Progress on Spaceball 1

It took a full two weeks for the US Postal Service to deliver the bill of sale and title we needed to register the van, and to make sure it was really genuinely legally ours before starting our build. I laid the groundwork for our future YouTube channel, and posted a van tour video of what we got before we started into it.

We didn’t wait long after that to get started, despite winter. The foundation of our build is what I call “the Erector set,” a network of L-channel structures that’s bolted to the walls, as well as into the floor using the same floor channels that used to secure wheelchairs in transit. This is well underway, with a bed that we could use right now plus copious under-bed storage. We still need to add three floor-to-roof cabinets, as well as a counter that will fill the 40% area of the 60/40 side doors. We’ve figured out where the fridge (which arrived broken — exchange in progress), batteries, propane tank, and water tank(s) will go, and are starting to build the cabinets in those areas, also out of L-channel. The idea is that the L-channel will support the structure, which means the walls can be lightweight wallboard, or maybe even pegboard. This may be a 3/4 ton van, but we don’t want to stress it by loading it down to capacity.

Meanwhile, I’ve done some really crappy bodywork to try to get the van through state inspection. It’s rusty, and the entire rocker panels need to come out and get replaced. That’s not in the time or budget right now, so I patched it and will get to it when we’re in good financial shape. The rest of the van is in great shape and very much worth salvaging despite the rusty rockers. A new friend took the wheelchair lift off our hands for us, and thinks he can at least use it for spare parts if not repair it himself. I’m glad it’s not just going to get scrapped.

The house electrical system will arrive over the next few days. That means a pair of Renogy 200 amp hour AGM batteries, a Renogy charger that will manage charging from both the alternator (through the wires that formerly powered the wheelchair lift) and the solar panels, once installed, plus a 12-fuse panel that all of the “house” wiring will come from. That means everything from lights, to 12v and USB outlets, to the fridge, to my ham radios, and anything else we can think of. I don’t think I’ll need all 12 circuits right now, which will leave us room for future expansion with more lighting, the Maxxair roof vent, and so on. (No, I did not mention a power inverter. I’m trying to stick with 12v as much as possible to conserve the energy lost when converting DC to AC. I already own a 350 watt inverter, which should be enough for any small devices or maybe a laptop, though I already have a 12v adapter for my Lenovo.)

There are so many other projects, too. I need to clean the roof to put the solar panels on, but it hasn’t been warm enough to do that. We may have to just charge off the alternator alone until we can get to a warmer climate to deep clean the roof and install solar. That goes for the roof vent as well, since the self leveling sealant has to be above 60F to work properly. That’s not happening here for many months here in New Hampshire. The composting toilet won’t arrive for another few weeks. So we’ll have plenty to keep us busy.

I’ve got several videos lined up to edit. The build is going faster than my editing, but that’s okay. Since the channel isn’t really started yet, I can pre-stage a bunch of build videos, then start releasing them once I’m sure I’ll have and maintain enough content for one build or how-to video per week. Once we hit the road and start traveling, we’ll supplement that with a second video of each week’s adventures, alternating between techie stuff and #vanlife adventures.

One big factor on when we actually hit the road is my lease at my current apartment. It’s up at the end of February, having given notice in December that I do not intend it to auto-renew for another year. The property manager indicated that we could probably go month-to-month for a little while, which would give us ample time to not only finish building the van (as much as we can in the winter), but also to work on selling or giving away everything we won’t be taking with us, which is the vast majority of what we currently own. I believe we’re on track to have the van ready by the end of February, but we’re woefully behind on dealing with our stuff. With any luck, we can stay through March or even April if needed, then hit the road when we’re ready. Otherwise, we might have to move lots of stuff to a storage unit for a few months, then deal with it when we’re back in New England this summer. I just set up the van for towing. Renting a Uhaul trailer is cheap and easy, and this van will have no issue hauling even a 6×12 trailer, the largest they rent.

