The Betera Custom Adventure Van build-out has started! We have hired super Mechanic and Project Manager, Ashley Parlett Malec. Without her, this dream wouldn't be happening. She will be updating our blog to help our clients and friends follow along with the build. We are very excited about the fun that is in our future! Enjoy!
Hi All! I’ve been a client and teammate of Sarah and Kathy since I started cycling a few years ago. Maybe there’s something to be said about the bond that is formed between teammates who suffer through training rides and races together because these two are like family to me now.
When they asked me to take on the project of their Adventure Van, I was both honored and scared. I am a mechanic by trade and I have recently started a small company on the side called Oliver Watson + Co that I categorize as "Creativity for hire" and this project was a great fit for my young, budding company but there were many things that they wanted to do to their van that were far outside of my comfort zone. Let’s face it, race cars don’t have solar panels and sinks. I sat down with Sarah and prepared myself to tell her I couldn’t take the job, before the meeting was over she had me feeling uber confident in myself and I said “yes”. I immediately began Googling “DIY Solar”. I am truly grateful that Sarah and Kathy believed in my abilities and forced me out of my comfort zone!
As I write this we are a month in to the build and things are really coming together! We wanted to share our journey on the build so we will be posting blog updates until it hits the road!
After some research and scouting the girls found their donar van for the build! Sarah and Kathy pulled up to my house and they looked like the A-Team which totally worked! The van fits their personalities so perfectly. If only it were four wheel drive! Right, Sarah?
“I don’t mean to bug you but I’m just so excited and I want you to start. Like Now. Right Now.” So we did!
- Strip down
Getting down to the bare bones of the van was obviously the first step! I was pleased to see how flat the walls already were. The 2016 Ram ProMaster is proving to be a great van for an RV build out!
We have a blank canvas! Now what? I scooted over to Excel to start laying out a grid of the van. This was handy down the line as I was changing up design and layout, I could easily count the grid to know what was happening to all of my sq. feet and if I had room for the items they wished to add. We’ve changed and modified things since this original but the basics were all in place!
- Fan/Vent Installation
I decided that the Fan/Vent would be the first thing to go in. I wanted to be certain that it was sealed properly before I installed anything else in the van. So here I am, cutting a massive hole in the roof of their van! Stressful! It worked out tho! I utilized a nice adapter/spacer from Impact3d for the fan to sit down in the vans louvers and get a nice seal on the not so flat roof. I used 3M WindoWeld and Butal Tape to seal both the spacer and the fan. Stainless hardware of course.
Luckily? We’ve had a ton of rain and the seal of the fan has been tested numerous times and it is sealed nicely! We chose the MaxxAir 5100 10 Speed Vent and Fan. The Fan option is quickly proving to have been a smart choice. It feels like a ceiling fan when ran in reverse and is super handy during these hot summer days! Fan, Done!
- More Plans
Since I’ve never wired anything before tackling the Adventure Van, I knew I had a lot of learning to do. The girls wanted solar and a Shore Power hookup. That meant we were going with both 120 VAC and 12VDC so a I had a huge learning curve ahead of me. I didn’t want to just copy a plan from online and stick it in the van. I wanted to understand how everything worked and rest easy at night knowing it’s safe and proper. I was fully committed to understanding everything I was about to do. I spent hours studying and learning.
First, I built a consumption calculator in Excel (I love spreadsheets, stop judging me!) to tally up the size of the needed battery bank. Their electric needs included: laptops, a mini fridge, the vent/fan, lights and phone chargers. Once I settled on the size of the battery bank, I began working backwards on my diagram. And since I’m not an egomaniac (on that day) I sent it off to my husband’s Uncle Dennis (who is a Master Electrician) for his input and clearance on my plans. He made only a few changes which thrilled me! I learned a whole lot in this process and I knew it was a big step in the right direction. More on electrical in the installation portion of this blog.
- Solar Panels
We settled on two 100w Monocrystalline Solar Panels from Renogy Solar. I researched a lot of different solar suppliers and Renogy had great reviews on their customer service so I chose them as our provider. Should the girls have any issues down the road, I wanted a well established parts provider. Their prices were competitive with other suppliers as well. I was very happy with the solar panels and brackets that arrived and only made a few small changes to hardware. I opted for all stainless button heads and nyloc stainless half nuts for a cleaner install. I also added 3M VHB Double Sided tape.
The pre-existing roof rack made for a nice mounting surface that didn’t require drilling more holes on the roof. Minimal holes, minimal opportunities for leaks. I left the wiring loose until I was ready to begin my wiring.
- Sub-Floor and Insulation
I chose moisture resistant AdvanTec 5/8” (from Lowes) for the sub-floor, floor foam that came with the van as insulation and a 3/8 nutsert system for mounting. Maybe a little overkill in bolt size but I wanted a solid/movement free floor for my client and I also wanted the option of attaching things to the floor later in the build. My 3/8 bolt choice has me confident in the install. I sealed the underside of the nutserts and bolts with Silicone adhesive.
