If mountain bikers use saws and other tools, it's often to create wood features in the forest. Julia Hofmann used them for a different reason, though: to finish her bachelor thesis. No, she didn't assemble a series of wooden jumps and drops for school, but rather transformed a Series 2A Land Rover into her travelling bike caravan. Simply put, the German racer built her own dream vehicle, a two-wheeler's four-wheeler that she'll use to get to riding spots the world over. Below, she tells us the story of how it all came together.
Landy Like Around the World
By Julia Hofmann
It is so cold that I can hardly feel my fingers as I turn some of the last screws into the interior of my old Land Rover. What has to be done is nearly done, and I need to finish my studies before hitting the road, but it is so tempting to load up and take off. Why am I tempted? My bachelor thesis is all about interior design in the smallest of spaces. More precisely, the inside of my Land Rover. I'm in the process of converting it into a caravan for mountain biking, a machine the will let me travel around and access the best trails in the world, but I need to finish it before I can test out my work.
Where should I start? Well, I take part in many races, lead driving technique courses, and also create videos and photo stories of all my travels - I'm on tour quite often, and I love to share my time on the road with people. Now I plan to do all of the above in my Land Rover, and I'll need to decide what to take with me and how I'm going to use the vehicle. There are a few things that a mountain biker needs: a bike (obviously), my open and full face helmets, a set of pads and all my bike clothing, spare parts and the tools to put them on, as well as the supplies that I need to feed myself. All of those get put together, photographed, and pared down as I figure out what can go and what can stay. Everyone is familiar with trying to decide what to pack for a long trip, but here it is especially demanding. Not much space is left inside my Landy, just 5.1m² and 11.5m³, and I'll also need to sleep and eat in there. There is more to this challenge than just building the vehicle, it turns out, but that's where we should head to now.
The first step was to write down my needs and wants. I needed to find out how to organize everything, and which materials I'd be using to turn my Landy into my part-time home. It all started with my sketchbook, a pencil and a few markers, with scribbling slowly turning into a defined vision of what I wanted the final product to look like. I came up with two versions: one with a single and one with a double bed, with the prior having the bike stored inside while the latter saw it on the roof. The dining room would be up front.
One needs accurate planes to build everything properly, with those early sketches not providing the detail needed to start cutting anything to length. When it was time to get technical, I switched to the computer. Millimeters were carefully counted, angles measured, and every detail accounted for before the plans were set in stone. The computer is far more efficient than my hand with a pencil could ever be, and it wasn't long before the plans were printed out and work could begin.
While many of you are likely familiar with the Land Rover name, it isn't a well known fact that hardly any of them manage to stay dry inside during a stiff downpour. There's a good chance that any Landy owner in Britain is well aware of that one, though. My goal, besides building a home on wheels, was to create one of the rare Landys that manages to be watertight. I used a lot of tape, even more gasket strip, and spent two days before I figured that I had the problem licked - my Landy was leakproof, or so I thought... Now that the truck's shell was sorted out I could move on to adding the insulation that would keep me warm at night. This was precise work, as even the smallest of gaps needed to be filled in order to keep the cold night air out.
Finally, the workshop was calling my name! The groundwork was done at this point, and the wood I had ordered for the interior had arrived, so it was time to fire up the circular saw and start assembling. It was amazing to see it slowly come together, with the puzzle looking more and more finished and I installed each new piece. It took weeks of work, much longer than I had originally planned for, and my life turned into a revolving schedule that consisted of the workshop, the garage, the gym, school, and maybe a quick trip out to the local trails - one has to stay fit, after all. I guess shlumping 2.75 x 1.7m plywood boards in and out of the back of the Landy certainly proved to be excellent training, though. After much measuring, sawing, milling, polishing, and drilling, everything was suddenly finished. It was like I woke up one day and all of the details big and small were done: every light was shining, the 220V socket was working, and the wall units were as solid as they'd ever be. Everything had found its place and the only left to do was put the tools away.
Julia's story is interesting enough that we reached out to her in Germany with a few questions about the project. With all sorts of vehicle options out there, including 4x4 vans that you can stand up in, why did you choose to go with a Land Rover instead?
I think that it's a passion for the older Land Rovers that began at an early age. One reason is the movie 'The Gods Must be Crazy' that my brother used to watch nearly every day, and that features an old Land Rover. It's never intact during the movie, but it's also never broken. They really are one of the best off-road vehicles that have been built in the last fifty years, and it's now my mission to prove this.
How many nights have you spent in your Land Rover, and is there anything that you plan to change/update now that you've had it running for awhile?
I've spent about twenty five nights in it now, and there's a few things that I'll likely change at some point in the future. The pigeon hole at the back of the car needs handholds at the sides and better metal fittings, and a second tank or LPG system would a great addition. Also, some of the interior lighting is a bit too bright and direct, and there are a few organizational spaces that I'd change. Being able to cook outside, even in the rain, would also be great.
The relatively small space inside your vehicle has probably forced you to take on a more minimalistic approach to travel. Have you had to make a conscious decision to pack and live comfortably with less, and if so, has that been difficult at all?
Nope, it wasn't difficult to decide what to take with me and what to leave behind, probably because I've already spent so much time living out of a bag while traveling around the world.
What was the biggest challenge during the conversion?
Trying to make it waterproof... I thought that I had it, but I failed!
Have you found yourself stranded anywhere due to it breaking down? I'd imagine that you'd have to be pretty handy to be able to keep an older Land Rover running...
Yes, there have been three incidents. The first one was pretty small; I was driving in the Alps and one of the side mirrors began to wobble. I caught it just before it fell off and was able to fix it at the next rest stop. I've had more serious issues though, including with the clutch and differential. I'm very thankful to have a private emergency number that I can call and the person on the other end tells me what to do - my brother. These are some of the reasons to drive an older car, though, being able to fix it anywhere.
Will you be visiting North America in 2014?
Definitely! I will fly to California to visit Marin bikes and the Sea Otter festival, and I'd also like to head to Crankworx in Whistler as well.