There are a million other things I haven’t even mentioned yet. The logistics never end. At least we’re starting with a solid van, if a bit rusty.

Interview With Momma Badger

Momma Badger, a.k.a. Angie of The Badgers, recently interviewed me about my work for RideApart, as well as my own story of how I got into motorcycles, what kind of writing and riding I’m doing, and more.

I met Angie and Sonny when I did an article on their website, SupportBikers.com, for RideApart. It’s a map and database of bikers, motovloggers, and biker-owned businesses so we can look up, connect with, and do business with each other. I’m all about people helping each other out, and love the idea of their site helping to keep it in the biker family.

And So It Begins…

I got a battery, then got a ride out to Derry, NH to pick up the van. (Thanks, Karen!) I installed the battery on site, started it up, and drove it home. It ran a little rough, even triggering a check engine light at one point, but after sitting for so long I’m sure things got gunked up a bit. The more I drive it, the smoother it runs. The check engine light shut off and hasn’t come back, so that’s one less thing I need to fix for state inspection. I finally have something to make videos about again, so I started shooting one on that drive home.

One thing I’m really liking about this van is how cheap the parts are. The new ignition switch and the resistor to fix the blower motor were both cheap and easy to replace. The front brakes started to grind, so pads were next on the list. While I had the front wheels off I noticed the inner edge of one tire was worn down to its metal cords. I knew it needed new tires when I bought it, so that became the Next Big Thing (TM). I’d ordered highway-terrain tires, but the tire store that will not be named installed chunkier, more expensive all-terrain tires for the same price by accident. Don’t tell anyone. After seeing the alignment settings chart I agreed with their recommendation to tweak that as well, which is how the original tires wore out so quickly.

Some research indicates that the brake warning light is directly connected to the anti-lock brake system, despite the fact that it has its own warning light. The ABS light doesn’t fail inspection by itself, but the main brake warning light will. I had to give up my ex-cop Ford Crown Victoria because of this, and the four figures worth of work it was going to take to replace the ABS computer just to have a chance of passing inspection. In this case, the shop I bought the van from diagnosed the problem as the front left ABS sensor, so I’ve ordered up a new one to see if that does the trick. While I was at it I bought a $3 parking brake cable instead of messing around with the old rusted one, which needs serious tightening in order to do anything. With these items, plus patching the rust hole under the front passenger door, hopefully the State of New Hampshire will declare the van roadworthy, at which point I can move on to the interior build.

I’ve already done a tiny bit of work here. I removed the bed from across the back of the van, which I’m too tall to fit on comfortably, and rotated it 90 degrees down the driver’s side wall. This works, and I don’t need a very wide bed to sleep on when I’m alone. I put a small folding table on the passenger side across from the bed, mocking up what my future setup might look like. I need to play with the heights of the table and bed/sofa, but I think it’ll work out fine. I also picked up a 4-pack of battery-operated LED lights for $10 and placed them around the back of the van. This gives me an insane amount of lighting, way more than the built-in “pimp lights” that only work when the ignition is on. Once I install a house electrical system I’ll probably replace them, but it’s a great solution for now to get started.

Where Has Summer Gone?

It’s only been a few weeks, but the chill of autumn is in the air. Mornings have gotten cold, too cold for me to ride the KLR to work with no wind protection. Since my Honda PC800 hasn’t sold yet, I expect I’ll start commuting on that until temps dip below freezing. I don’t like the idea of ice and two wheels, so I’ll switch back to the Subaru at that point.

I’ve been doing a lot of dirt riding on the KLR lately. I even dual-registered it for the street and for the trails, which I made a video about as well as wrote about for RideApart. I did fun trail ride at Pisgah State Park, but a huge smudge on the lens made my video from there pretty lousy, so I won’t be posting it. I’ll just have to go back and try it again. Darn.

