Grinder Special: Dieselheads.

Ford Mercedes VW Vans

Chipps and the Singletrack staff embark on a grouptest with a difference.

Words by Chipps, pictures by Singletrack.


A van test? In a mountain bike magazine?

Well, unless you rarely have cause to leave your sweet home trails, then driving is often an inevitability of being a mountain biker. While most of us make do with cramming bikes and friends into an estate car, many riders decide that the mountain bike is such an integral part of their life (and lifestyle) that an even more bike-friendly vehicle is needed, and medium-sized vans are a popular choice. You need only look through the car park at Glentress or Coed y Brenin to see the number of vans, both privately and business-owned, ferrying groups of riders around.

This test evolved out of Singletrack’s own need for a new van. Our long wheelbase Sprinter was ageing and, quite honestly, too huge to be practical, so we drew up a list of needs and would-likes and set about finding something that would suit.

If your previous experience of van driving has been renting an older Transit to move house with, then you’re in for a treat. Modern vans drive, manoeuvre and park much like cars and, with modern engines and refinements, return pretty good fuel economy too.

We were after a vehicle that would take up to five riders and five bikes, ideally with wheels on – but not seem too frivolous or cavernous if it was just one driver and a camera bag going to a trade show. It needed to be comfortable and quiet enough for long journeys like the seven-hour drive up to Fort William; be economical on fuel, and still fit into a regular car parking space (something our Sprinter definitely didn’t do). Surely not too much to ask?

Luckily the commercial vehicle world recognises the demand for mountain bike-friendly vans. We were lucky enough to be offered three press-fleet vans on loan, for an average of a month each, to have a good chance at evaluating them. Our shortlist – whittled down to Ford’s Transit Custom Kombi, Mercedes’ Vito Sport and the ubiquitous Volkswagen T5 – arrived one by one at Singletrack Towers. We duly set about the arduous testing process armed with tape measures, notebooks and, by the end of it, mountains of service station coffee cups and fuel receipts.

All three vehicles were used, mercilessly, as ‘work’ vans: we packed five people and five bikes into them for photoshoots, we did big motorway miles down to trade shows and back up the country for mates’ weekends in Innerleithen. In between, we drove them home and tried to park them in little driveways, took them to Ikea to buy beds and to cinemas with all seats full. In short, we treated them exactly as ‘ordinary’ mountain bikers all over the UK would. Then we locked ourselves in the office and debated the pros and cons of each van – and here are the results…

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