The Trail Snob presents the periodic, ill-informed opinions, malformed thoughts, and inappropriate convictions of a certain Web Content Editor. Art’s Cyclery disavows all knowledge of, responsibility for, and concordance with anything that comes out of their keyboard.
Choosing the perfect vehicle with which to enhance your mountain bike experience is easier than choosing the mountain bike itself. First, let’s set some parameters: the perfect vehicle must be what a reasonable person would call an automobile, so no motorcycles or mopeds. A motorcycle may indeed be an excellent platform from which to expand your MTB horizons, but this is my column, and I say four-wheeled vehicles only. Second, the perfect MTB vehicle has got to be versatile; capable of shuttle runs, long-distance adventures involving camping, and able to serve as a base camp at races. Additionally, getting off the beaten path into the bush often results in legendary adventures, so four-wheel-drive capabilities are a desirable feature of our perfect vehicle.
While at first glance there may be many candidates for Perfect MTB Vehicle status, once we sift away the chaff—Subaru Outback: good off-road capabilities but limited sleeping space; full-size 4WD pick up with pop-top camper: an excellent option, these are comfortable, convenient in that the camper can be jacked up and left by itself, but still have the long wheelbase of a full-size truck, which is limiting in tight off-road situations, plus setting up the pop-top is a bit involved—we are left with a clear winner. The Ultimate MTB Vehicle is, drumroll please… A 1987 Volkswagen Vanagon Weekender Syncro, Wolfsburg Edition of course.
Capable of serving as transportation, living quarters, workshop, and lounge, the pop-top Vanagon, affectionally referred to as a “Westy” (if the camper conversion was performed by Westfalia of Germany), does it all, including adding to the adventure thanks to its own idiosyncrasies. At races, pull out the awning, open the sliding door, pop the top and break out the lawn chairs. Your van will soon be the place to be, attracting the type of people you would expect VW vans to attract, but normal folks as well. Once your fellow racers have retired to their respective sleeping quarters, you’ll be able to pull out the bed—the Westy has two, one upstairs in the pop top and one that folds out of the rear bench seat—and sleep comfortably, insulated from most campground noise and swathed in the curtained cocoon of comfort that is your personal mobile apartment. When it’s time to kit out the next morning, you’ve got a complete locker room, no crouching necessary thanks to the pop-top, and complete privacy—if you are into that sort of thing—with a 360-degree array of curtains.
Volkswagen would do well to jump on the Enduro bandwagon, since the Vanagon offers the perfect mid-day comfort zone for smaller-venue single-day stage races. Spread out on the full-length back seat (only found in Weekender editions and not kitchen-equipped models), mix up your energy drink and make a peanut butter sandwich on the collapsable table, and comfortably refuel for the next stage.
For off-road exploration, the Syncro Vanagon is the perfect vehicle. A short wheel base makes getting into and out of tight spots a breeze, and its narrow frontal profile lets it squeeze between trees like a 1970 Bronco. Add a super-low first gear, with locking front and rear differentials, and the Syncro will climb up, over, and through virtually anything in your path. Plus, once you find the perfect camp site, all you have to do is pop the top and you’re ready to relax in your home away from home. After a weekend of riding, relaxing, and sleeping comfortably on a real mattress, the only thing left, hopefully, is a leisurely cruise home. Sit back and enjoy the scenery, because leisurely is a Vanagon’s top speed.
Finally, what adventure wouldn’t be complete without a chance to show off your deep well of patience, along with the opportunity to test your mechanical and problem solving skills. For those of you who have yet to embark upon the revealing journey of parenthood, getting a Vanagon into the wild and back home safely is excellent training for raising miniature humans.
The next time you’re at a race, or camping near some destination-type trails, look around for the pop-top surrounded by bikes. Rest assured that you’ll be able to saunter over, enjoy a beer or four, and talk bikes with like minded folk until the firewood is gone. Just be sure to pull over and help if you see that same Westy by the side of the road on the way home—the driver might not be simply enjoying the scenery.
Syncros can do anything, they just don’t do it quickly.
Tom Hanks knows the feeling.