Can A Viable RV Be Built Onto A Bicycle Or Tricycle?
Recently, the almighty and all-knowing YouTube algorithm did what it does best: give me things to watch that it knows I can't resist. This time, toilet time was spent watching a video of two men who built an RV on the back of a tricycle and attempted a 100-mile trip with the weird vehicle they’d built.
The cargo trike seemed to be able to handle the weight, which one of the brothers figured was about 500 pounds (that's 226 kilos for you "unamerican" people out there). Given my experience helping build houses and sheds for a family business as a teenager, this is about right. The wood and metal is much like you’d find in a backyard shed, and it doesn't come out light!
When they struggled to pedal their RV up even a light grade, it was pretty clear that aerodynamics wasn't the culprit. Sure, the design probably has a drag coefficient greater than 1.0, but they never got the thing going fast enough for that to even matter. The main problem was trying to keep it moving with the power of human leg muscles, and gravity was getting the better of them on any kind of uphill incline.
The video itself is still worth watching, as they overcome this and several other challenges. Police gave them the dreaded "the knock" RVers talk about online when they parked the vehicle in a residential area and tried to sleep in it, so they had to go on to a Walmart parking lot where that was allowed. The next day, they bought a cheap Walmart bike and used a towing strap to create a "tandum" bike, doubling the horsepower and torque, allowing the thing to actually move.
Despite the design basically being a disaster for practical use, people loved it. Cyclists, people working drive-thru windows, and many other people stopped them or rode alongside them and told them how much they loved the idea. So, it's obviously an idea that human beings generally appreciate and love. Because people love it, it's probably worth exploring further.
The obvious thing to start with would be to begin with a better platform, and add some electric pedal assist. While commercial options for e-trikes seem to be dwindling because some states set width limits on them, they still exist. Here's an example of a UPS cargo trike from a few years ago:
This kind of a bike platform would make it a lot easier to push a trike RV around and even make it up some hills. There's plenty of room in such a box to add a larger battery pack to get a lot more range than the average e-bike, too. So, you’d end up with something you could probably go 100 miles in two days with (this was the goal the brothers in the first video failed to achieve with their non-electric trike RV).
But, 750 watts would still be a struggle with a 500-pound box on the back. As many of us know, pedal assist is only assist, and even just pushing your own body around, an e-bike still needs a lot of human power to make it up the steepest hills. So, some thought needs to go into reducing weight.
The cheapest method for a DIY project would be to go with "foamie" or PMF (poor man's fiberglass) construction. Plywood, lumber, and sheet metal get to be heavy, but we’ve seen people build whole camping trailers that weigh in under 500 pounds. One project even involved a small camper that a Vespa scooter could easily pull around. For a commercial build, it would probably be better to go with better composites, but either way, going with lighter materials is key. Making the camping box only weigh 200 pounds would make for a much easier time on hills and to get better range while still having niceties like a sink and stove.
Having more room is also nice. With weight reduction, it may even be possible to have some more room in the little RV without causing any problems. Having a pop-top roof of some kind and maybe even a matching lean-to tent could all be ways to get even more space.
Finally, let's not forget that carrying a roof around is a great opportunity to add some solar power to keep the whole setup (including pedal assist power) off-grid. This would not only make such camping trips easier, but would make them more environmentally friendly than grid power. With enough solar power, it may be possible to skip battery charging stops completely.
Even with weight savings, electric pedal assist, and solar power, there's still one very big shortcoming to this whole design: it's still more of a cramper than a camper. So, if I was going to set out on a long cycling journey, I’d rethink the whole thing and go with something that would be more comfortable.
I’d personally rather have a bike than a trike, so I’d start out with a bike trailer behind an e-bike. But, people who want to stick with three wheels could do all of the following pretty much the same. The advantage to a trailer setup is that when spending several days at a time at a campground, you’d be able to explore with the e-bike alone and leave all the heavy stuff at camp. Plus, the load could be distributed with family members or friends who are along for the long ride.
Whether on a trailer or on the back of a trike, I’d go with a setup inspired by overlanders, but miniaturized. I’d put a frame on to leave space on the bottom for slide-out drawers, perhaps with a sink or camping stove. On top of the frame, I’d put a small rooftop tent or a cargo rack for a Shiftpod tent. Either option would be a lot more roomy than a box on the trike or bike trailer itself while not giving a huge weight penalty.
But, there are many different ways people can camp with bikes and e-bikes. A quick YouTube or Google search shows everything from small popup campers to folding campers to super lightweight backpacking setups that don't require a trailer.
Everyone has to find a balance that works for them, but few people will want to pull a 500-pound box with a non-electric bike!
Featured image: a screenshot from the embedded video toward the beginning of the article.
Jennifer Sensiba is a long time efficient vehicle enthusiast, writer, and photographer. She grew up around a transmission shop, and has been experimenting with vehicle efficiency since she was 16 and drove a Pontiac Fiero.She likes to get off the beaten path in her "Bolt EAV" and any other EVs she can get behind the wheel or handlebars of with her wife and kids.You can find her on Twitter here,Facebook here, andYouTube here.
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