Plus, thanks to a friend, I’m getting some more dirt-oriented tires for the KLR. Best of all, they’re free, since she hates them. I’ll likely go for some big-block knobby type tires next year, but until then I’ll play with these and see how much of an improvement they make in the dirt. The Kendas (with no model number printed on them) I have now work okay, but are more street oriented, and they slip around a bit in mud and sand, so I’m looking forward to seeing how the knobbier tires work. I’m sacrificing some street performance, but I expect to be doing more commuting on the PC800 in the cold mornings, so that’s fine.

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Finally, I managed to put the finishing touch on the bike’s appearance: a World War II style white star on either side of the gas tank. I saw this look in my head almost as soon as I saw the bike for the first time, and it looks as good as I’d hoped. People already mistake my KLR for the Hayes M1030M1, the military version with a special diesel engine, so I’m just rolling with it. I like it, and because it’s all spray paint, I can easily touch it up if needed.

 

Sturgis Was Awesome

The five days, of which two were travel, were a whirlwind tour of another world — one where motorcycles outnumber cars and biker culture rules. It was also an amazing place to ride, with something for everybody even if you don’t ride the American cruisers that make up 99% of the population of this event.

An entire weekend of RideApart focused on my coverage of this event.

Sturgis: The Wild West Of Motorcycling is a general overview of the event. There are bikes, but there is also a lot of partying, concerts, and women not wearing a whole lot.

Places To See And Places To Ride At Sturgis describes, well, places to see and ride in the area. This was my primary purpose in going to Sturgis in the first place, or at least the part I was personally most interested in. I apologize to those of you who despise the slideshow format, but this was the best way to present the information.

Weekend WTF: Cheap Beer, Bikers Welcome is a rant about the widespread proliferation of drinking and riding. Nearly every town I rode through had at least one place, sometimes several, advertising cheap or even free beer for bikers to entice them into their establishments, then send them back out on the road after drinking. Not cool, or safe.

RideApart Review: 2019 Indian Springfield Dark Horse is all about the motorcycle that Indian graciously loaned me while I was there. It was the right tool for the right job. I personally like cruisers, and I thoroughly enjoyed the ride and the looks of this one. While I’d prefer a better handling bike for the twisties, the Springfield is actually sportier than the equivalent Harley Road King or Street Glide. Don’t get me wrong, it’s no FTR 1200 S. I know that for a fact because I got a…

Quick Ride On The 2019 Indian FTR 1200 S. Everyone’s been fawning over this completely different kind of Indian, and I got to take one around the standard demo ride loop. Sadly there wasn’t anywhere on that loop for me to really test its handling or overall performance, but I got enough of an impression to REALLY like what Indian has done here. This is a legit naked sportbike with an American twist, its torquey V-twin. This is the type of bike that will keep American motorcycle manufacturers alive, if they know what’s good for them.


I also brought my video gear with me to shoot videos as well. It started out well, but between controller issues, charging issues, and memory card issues, I got almost no video starting halfway through my second day. I salvaged together a pretty good video of day 1, my trip to Badlands National Park.

On day 2 I grouped several places into one ride: Mount Rushmore, Iron Mountain Road, Custer State Park (specifically the Wildlife Loop), and Needles Highway. Mount Rushmore isn’t a particularly interesting video, since the mountain just sort of sits there. Iron Mountain Road was awesome, but partway through my technology failed, leaving me without the helmet camera for the best riding of the entire trip. I improvised with photos, which I’d need for the RideApart coverage, but I ended up narrating the rest of the journey from there.

Tech fails aside, it was an amazing trip. I wish I’d had more time to check everything out, but I think I got a good idea of what it’s all about. If I ever return to the area, I’d like to go sometime not during bike week. That way the roads will be far less congested, and I’ll be able to enjoy them that much more. Huge thanks to South Dakota Tourism for sending me, the Sturgis Buffalo Chip for putting me up in the center of everything (and the great concerts), and Indian Motorcycle for loaning me the bike!