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20.09.2015 admin
This post covers the DIY buildout I did for our 2013 Mercedes Sprinter to turn it into a bike-hauling adventure mobile. The Sprinter van is a 144″ high roof model that we use to carry two mountain bikes and two touring bikes, plus backpacking gear, on a variety of adventures. Our Sprinter arrived as an empty cargo van with only seats up front in the cab and bare steel walls in the back.
If you’d like to see a list of everything we did, plus photos from the build out in progress, read on. I’ve got a few building skills acquired from working on houses with my dad growing up. Below are our main design criteria (and a lot of detail), plus links and info to help find specific parts and components.For our build, I ordered a huge amount of stuff from Amazon. This needed to be super comfortable so we could travel and not be desperate for a real mattress! Hauling four bikes (two touring, two mountain) and protecting them from theft, weather and road grime was important. If you only need ~3′ pull-outs, the 200 lb version has worked well for our center drawer. Note: I highly recommend splitting the van alternator and battery circuit like this so that they are charged while you drive.
Here’s the full write-up I did on our install, a 12v DC system fed by two 100W panels. Espar D2 diesel-fueled heater that runs off the main vehicle tank (see full description of installation to save yourself some headaches). This is an addition we did in San Diego to stop the door from sliding all the way open every time we opened the passenger sliding door. As big as possible so we can bring plenty of grub for extended stays away from civilization.
Gotta say, this is one of our favorite things in the van, and I can’t even remember the days of coolers and ice.
Maple and birch plywood attached to the floor with L-bracketswith $10 wire baskets from Ikea that are tough and light for the majority of drawers to keep weight down. With the aforementioned vent fan, it’s fantastic to be able to open the windows (which are screened) and have airflow through the van without 1,237 blood-sucking mosquitoes joining in. Note: I had these professionally installed by Van Specialties near Portland because cutting a couple giant holes in my brand new van made me want to puke. Sound deadening to mitigate road noise, plus insulation (open-faced denim insulation for walls and denim water-heater blanket from Amazon for ceiling), plus a thin, light-colored wood veneer so we feel like we’re on a boat. Occasionally (ok, frequently), we pull into cities along the way and sleep in a quiet neighborhood. Ours are a two-layer black canvas facing out and a colorful design with  snaps and magnets that keep it quick, clean and easy.
Get the lowest temperature (warmer light) model that you can. Around 3,000 Kelvin seems to be what people like the most. Last but certainly not least, the High School Dream System that I couldn’t afford when I was 18. For those putting in a subwoofer, ours is in a custom-built box in the space under the passenger seat down-firing toward the floor.
Note: with the most-excellent Alpine deck we installed, I can connect via Bluetooth from my laptop and watch movies with some serious bass and surround sound action.

I could have been a contortionist given the small, awkward spaces I was able to cram myself into while building the interior. Put the heater in the van BEFORE you go to Idaho in the winter to shiver in 20 degree weather and slither around on the frozen ground underneath the van routing fuel and electrical lines. I also just added interior LED lights, a muffler for the heater and another sliding drawer in the bike garage to help organize things.
After living in your van are there major things you’d do differently, is your floor plan working well?
Two work surfaces are unique has that proved to be beneficial (additional storage below the driver?) Would you rather have one counter and an alternate place to sit (than the van seats)? Compared to others you seem to have more space to stretch out between the (pivoted) cab seats and the fronts of the galley cabinets. When it came down to it, the bikes, a comfortable bed, and plenty of storage was the focus.
I noticed you went with the Espar to heat and was just curious if you did anything similar for cooking? We have a simple propane stove that pulls out on a sliding tray out of the passenger sliding door. The result is a physical manifestation of fun and freedom that inspired us to hit the road in November 2013. I get a ton of questions from people and can no longer respond when someone doesn’t take the time to read everything. A blank slate to carve our dream adventure mobile out of wood, metal, and the sweat off our brow.
Ikea countertops on either side, utility drawer over fridge on drivers side, and storage with wire baskets underneath the countertops. Some of the links below are affiliate links, meaning you pay the same price and they kick us a small commission if you buy something. A few Sprinter-owning friends with the 170″ van mentioned they wish they had the shorter version.
If you’re traveling long-term in your van, screw sleeping on Thermarests and buy a bed better than your dorm room bunk. I bought from a local shop, but three years later there are tons of great options online that are WAY cheaper.
It lives on a slide-out shelf on the passenger side cabinets since we typically cook outside, but in bad weather we use the stove inside with the vent fan running. Glass jugs of water (to avoid chemicals leaching into our water) in a pull out drawer for now.
We went with a window that many Sprinter converters use, the CR Lawrence tilt-outs, and they’ve been great. Easy to crank out to the side, no whistling from wind while driving or noticeable reduction in mileage, and installation was *cough* a breeze solo on a tippy ladder.
Yeah, we could get a hotel, but I paid enough for the damn van and I want the cost-per-use to keep dropping. Almost everything was done on two sawhorses in our backyard with a circular or jig saw and an abacus for calculations. Sometimes a permanent one, but in my mind, it was always “Wow, learned a good lesson there!
I look at the completed Sprinter these days like a proud parent at graduation and am stoked (and surprised) that it turned out so well.

Time to start building your van…but if you want to see pictures from our buildout, here you go. I felt the slider door space was a waste of potential floor space and love the peninsula blocking most of that space. In the center is a big pullout storage drawer system on 3′ slides for miscellaneous equipment for road tripping. The rest happened through over-confidence thanks to my (completely unrelated) engineering degree and extreme optimism, plus a dose of insanity.
We donate all blog income to charity. If you want to say thanks for this write up, helping us support our favorite causes is a fantastic way to do so. Ask yourself what your hobbies are, whether you need more space, and what kind of gear you’ll be hauling. We sleep with our heads pointing toward the front on a queen-size latex mattress that I hacked a foot off of with a machete.
It pulls about 2.5 amps running at full blast (though they spec 5 amps for startup amp pull), which means we have four days of battery life if it ran all the time. We have one diffuse (wide-spread) light a foot back from the headliner and another two spotlights over the countertops. That said, there were absolutely moments that I wanted to (and did) scream in frustration on a sunny Saturday when I was insulating it instead of shredding perfect mountain biking trails.
And maybe you should have installed a flat screen TV in your truck instead if you wanted a bargain? A combination of faced stuff (ceiling) from Amazon (I can send you the link) and then open-faced from Green Depot in PDX, though you can buy it anywhere. We are not big fans of electric heat and I didn’t want to pay the big dollars for the diesel cooktop. Not that impressive, and you can buy the cadillac of propane stoves for the price of the cooktop. Rather than a long description, read more here if you’re interested in the solution I came up with my brother-in-law. In my day job there ain’t much in the way of a finished, physical product, and so it was really rewarding to see something concrete come together. I spent Black Friday replacing universal joints on my truck and can you believe NAPA didn’t have my parts on sale?! If we can survive a night in Death Valley where it was 100 degrees after sunset, we’ll be fine anywhere.
He has now sold over 100 of these to satisfied customers and people are even writing testimonials about them. We have found a very similar, human experience in traveling, especially with motorcycling… most folks we meet are kind, generous and truly interesting.
My brother-in-law ran an audio company and thinks the two of them are basically the same material and uses RAAMmat for his projects.

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