Kitting Out Your Van for the Ultimate Mountain Biking Adventure

Kitting Out Your Van for the Ultimate Mountain Biking Adventure

So, you’re dreaming of the mountain bike van life? That’s awesome! Having a van as a mobile basecamp for epic bike trips can be a game-changer. A cozy bed, hot shower, and a proper kitchen turns “camping” into a whole new experience.

But setting up a van for mountain biking is a bit different from your usual van life setup. Where will you stash your gear? How will you transport your bikes? Is four-wheel drive a must? In this guide, we’ll share some key considerations for building your dream mountain bike van, along with insights from other van-lifers living the two-wheel dream.

Choosing the Right Van

With so many vans on the market, it’s tough to decide which one is the “best” for your needs. From Mercedes to Ford to VW, each brand offers a variety of van life options. Your choice depends on what you want from your mountain bike van life. Here are some things to keep in mind:

4×4 or Not?

Do you need a four-wheel-drive (4×4) or all-wheel-drive (AWD) van? Consider where you’ll be heading, the road conditions, the trailheads, and if you’ll be traveling in winter. A 4×4 or AWD van will definitely hike up the price, but it could be worth it depending on your plans. While 4×4 is not essential for a mountain bike van, if you’re aiming for remote trailheads, or plan to use it as a snow-seeker during the winter, it’s a valuable asset.

If you decide you need 4×4, check out options like Sprinter vans, the new Ford Transit, or VW Transporter Four Motion.


Another thing to consider is ground clearance. You’ll want enough clearance to navigate dirt roads without bottoming out. There are aftermarket solutions that can add a half-inch clearance or more. It’s not much, but every bit helps when you’re off the beaten path.

Hitch Options

Depending on your van, you might need to install an aftermarket hitch for a bike rack. Make sure to check your hitch options before finalizing your van choice. RockyMounts utilises the 2" square hitch in NZ.

Space Considerations

Mountain bikers typically need more space than the average van-lifer due to all the gear and, of course, those beloved bikes. We recommend opting for a larger vehicle to avoid feeling cramped. For instance, the 144” Sprinter Van can get pretty tight, especially if you plan to store bikes inside.

The RockyMounts DropTop mount in use

Transporting Your Bikes

How you carry your bikes is crucial for a mountain bike van. Here are two main options:

1) Hitch Rack

Mounting your bikes on a hitch rack frees up space inside your van and keeps things less cluttered. However, there are pros and cons to this method:


  • Frees up interior space.
  • Easier to load/unload since you don’t need to remove the front wheel.
  • Great for carrying multiple bikes, ideal for shuttles.


  • Bikes are more exposed to theft or damage.
  • Increases vehicle length, which can be tricky for parking.
  • More expensive due to the need for a rack, swing-away hitch, and possibly a new hitch.
  • Bikes are exposed to the elements and road grime.

2) Inside Under the Bed

Another option is to store your bikes under the bed inside the van. This typically involves removing the front wheel and securing the fork to the van floor.


  • Keeps bikes safe and secure from theft and weather.
  • Avoids exposure to road grime.


  • Takes up valuable interior space.
  • Requires front wheel removal.
  • Limits the number of bikes you can carry.
  • Potentially tracks dirt and sand inside the van.

You could also combine these options, using both a hitch rack and under-bed storage to maximize your bike-carrying capabilities.

Storing Your Gear

Mountain bikers need a lot of gear—hydration packs, helmets, shoes, body armor, spare parts, you name it. Planning where to store all this is essential. In general, boxes or containers for gear, spare parts, tools and fluids all need consideration. There is a lot to be said for a simple box/container that can be pulled out of the van easily to get changed or do some maintenance with a bit more room.

Storing things on the roof can be a great idea for some of those bulky less used items. Check out how others do it at the end of this article.

The Shower

This is a hot topic among van-lifers, but we reckon some form of shower is a must for any mountain bike van. You might think a river or lake rinse will suffice, but after a few long rides, you’ll want a proper way to clean up.

Shower Options for Your Van:

Built-in Shower:
Ideal if you’re designing your van from scratch or buying a pre-fabbed model.

Rear Hose Shower:
Many van-lifers install a hose at the rear connected to a water tank for quick rinses. It’s a good option if you’re okay with cold water.

Solar Shower:
There are ready made solar showers of that can be mounted on your roof rack for solar-heated showers. You could even build one yourself out of a long tube of plastic spouting painted black. Warning, test the water temp first as it can be HOT!

Portable Shower:
For quick cleanups, a portable shower which uses a foot pump for pressure, works well. You can get them with a built in heater too for hot showers.

Bike Workstation

Not everyone will need this, but if you want to work on your bikes while on the road, consider how to set up a bike stand. You can get bike clamps that attach to your towball/hitch or mount to the door of you van. Take some time figuring things out first before you start drilling into door panels though. Sometimes a self standing foldable work stand might still be your best option.

Living the Dream

Living the mountain bike van life is an incredible adventure. By carefully considering your van choice, bike transport, gear storage, and shower options, you can create a mobile basecamp that meets all your needs. Get ready to hit the trails, explore new terrain, and enjoy the freedom of life on the road!


How the pros do it.

Nothing like drooling over custom builds that dreams are made of to get the inspirational juices flowing. Check out these custom MTB vans for more ideas.


Sean and Sarah turned their experience when doing their own van conversion into a business. Check out how they upgraded their bike storage in thier own custom MTB van build.

Jill Kintner's and Bryn Atkinson's Pro MTB Van

Paul the Punters MTV Custom Van Build

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