If you're a regular reader of this blog, you've probably heard of the RAAMinator.
For the past five years, the RAAMinator has been my favorite way to get to rides that start more than 50 miles from home. Of course, I'd rather bike there, but that's not always an option. Given the weather lately, just doing a 200K is hard enough -- biking 50 miles to and from a 200K is downright ridiculous.
The RAAMinator was the setting for many a great adventure. It took its name from the 2008 Race Across AMerica, of course, when we used it to bring a bunch of gear out to Oceanside, CA, and then we slowly drove it back to Annapolis, MD, while Jeff Bauer and Kevin Kaiser rode fixed-gear bicycles. Jeff and I used it to support another race in the spring of 2009, when Alan Gosart and Vida Greer joined us to do a self-supported four-person team on the Heart of the South 500-mile race.
It carried us to brevets in Florida, Georgia, and Kentucky, as well as to almost every corner of Tennessee. Last year, it carried Max Watzz to a lot of races. I've slept in the front seat, back seat, and in the rear bed. I've eaten more meals in it than I have had in the dining room of my house.
Good memories. Yes.
But that's also a lot of miles. Hard miles. And there were a lot of things that I bumped into on the way, or ran over, or scraped against. And, frankly, that food? Let's just say I was not always very good at finding lost french fries.
So the RAAMinator was starting to hiccup a bit when it ran. It was dented and crumpled in a few places. And, inside, it smelled like four-year-old french fries.
Also, there were always a few things about the RAAMinator that were never right. For one thing, since it was a minivan, putting a rack on a hitch on the back was not good. The hitch was very low, so that turning in to or out of parking lots in hillier parts of the world often sent sparks spewing from the hitch. And you always had to carefully plan loading bikes onto that rack, since once bikes were on it, you could forget about opening the back door.
It also got terrible gas mileage. It was too big for just one or two riders, but that's what it typically toted. And I never felt good about the bike racks on the roof, since they seemed a little flimsy.
This past summer, I started researching RAAMinator replacements. I had a list of requirements and "nice to have's" for the next vehicle, and soon had my options narrowed. In December, I was ready to buy.
Enter the WatzzWagon.
It's a 2008 Ford Escape SUV. It's got lots of bike room on the roof.
And, since it's an SUV, it easily holds the bike rack on the back.
I would have to seriously screw up to scrape that hitch pulling out of a driveway. Although right now I've just got a two-bike rack, I can install the extension on the Saris rack and hold four back there if I want.
With bikes on the rack, I can't open the full rear hatch, but I can open the window on that hatch.
This means that I can get stuff out of the back without having to pull the bikes off the rack first. That includes my cute little pink pump.
I've already put down heavy plastic mats throughout, too. These will help me find and immediately remove errant french fries.
I said above that I can extend the rear rack, but I don't know when I will ever need to do this, thanks to the Rocky Mounts bike carriers on the roof.
These racks are easily extended, so you can put a single or a tandem up there. These are also the kind of racks that let you clamp the front of the tandem in, and then just lift the back of the tandem up and on to the rack.
The inside is also very plush.
Leather seats, front and back. Notice again that I've got the nice heavy plastic floor mats for french fries and muddy, stinky bicyclists.
One obvious difference between the WatzzWagon and the RAAMinator is in the number of people each could hold. The RAAMinator could carry up to seven people and six bikes. The WatzzWagon will only hold four people and their bikes ... although I could stretch it to six and six.
This is kind of by design. I wanted to get the gas consumption down, but I also don't want to have to worry about situations where I could carry that many people. The only time that I did it, it was a logistical nightmare. Besides, I just don't have that many friends.
By limiting it to four, we all get to ride in comfort. The front even has dual heating/cooling zones, with seat warmers.
It's also got satellite radio, and a built in thermometer to tell me that it's cold outside.
And, if I didn't mention this earlier, it's a hybrid.
Yes, I'm green. I'm also cheap, and gas around here now is $3.19/gallon.
The WatzzWagon will tell me how my gas mileage is. I've gotten it to just over 30 mpg, but it is usually just 29.9 when I'm stuck driving back and forth to work.
I will always have a fond place in my heart for the RAAMinator, and the good times that we had together. But I am really looking forward to getting to some rides this year -- in ecologically conscious, inexpensive comfort -- in the WatzzWagon.