My bros and I are dirt-bike-hauling freaks always on the lookout for the best way to take motorcycles on an adventure. We've tried pickups large and small, vans, trailers, and even--when good sense was more scarce than money--a 1964 Olds with racks on the trunk. It's no surprise then, after three decades of trying to find the perfect bike hauler, we all uttered "Whauhhh!" in our best Scooby-Doo voice when we first saw the Sportsmobile Lopes 55, a long-wheelbase Dodge Sprinter customized just for bikers.
We needed the Lopes 55 badly, too. Summer's dreaded triple-digit heat parade demanded an exodus to the high mountains of southern Utah where, we reasoned, the self-contained van, pinging along thriftily on diesel and equipped with aggressive off-road Goodyears, could take us to the promised land of dirt-bike enchantment--and then would let us stay awhile. Never mind that, at $65,572, this fully outfitted Sportsmobile costs more than a new F-250 Crew Cab Power Stroke 4x4 and three brand-new 450 motorcycles--it provides a wandering dirt-biker's three essentials: spaciousness, sleepability, and security.
We met at Willow Springs Raceway in searing SoCal and immediately conducted the first litmus test: fitting three guys, three bikes, and a week's worth of gear inside. The Yamaha, Honda, and Suzuki dual sports all fit--just. We stacked boots, tools, and camping gear around the bikes and then jumped inside and stowed our helmets and duffel bags on the rear bed. A/C and premium sound system cranking, we pointed the Sprinter east and lit the turbo.
With no trailer swinging in its wake, the Lopes 55 was free to flow with the traffic racing toward Las Vegas, then north into Utah. Its sweet spot is somewhere around 70 mph--any faster and all that sheetmetal becomes a target for capricious side winds and truck blast, and a fair amount of wind and driveline noise intrudes. But the good news is that we found it'll cruise at this speed all day. Our Sprinter came equipped with a 154-horsepower, 2.7-liter inline-five turbodiesel with 243-pound-feet of torque. We averaged 18.8 mpg for our 2000-mile trip and its 25 gallon fuel tank puts the cruising range at a hearty 470 miles. More cheers for the sky-high seating position, plentiful cabinet space, and the ready availability of chilled refreshments from the convenient minifridge.
We targeted lonesome Torrey, Utah, as our first riding locale--at its 6830 foot elevation, it's pleasantly cooler than the rest of the hellish Southwest during summer--and offers plenty of scenic dual-sport loops. We rolled the bikes out the next morning and rode a 170-miler to Lake Powell, though admittedly the lakeside was equally hot as California. But it seemed fate had brought us there, for 50 miles down the dirt road we met a lady and her three young grandsons limping along in a rusty Jeep CJ, the remnants of one rear tire flopping uselessly on a battered rim. After resuscitating her ancient hydraulic jack and supporting it under the Jeep with rocks and an iron skillet, we installed the spare and she was underway again. "You're a godsend!" she cried.
Finally, Buckboard Flats, high above the town on Monticello on Utah's southeastern flank, offered the coolness and scenery we craved. Surrounded by shimmering aspens, the deserted campsite proved a springboard for one of the most challenging single-track trails we'd ever tried. Rocky, narrow, and garnished with wildflowers in addition to mud, logs, and slippery tree roots, it snaked around and then over the backside of 11,019-foot Abajo Peak. Struggling in the thin air and fading light, we were ultimately forced back. But the beauty, coolness, and solitude of camp--and the cozy accommodations of the Sprinter--made up for it. Cleverly outfitted with ventilation fans to extract warm air, the Lopes 55's interior proved inviting and the fold-out twin bunks comfortable. Just remember to put short people in the cozy upper loft.
You can't off-road in Utah without hitting Moab. So we did. The town itself is no aesthetic prize, but the surrounding red-rock scenery sure is, and you could probably ride for weeks without seeing it all. We first hit the rollercoaster-esque Slickrock Bike Trail, then set off to find high ground again--finally climbing 12,331-foot Mt. Waas in the Manti-La Sal National Forest. Perched above a 1000-foot dropoff, the entire Colorado Plateau seemed within our reach. "This, right here, is why I came," someone murmured in the stillness. "Yeah," answered another. "This and a long ride in a damn good truck."
What Is That Thing?
The Sportsmobile Lopes 55 is the brainchild of mountain-bike racer (and motorcycle rider) Brian Lopes and Sportsmobile, a conversion company that's been modifying vans for outdoorsy types since 1961. Lopes returned from Europe a few years ago brimming with enthusiasm for the Mercedes-built Sprinter conversions he'd seen there. Already the owner of a Ford E-Series-based Sportsmobile, he got together with company president Alan Feld, himself a dirt-bike rider, and together they concocted a van just for bicyclists and motorcyclists. Based on the longest 170-inch-wheelbase Sprinter, the Lopes 55 seats five and features an enclosed 8.5-foot toy box and sleeping berths for two, plus a sink, microwave, refrigerator, and a whole lot of soul. Sportsmobile; 559/233-8267; www.sportsmobile.com.
Small Towns, High Times
HIGH: Good eats, local motorcycle and bike shops, boundless off-road adventuring, and close proximity to Arches National Park and the Colorado River.
LOWS: Focus on tourism, way too crowded.
HIGHS: Mayberry RFD feel with forested Abajo Mountain and spectacular dual-sport riding nearby.
LOWS: A crossroads town with truck traffic.
HIGHS: Sleepy small town with cheap motels, friendly locals, and a bounty of dual-sport rides at your doorstep. The town McDonald's forgot--God bless it for that.
LOWS: If you find one, let us know.