Archive for the ‘Smart Car modifications’ Category

Ruby Bootie Successfully Hauls Two Kayaks

Smart Car with kayaks

We bought our Smart Car to tow behind the Ruby Slipper because we wanted an easy to tow vehicle to shuttle bikes and kayaks on pedal/paddle adventures.   The idea was to leave the Slipper at a bike trail head or kayak put-in near where we planned to spend the night, and then leave the Bootie at the other end of the pedal or paddle as a shuttle vehicle to get us and our gear back to the Slipper.  This would give us the ability to do one way rides and paddles- and that means all down-hill or down-stream (which is good . . . . or even great depending on the pitch of the trail or fall of the stream).

 Anyway, we liked the Bootie for this job because it is really light and compact and therefore easy to tow and park in camp grounds (It’s only five feet long) and doesn’t use much gasoline (and it is cute).  The problem was that everyone from Smart Car to Yakima Racks said you can’t haul two sea kayaks on a SmartCar.  The car will take car racks like any car, but on the Smart the bars are only eighteen inches apart.  That is just not enough spread to carry kayaks. 

We understood the problem (after hours of Google searches with strings like “Smart Car Kayak Racks”) but we didn’t believe we couldn’t carry two sea kayaks on a SmartCar.  The reason we didn’t wasn’t completely hubris- but that is a factor, of course.  Beginning in 2009, Smart started offering a dealer installed tow package for the Smart Car.  We  (actually, this kind of stuff  falls into that small category of things that Pam defers to me about) figured that between the tow hitch and the two tow-eye attachment points on the back of the car, we could somehow fabricate a kayak rack for the back of the Bootie that would give us enough spread for kayaks.  As it turns out, we were right!

Test run of Bootie loaded

Not to get too technical here (unless someone is actually interested) the big problem was that Smart Car tow packages use an inch and a quarter tow bar hitch instead of the more common two-inch hitch.  That’s a problem because the very few hitch mounted kayak racks (like the Yakima Dry Dock) available all use two inch tongues that fit into two inch hitches.  Rack makers universally warn against trying to use a hitch adaptor to plug a two inch rack into an inch and quarter hitch.   So, we figured we’d have to have someone purpose-build an inch and a quarter tongue kayak rack to plug into the tow hitch we had installed on the Smart Car when we bought it.

While hunting around for a metal fabricator willing to build a one-off rack for less than the cost of the car, inspiration struck (something about mothers and necessity here).  The Hollywood bike rack we’d used on the Slipper since before we even thought about pedal/paddle was designed to fit either two inch hitches (like on the Slipper ) or inch and quarter hitches (like on the Smart Car).  Hollywood does this by making their bike rack tongue an inch and a quarter and using an adaptor if the rack is used with a two inch hitch.  That  is the opposite of  the forbidden adapting two-inch to inch and a quarter  adaptors shunned by Yakima.  Better yet (in fact, critically so) the Hollywood tongue assembly is a separate machined piece onto which Hollywood bolts their two inch bike rack assembly.

Yakima rack bolted to Hollywood tongue

I know, I know, opaque techno geek stuff here.  But the point is that it dawned on me that one could order a Yakima two inch Dry Dock hitch- mounted kayak rack and an inch and a quarter Hollywood tongue assembly (on the Internet of course), cut the two inch tongue off the Yakima rack, drill in the proper mounting holes and bolt the Yakima kayak rack  onto the inch and a quarter Hollywood tongue.  The result is a stable strong rear kayak rack that results in an almost fifty inch spread from the standard roof mounted Yakima bars that fit on a Smart Car roof.  And that means plenty of spread to put two small sea kayaks on top of the Smart Car.

Plenty of spread

Maybe it would be a good idea to look at the pictures again at this point.  They will no doubt (ok, some doubt) make more sense than the painful prose you’ve waded through to get this far.  Anyway, the Bootie is now bike and kayak ready.  The Slipper is bike and kayak ready.  The Slipper can tow the Bootie anywhere.  The only thing we can’t do at this is point is tow the Slipper behind the Bootie (we’re working on that).  Now, all we need is a little time and some good weather to put an “all-up” (Slipper with two sea kayaks on top towing Bootie with two mountain bike on the back) pedal/paddle trip on the road.  But first we’re on two Slipper-only, back to back head-down (long way to go, short time to get there) runs to Texas.  Stay tuned.

All up


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As Matt and I neared our 60s, Matt said to me one day that he no longer enjoyed camping on the ground in a tent.  That immediately caught my attention as our backpacking trips have always been one of my favorite things to do.  I had to agree that carrying 30+lb backpacks any reasonable distance and sleeping on the ground, even with pads,were becoming  increasingly  less physically realistic; so we began to explore alternative ways to travel.  Much as I hate to admit it, compromises become inevitable as time goes by. 

 Since road trips have always held an allure for us, car camping seemed a logical next step.  Several previous boat charters had convinced me that life could continue in a confined space (for a limited time) so we began our search for a small self-contained RV/van that could serve as our camping base but also double as our primary or secondary transportation vehicle.  We found the perfect combination for us in the hightop Dodge Sprinter van converted by Sportsmobile. 

My dad had helped me build a bed frame in my beloved Chevy van during my skydiving years (eons ago), and now I had a van again!  It’s a joy to drive, and I am even comfortable driving and parking around town.  I’ve always avoided parallel parking like the plague and continue to do so although Matt is up to the challenge.  The only restriction is our height, so no parking structures.   However, the high top allows Matt (at 6 feet) to easily stand up throughout the length of our Ruby Slipper.  Sportsmobile builds the interior by modules so one can pick and choose the amenities one desires <www.sportsmobile.com > 

TheRuby Slipper transports us to far away places and returns us home again, safe and sound..

It wasn’t long before we had bike racks on the back and kayak racks on top.  We found beautiful, lightweight (40lb) Delta kayaks www.deltakayaks.com  that have been a delight in tidal estuaries, large rivers such as the Santiam, the Willamette, and the Columbia, and small lakes.  Matt lifts the kayaks to a roller bar on the back roof edge, and I pull them into their cradles and tie them down.  Last summer we began our explorations around the northwest and soon felt the lack of a shuttle vehicle confining.  Half our time was spent returning to our vehicle instead of continuing down unexplored (to us) territory.

Initially we thought to buy motorcycles (dirt bikes would also expand our off road capabilities), but, believe it or not, I could not find a legal forum in which to learn how to ride.  The logistics of using bikes to return us to the Slipper, then backtrack to pick up the kayaks, were unwieldy.  Then we found the SmartCar4Two:  small and light enough to tow and darn if it doesn’ t look like a baby Slipper (hence The Baby Bootie aka The Ruby Bootie).  It was the obvious choice to complete our travelling rig.  Matt is working on the remaining piece: the racks to carry the kayaks.  No one makes a kayak rack and, in fact, they say it can’t be done; but of course we know that isn’t so.  Just about anything is possible if you have a Matt.

next post: discovering Pedal-Paddle

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