I had to make a DIY nutsert puller since I didn’t have a 3/8 fitting for the tool. Bringing back the shade tree mechanic days but it worked!
- Captains Chairs
The OE Captains Chairs that came in the ProMaster were terribly uncomfortable. I removed them and listed them on eBay. Sarah and Kathy picked out a set that they liked from Discount RV complete with heaters and massagers. They are sporty!
The OE seats felt high, like you were driving a bus so I cut and lowered the factory bases to give the seats a better height. The girls also wanted to be able to use their Captains Chairs as an “Office” Space when the van is parked so I installed 360 degree swivels under the seats.
I updated the hardware to Grade 8 bolts and used blue Loctite to secure them.
Follow-Up: The swivels from Discount RV mounted nicely but do propose a problem for wiring. The girls will have to be mindful of the wiring harness when rotating the chairs as to not wind it around the base. Otherwise, very happy with the aftermarket swivels which were several hundred cheaper than the factory swivels.
- Utility Cabinet
I rebuilt the utility cabinet three times. I found it difficult to package so many things (that need room to breathe) in such a small area. The left-side wheel well was a great area for the 15gal fresh water tank so I built the cabinet around that space. I started the build of the cabinet without having the van pre-wired so in an effort to make a route for my wires, I laced the wall with PVC pipe to work as conduit for all of the wiring. I made a solid effort to keep my wiring tidy and the PVC was a big help.
I wanted to ensure that everything is safe and secure so I built a water tight box for the fresh water tank, complete with external drain hose. I also built an air tight propane locker with external vent for the 20lb tank.
I did my homework and I felt ready to start wiring the Adventure Van.. I was apprehensive and very patient with every part of the build. A full week of rain gave me a lot of quiet time in the shop to cut, crimp, solder and heat shrink all of my wires.
From the beginning I knew I wanted my wiring to be clean and organized. I built a panel to neatly run all of my wiring on and under. Tidy wiring is something that I picked up from in my career as a NASCAR mechanic so this was really my favorite part.
So here’s what I used and why:
Battery Bank: 200ah AGM Renogy Battery - According to my calculations (nerd snort) this Battery Bank will Supply the girls with the power they need for three cloudy days. I went with AGM since it’s a stable gel battery that can withstand colder temperatures. They plan to be in mostly cold areas so I felt this was a good fit. Renogy Brand because again their customer service and reviews were enough to make me a customer.
Charger: I was almost ready to pull the plug on utilizing the vans alternator to help charge the battery bank until I stumbled across CTEK. Using the vans alternator just seemed like I was asking to leave the girls stranded somewhere with a dead van battery but I got all giddy when I found some neat stuff being put out by CTEK. I’ve used some of CTEK’s products before and they really are the class of the field so I knew I wasn’t looking at some hokey gadget. I ended up going with the CTEK D250SA paired with the CTEK Smartpass. I’m going to over simplify what these two super gadgets do but it’s quite impressive. In short, these two units teathered together do a bunch of jobs and pack a huge punch! The solar panels and alternator are wired to the unit which works as a five stage charger and MPPT charge controller/isolator. Completely isolating both the battery bank and the vans battery. When the van is started the CTEK system has a voltage sensitive relay built in to isolate the starter battery to ensure that the van battery isn’t depleated. When the system senses that the van is started it then ramps up the amps from the alternator to 120 amps to begin charging the battery bank. It also works as a trickle charger for the vans battery and can utilize the battery bank to start the van if needed. We also have the option to ramp all the way up to a whopping 800ah battery bank if needed so we are barely tapping in to the capabilities of this system but room to grow is a great investment! This little system gave me confidence in the safety of the vans battery and utilizes the alternator in a way that made it worth while. The system also got rid of a lot of extra pieces and parts making my wiring as tidy as I had hoped!
Inverter Charger: The girls want to run laptops so that means 120VAC outlets! When shopping Inverter chargers again I chose the company with great customer services. I called the folks at AIMS and they were very helpful so I landed on them. I chose the 2000 watt Pure Sine Wave Inverter Charger. I made sure the model I chose had a built in transfer switch so when the ladies decided to hook up to Shore Power all they had to do was plug in. I didn’t want them to have to remember to hit this switch and that switch. Easy is best and safety is paramount. I had to cut another hole in their van for the Shore Power book-up but again, lots of rain has proved that it’s water tight as well!
Wiring: If you’re an electrician you will see that a I went big with all of my wiring. I wanted to forego the race car mechanic in me who thinks in terms of “lighter is better” and build this thing “safer is better”. I used stranded welding wire for all of my 2 and 4 applications and stranded 14 for most everything else. For the AC applications I used 12 and 14 SimPull solid wire Romex.
