Are you even a mountain biker if you haven't dreamed of hitting the road in some kind of home-on-wheels, bikes in tow and new trailheads in front of you? Punch #vanlife
into the Google machine and you'll see that a hell of a lot of people aren't just dreaming about it - they're doing it in things ranging from full-time car camping set-ups to ultra-capable, ultra-expensive 4x4 dream rigs worth more than small yacht sporting a decent amount of mahogany.
Kudos to those who happily live out of the back of their '97 Subaru Outback, even if they can look a bit meth-y sometimes, but I'll readily admit to needing more comfort now that I'm not twenty-years-old and sucking down McDonalds ketchup packages for road-trip dinners. Sure, you only need to down thirty-three of them get five-hundred calories, but I'd much rather travel (and cook) in something like Ryan Leech's custom-made Earthcruiser GZL-400 pop-up truck camper.
He's bolted that to a 410hp Ram 2500 Power Wagon, as you do, and has been calling this go-everywhere machine his home for over a year now.
I caught up with the trials legend and long-time Norco pro during Crankworx, and taking a closer look at his rig seemed like an opportune excuse to get away from the bustle of Whistler.
Ready to hit the road. The pop-up camper helps with the fuel mileage and lets him to get into tight off-road spots that a standard, much taller camper wouldn't allow.
After considering one of their self-contained (and more expensive) Mitsubishi Fuso-based 4x4 campers, Ryan dialled it back a notch and decided on Earthcruiser's GZL-400 pop-up camper. Besides saving a duffle bag full of money, the slide-in camper approach is a bit less in-your-face, especially with the custom wrap, and a lot more flexible down the road if he wanted to change his set-up.
A truck camper needs a truck, though, and the Ram had to be purchased first.
A 12,000lb winch (left) comes standard on the front of the Power Wagon. Ryan's added a bunch of skid plates and these sliders from White Knuckle (right) for extra protection.
The Power Wagon name has been around for 73 years now, and latest version is a monster of a thing that weighs 7,000lb and is as long as an adult giraffe is tall, although still a bit shorter than some other trucks out there. Despite the girth, it's made to tackle some fairly rough terrain - there's more than 14" of ground clearance, and it comes stock with 33" rubber. Ryan beefed things up even further by adding a set of Toyo M55 tires after a few too many flat tires way out in the boonies.
A lot of commercial logging, mining, and heavy-duty trucks use the M55s for their reliability, he told me, and he hasn't had a single puncture since upgrading from the stock Goodyear Duratracs.
A set of Toyo's burly M55 tires have been a worthwhile upgrade, with zero flats since changing from the stock rubber.
At around 1,500lb wet, Earthcruiser's campers are relatively light compared to more conventional versions that we're used to seeing, but three-quarters of a ton is a lot of heft no matter how you weigh it. The 6.4L Hemi helps with that, I suspect, but the camper is actually right around the Ram's maximum payload capacity.
Spending a lot of his time away from the pavement, Ryan's added skid plates galore, as well as a set of sliders from White Knuckle, and an ARB twin-motor air compressor hidden in the floor lets him air-up his tires after a bit of off-roading. Most importantly, though, there's a bike rack bolted onto the back of the Power Wagon. While the North Shore rack acts as a potent rear-ender defender, it's also been modified with a longer, tilted base for an improved departure angle, and a wire shelf can hold water, fuel, or just a pair of stinky shoes that would make the camper smell like a fifteen year old boy's bedroom.
A North Shore rack is ready to carry all the bikes (a bar can be added onto the left side if more spaces are needed), and the base has been modified for a better approach angle.
If you've ever been inside of a standard RV or camper, you might already know that most of them can only dream of IKEA-like build quality, and that's being kind about it. Inexpensive ''wood,'' loose fittings, and not intended for much more than a couple of old snow birds to play Yahtzee in, they're not really suited to someone with a more active, 'my hip isn't broken yet' kind of lifestyle.
Conversely, the Earthcruiser is meant for someone who's getting out there, hence the composite shell that's molded in a single piece, and the marine-like interior. There's no mahogany on this yacht, though.
There's not a ton of room, but it's enough for two people who don't mind being cozy.
The big feature for Ryan, and the raison d'etre for going with a GLZ-400 slide-in camper, is the pop-up top that takes all of twenty seconds to raise by hand - there aren't any finicky electric bits involved here. It's a one-man job, and the insulated, weather-proof fabric between the fiberglass shell and its tilt-up lid is said to be good for some very cold temps and high winds. That's when the Olympian Wave 6 propane catalytic heater kicks in, which Ryan says is able to quickly replicate being inside a toaster oven.
When he needs to go stealth due to having to spend the night in a city or a less camper-friendly town, there's a second, lower bed where the table and benches are located. Ryan can sleep there without needing to raise the literal roof and draw unwanted attention to himself.
With a two-burner propane stove and a fridge (left), Ryan can cook up whatever he wants to eat.
Electricity is stored in two 90 amp-hour batteries.
The fresh water tank sits low in the camper - it's actually under the kitchen floor - and holds 75L, while the grey water tank will store 35L. Need it hot and need it right now? Same here, so there's a 10L tank for that as well. With plenty of rivers and lakes around, showering isn't the biggest priority (until it is) when you're camping, but there is a set-up for one inside if you have to wash the dirt and blood off yourself before crawling into bed. Pull out the rubber curtain that's by the front door, grab the extra-long kitchen faucet, and all you need is some soap. It's pretty small, but it works, he told me. There's an outside option for the warmer days, too.
The fold-down bed (right) hangs from railings on the side of the camper.
When he needs more power, Ryan has this electric carpet that he puts out in the sun.
And speaking of going to bed, Ryan needs to set it up before calling it a night by pulling out an extension panel and hanging it from hooks at each end. There's a queen-sized memory foam mattress that he lays on feet-first towards the cab, but there's not quite enough headroom for a full-sized adult to sit bolt upright while still in bed.
Living on the off-road requires working on the off-road, and that means that Ryan needs electricity and internet access for his online coaching outfit
. A set of 90 amp-hour batteries and a 600-watt inverter do the trick, and the camper comes stock with two 100-watt solar panels mounted onto the roof that he's supplemented with a clever 90-watt flexible panel. The panel looks like a small yellow tarp and can be rolled up and tucked away into one of the camper's many storage ports. Connection comes via a WeBoost Cell signal booster and a Verizon hotspot that's more than enough to stream movies, let alone catch up on the e-mails that have been piling up.
I've definitely seen worse camp spots. Photo Ryan Leech
The Earthcruiser and Power Wagon have been Ryan's full-time home for about a year and half now, and he's been able to call a lot of North America his backyard during that time. The big plus of his set-up, he says, is the ability to really get out there to those spots where you'd probably be surprised to see anyone at all, let alone someone in a camper. And one thing's for sure: he isn't squeezing condiments into his mouth for dinner.