it. According to autotrader there were around 25,000 vans on sale in Britain. So which one should I choose, how much should I spend and was it really worth it?
After the noted issues with the Saris 'Bones 3' (see previous bikebritain review http://www.bikebritain.org/article.php?id=196), I had finally concluded the temporary bike carrier was not an effective way of moving bikes from one place to another. However, the remaining 'bike-specific' options were expensive. The next best thing (if you were going to continue to utilise the car), was a tow hook and bike carrier assembly. I had seen a number of these at cycling events and they looked pretty smart. The carriers fell into two distinct types; the bikes either stand on or hang from the carrier. Relatively speaking, it's not the carrier that's the expensive part; it's the tow hook and associate fitting. There's no way I would contemplate attempting to fit a tow hook to my car - electrics aside. The obvious alternative is having the assembly fitted by a nationally recognised company and that costs £400 minimum. If you want a hook that's detachable add another £100 or so. And you've not yet purchased the bike carrier. In total, I calculate it would easily cost £700 for the complete system. Granted that would be fitted for you hassle free, but it's still a lot of money for something that essentially carries bikes on the back of your car.
So for about the same sum of money, can you buy a van instead?
Redoubtably, the answer is 'Yes'!
After spending hours on the autotrader web site assessing permutation after permutation, I found a previously PX'd Citroen Berlingo at a garage in West Wellow, near the new Forest. 'V' reg, loads of dubious owners and some genuine ones, 80,000 miles, 1 year MoT, 1 months tax. It was also ply-lined (meaning the rear space is lined in ply wood). The previous owner was someone at Wessex County Cricket club who had kept a certain amount of receipts for some work done. Other than that, it was classic 'buyer beware' material. It seemed I had found precisely what I was looking for.
One morning, early, I drove to West Wellow to inspect and potentially test drive the van. I arrived well ahead of the 09.00 opening and 'Rob' didn't strike me as the type of guy who would be at work early. I was right. If you're in the van business, time, evidently, is a flexible commodity. This, however, was to my advantage. It allowed me to skulk around the back of the garage, locate said van and have a good look at it before I was bothered by a sales person. Sorry, I mean 'Sales' person. I know nothing about vans, but it looked ok to me. At something past 9, Rob eventually turned up. He fetched the keys, unlocked the doors and popped the bonnet. I confirmed it had an engine, some rust on the roof, started first time and a stereo in it. This would not yet qualify as an AA safety inspection, but it seemed to be in reasonable shape for a 14 year old van. All this aside, it needed to pass one final (but crucial) test; could it fit a bike in the back?
I already knew it wouldn't carry a bike straight on. I had brought the Grand Wagon with me as my test bike. I was right. However, it would comfortanly fit by angling the handlebars at 90 degrees, and that was not a problem to me. You could easily fit 2 bikes in that way, perhaps another 2 going across the diagonal. If you whipped the front wheel off any bike, they would go straight in anyway. So the Berlingo, (or Belinda as she's now called) would be my introduction to being a white van driver.
It was entertaining taking it out on a test drive. No power steering and a hard clutch. I was not used to this! However, it went ok and it wasn't as if it was going to do thousands of miles a year. There were a few creaks and rattles from the space behind the cabin. I quite liked the different driving position - and what's more it was surprisingly comfortable.
Sold! Would I regret this.......?
To recap. The cost of the van was less than the repairs to my car and buying a tow hook and bike carrier. I now have another vehicle at my disposal which allows me to move my bikes (and other assorted stuff) around with ease. It also means I will not incur any additional damage to my car. Granted I have running costs to consider.....but I still have a van! It also occurred to me that taxis to Gatwick with the bike boxes are now moribund. I am certain I could get up to 5 boxes in the back without much trouble. So really, it's a money saver.......
They'll be more to come after my first couple of travel forays; but for now, I'm just a regular van driver with a penchant for bikes......
Not 5 minutes (I kid you not), after picking the van up, I pulled into a petrol station. Whilst faffing about with the diesel cap, I noticed a man hovering around., looking at me. Actually, it transpired, he was not looking at me, he was looking at the van.
"Do you wanna sell that van, mate?", he said.
"Errrr, no. I've just bought it," I replied.
"Shame. That's just the sort of van I'm looking for." He said as he wondered off.
The moral of the story is (a) I probably passed on an opportunity to make some instant cash and (b), the market for V reg Citreon Berlingo vans is more buoyant than I realised.
Maybe I had bought a bargain.
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