With four bikes in the back of the van, and living space up front, there’s not much room for a bed. The only option is to mount it above the bikes using removable panels.
We want to be able to sit up in bed, but we also want to be able to carry bikes with their wheels on, and some of our bikes are over 40″ tall floor-to-handlebar.
Originally we intended to make our own, using wall-mounted L-angle brackets made from pulltruded fiberglass, and some repurposed 2″ thick polyiso foam-filled insulated commercial aluminum wall panels to be the bed base.
However, Eric at OverlandSprinters.com saved us a bunch of hassle. He’s created a bed rail and panel kit that you can build up and install yourself, far cheaper than the other upfitter options. There’s more work involved with installing his kit, but by selling the bare aluminum frames and steel rails, he can cut down on shipping costs. His kit provides the pieces that would be hard to make without specialist equipment.
The kit is really sturdy. The aluminum frames are welded well. The rearmost one (shown in the picture) has a cut-out so it fits into the rear door area. That saves some space in the rest of the van and it also means you don’t lose pillows, etc. down the back of the bed.
The rails are 11 gauge steel. Before we received them, we were planning on adding sheet steel supports in each of the “window” areas that the rails will cross. However, I bet you could just bolt the rails at each end and they would be fine. In the end we bolted them at each end and at the central pillar. The beauty of this kit is that you get to choose exactly how and where you will make the attachment points.
We drilled three holes at each end of the rails, and four in the middle. Each hole takes an M8 bolt, mounted to the wall using Rivnuts. The ones in the picture aren’t quite as squiffy as they look. The D pillar slopes inwards at that point.
Here’s the upright between the D and C pillars (C-1/2?). This upright is between the two rear window blanks in a 170 van. It doesn’t exist in a 144.
And here’s the holes in the C pillar.
Lining the rivnut holes up through the wall panels was a pain. One isn’t quite where it needs to be so we’ll need to “relieve” the edge of the hole in the rail to make it fit.
We used 1/2″ pre-finished maple faced plywood to form the deck for the panels. Because we wanted a full 80″ bed we extended the plywood beyond the aluminum frames, 1″ on each side for the rearmost panel and then 1-1/2″ on each side for the other two panels. The only annoyance with doing this was that we had to use two sheets of plywood, because the panels ended up more than 24″ wide. The middle panel is made from two half-width pieces. All the decks are bolted down to the frames using T-nuts and M6 bolts.
We also put 1/16″ rubber matting on the underside of the panels where they contact the metal of the rails. This should cut down on rattles and also prevent the rails from getting so scratched. We painted the rails (Rustoleum semi-gloss black) but we’d be tempted to send them out for powder coating if we were doing this again. The powder coat would be much more durable.
Clamping the panels down to the rail proved to be more of an issue than we expected. We drilled holes in the top of the rail to accept bolts that would then pass through the panels. However, we did the measurements before we bolted the rails to the wall for the final install. The rails compressed the wall panels so much that now the holes are in the wrong place.
In the end, we hunted around in our spare parts bins and found some “J” bolts with threaded knobs. After making little clamping plates for these and coating them in plasti-dip, we drilled holes into the aluminum frames and snugged them down. They work really well!
Update: we drilled new holes for the J bolts in the crosspieces of the aluminum frame rather than in the side pieces. That makes it easier to clip the J bolts in place and they hold tight better now. Basically, think of the hole being the other side of the weld on the picture below.
I’ve got to say a big thank you to Eric at overlandsprinters.com for creating this kit. If you want a platform bed in your van, this is a great way to get all the benefits of the commercially available versions with the price of a DIY option.
Update: The 80″ long bed overhung the passenger bench seat too much. We cut the deck wood down flush with the panels and ended up with a 73″ long bed, which gives us enough room to sit in the passenger bench seat without hurting our necks.