Power Supply Cabinet: Tidy is what I wanted and the Progressive Dynamics AC DC Power Control Center have me tidy in a grand way! Toss in a bunch of Mega fuses, breakers and master switches and the van is wired and ready for the utilities!
A few thoughts on the Beech Mt. Metric. This is a hard ride and it is essential that you know your limitations and understand the demands of the course before you show up.
Old Beech Mt. Rd (begins about mile 4). This is a steady straightforward climb figure 25 - 35 mins for most people. It’s about 5 miles long with a false top approximately 1.5 mile from the top. The average grade is around 4% and there are no really steep sections.
After your first descent you’ll make a hard right on 321 and immediately start going uphill again. You climb about halfway up this hill (maybe 3 mins) and then there’s a left hand turn down over a bridge and a short hard popper of a climb - you go from descending to a 7% 6 min effort and it’s very easy to get yourself in trouble and there are always a lot of dropped chains here from poor shifting decisions. The hardest part of this climb is that it’s steepest at the bottom and it keeps going beyond the turn at the top. So if you overspend yourself in the first 200m you’ll be going backwards after you make the turn at the stop sign.
You then spend about 20 mins winding through the valley with a few rollers but nothing crazy before hitting next climb.
Mountaindale Road: This is another steady little 3-4 mile climb much easier and shorter than Old Beech Mt. Having a group to work with would be nice here as you can find a nice steady rhythm and you shouldn’t run out of gears. 15 - 20 mins bottom to top.
Stone Mt. Road; This is a nightmare of a 2 miler with an average grade around 10%. 10 - 15 mins and unless you’ve got a 32 and weigh nothing you’ll be standing for much of it. The biggest mistake folks make here is hitting the bottom too hard. Up until the second switchback - ride as easy as the grade allows. Just be patient and wait for it to get hard - you don’t want to be making it hard at the bottom.
After Stone you loop back around through that same valley you already did riding past the turn on Mountaindale and straight on to George’s Gap.
George’s Gap: Another steady 15-20 min consistent climb - it starts quite gradually and builds to about 6% grade in the final 2 miles. I love this climb - it’s beautiful and just when you start to feel tired of it you’re at the top.
You’ve got about 4 miles to go from the base of Georges Gap until you final big efforts. Most of this is flat and fast except for Mast Gap which is a 1 mile long nightmare of a hill that is straight and steep and not super fun on tired legs. Just suck it up and get over it.
194 form Vaile Crucis - A long steady 30 - 40 min climb (maybe more for some people) with a false flat about 2/3 of the way up. This one is hard with mixed grades and some sections over 8%. It’s hard to find a steady rhythm here. You’ll descend about 5-7 mins and then you’re there…
Beech Mt - a super hard 3 mile climb again averaging almost 10% with some sections much steeper. Again unless you are a tiny climber or running climbing gears you can expect to be standing for much of this climb.
The Goals: These are the things you need to figure out before your ride.
Your Gearing - the moment you hit Stone Mt. is not the time to decide if you want that 32. If you are frequently out of gears riding at grades under 6% you should think about changing your gearing for this outing.
Your ability to stand! If you can riding standing for several minutes at a time now is a very good time to start practicing this!
Your fueling - it’s hard to eat when climbing and descending - this course does offer a few short sections of flat terrain through the valley and you should make it a point to fuel during these times.
Your pacing strategy - you need to figure out how slow you need to ride the front half so you can stay strong in the final two climbs. Those are very big asks of anyone and there is real danger in overriding the front part of this course. If you are worried about you ability to make the elevation demands you must purposefully ride super easy on all the climbs that allow you to do so. Stone Mt. and Beech will force you to the max no matter what so save your big efforts those moments.
Your brain - you need to be prepared for the mental low spots when the going gets hard.
The ride has a shorter route and it’s very easy to cut off sections of the course without getting lost. The first is to cut off Stone Mt. Rd by just staying straight on Mountaindale. It will reconnect with the ride at Bethel Rd and you’ll effectively cut off about 8 miles and the hardest climb prior to Beech Mt. Doing this will not be as short as doing the 43 mile route but will avoid the really steep pitches of the course prior to Beech itself.
The second is to skip both the Mountaindale and Stone Mountain climbs by riding straight past Mountaindale Rd and heading right to Georges Gap. You’ll end up skipping about 20 miles of the course and cutting off about 2000 feet of elevation.
Park in Banner Elk rather than at the top of Beech Mt. This will allow you to skip Beech altogether if you get there and are really wasted. You won’t have to wait for a sag wagon and you’ll still have banked a great climbing day. Please use the information below so you know where to park in Banner Elk so as not to annoy the town.