Big dreams of big trips, long days and hours on the road. To be free to exist without attachment to place. The ability to blow with the wind, root down when the soul needs it, then pick up and drift away upon a whim. This was the life we sought when we sold our house, quit our jobs, and took a risk on ourselves. But beyond the career adjustment, the lifestyle we were looking for needed one more thing: a Car Conversion!
5 years back, we bought ourselves a Subaru Impreza Sport, with a CVT transmission that got us everything we needed. Great gas mileage, all wheel drive, the ability to get ourselves, our snowboards, and our bikes basically anywhere we needed, while saving cash on our hella-long-ass commutes to work every day. These days, our needs have changed and we’re definitely finding the little bean car to be lacking in both space and guts. Throw some camping gear and 2 bikes on that puppy, and you’re gonna be bottoming out and struggling up inclines for days. Plus, not really much room to stretch out and make a little nest in the back when you’re not wanting to pitch a tent!
After a few weeks of talking, googling, watching youtube, and racking our brains, we came up with a solution. We were going to spend Spring Break in Moab (aka the MTB capital of America), and we’d build a bed in our car. One week on the road would be a good test run.
We had several problems that we had to figure out in order to make this #shredcation work. We needed to make room for ourselves to sleep inside our car (we were hoping to save cash by shacking up on BLM land tent-free), we needed to carry a good amount of gear (camping gear, clothes and biking kit for 9 days, plus race gear), and we needed to keep two very expensive bikes safe when we weren’t either riding them or actively in the car.
We found a great tutorial that another Subaru owner had created on installing an Ikea standard twin bed in the back of an Outback in order to create both space to sleep and to store goods (here's another one). However, after measuring out the headspace in the Impreza, we quickly realized this was never going to happen for us. Adding even, say, 3 inches of under-bed storage would make it impossible to move inside the car. So, we simplified. Ultimately, we cut a nice thick piece of pine into two pieces and used it as a “base”, and used the same Ikea twin mattress as a bed. Cutting the board made it possible to push both the board and the front seats forward as far as possible, squeezing out a precious few extra inches of leg room. Less necessary for me, but definitely key for my husband.
Next up, storage of all our gear. We have a Yakima SkyBox 12 that we put on the roof. It would definitely help to have a larger one, maybe a 16 (the numbers refer to the square footage), but the 12 was what we had, so we rolled with it. It fit the majority of our gear, and the rest stacked in the hatch on top of the mattress.
Now for bikes. We had hoped at one point to be able to just lay the bikes in the back of the car when we weren’t there, stacked with some cushioning between them. But this was going to require us to move our gear all into the front seat (including bedding), and carry extra stuff just to pad the bikes. We’d also have to remove the front wheels and loosen the handlebars in order to get them fully flat. We quickly discovered this was going to be a serious hassle. But, we didn’t trust our bikes on the tray rack alone. I’d had a race bike stolen off a tray rack when I stopped for take out, cable lock cut and bike long gone in under 5 minutes. Going on a hike was not going to happen here.
So, I called my buddy Evan at Yakima and asked what they could do for me. Even suggested the brand new Dr.Tray bike rack. It’s lighter weight than their other models, has a bunch of cool features that make it much simpler to operate, and best of all, has a welded-on steel loop that a bigass chain lock could be looped through for security. They’ve also beefed up the included cable locks, so hopefully they can’t be cut with fingernail clippers anymore.
I’ve gotta say, this rack ended up being just the ticket for us! It really did install in around 5 minutes. It weighs in under 35lbs, which was a really nice surprise after removing our 50lb rack to put it on. The remote tilt lever makes it far quicker to raise and lower the rack to get into the back of the car. There’s also this cool design that allows you to move the trays around on the rack, even while the bikes are loaded, in order to adjust their placement for the old handlebar-seat interference issue. Easy as pie. When we’d stop for lunch or walk away for even a few minutes, we used the two included cable locks, plus we threw on two very large chains with padlocks (we had chain cut at Home Depot and covered it with an old 26er tube for padding against the carbon for a $4 solution.
So, how did our new rig perform? Well, I’d love to say we nailed it on our first try. But truth, not so much. We ended up being so crammed in the back of the car that we pitched our tent (brought as a backup) just to put our junk in while we were at camp. We were nice and warm in the car, but getting in and out was a pain. We also forgot about window coverings… That’s a big deal. Not only could all the other people camped around us see in, but the sun woke us up bright and early. We rolled tee shirts into the windows and duct taped towels to make do, but we were kicking ourselves over that one.
Over all, we just decided that the space we have to work with is not sufficient for this type of solution in the long term. We’re definitely going to continue to use our rig for weekend trips to ride bikes closer by, but when we hit the road for longer than a couple days, it’s not going to hold up.
Our next theory is based around roof top tents. We think that being able to pitch from the roof and leave our bedding up top will save us enough interior space to not need the cargo box (you can’t fit both on a set of bars for both space and weight reasons). We’d like to set up a cooking zone in the rear hatch that slides out to make organization and setup of camp simpler. The only possible draw back to this will be the weight on our already-low-riding car. The Dr.Tray definitely scrapped the road a few times (it hasn’t since we unloaded after the trip, so it was surely due to the weight of our gear). Adding a 100lb tent to the mix will load it down even more, so we’ll have to be very, very careful with bumps and ditches.
To wrap up, the tray rack was a resounding success, and the car conversion gets a C+. We’re excited to plan for roof top tents and figure out our next trip: a full month this summer touring the Western Canadian national parks. Cheers!