Big escapes in small motor homes

Farm Forum

Over the past decade, increased consumer demand for more fuel-efficient Recreation Vehicles and technical innovations in the RV industry have led to a growth in the popularity of Class B motor homes. A huge part of the Class B’s appeal is that it drives like the family car and fits in most driveways.

Also know as van conversions and camper vans, the Class B is a favorite with singles and couples who are looking for maneuverability, fuel-efficiency and a variety of home-like amenities in a small package. These little rolling homes are built on a van or panel truck chassis with a raised roof and feature a bathroom with shower; sleeping, kitchen and dining accommodations; and often built-in entertainment systems.

They range in length from 16- to 22-foot and are priced between $65,000 and $130,000, depending on the extras. As for fuel economy, roughly, gasoline vans get between 12-15 mpg; diesels average 18-22 mpg.

Longtime RVers Fred and Eileen Nickerson of Coarsegold, Calif., selected their 2008 22-foot Roadtrek ( 210 van as their traveling rig because of its ease of handling. In order to visit their family living “up and down the California coast,” they wanted a smaller vehicle that Eileen, the primary driver, was comfortable operating.

“I like the Roadtrek because it is easy to drive, even in downtown traffic, and I can park it just about anywhere,” she said. “We love the fact it is equipped with everything we need while traveling.”

When retirees Carol and Phil White of Portland, Ore., started planning their yearlong dream RV trip, they knew they wanted to see America up close.

“We decided to visit all 48 contiguous states and see all 43 national parks,” said Carol White. They selected a 19-foot Pleasure-Way ( Excel Class B motor home because of its gas mileage and small size. “Neither of us had ever driven a motor home,” said White.

“Our intent was never to camp every night,” she said, “but we wanted some creature comforts. It was sure handy to have a bathroom on-board, cold water in the refrigerator and a full kitchen.”

From their 37,500-mile experience evolved their book, “Live Your Road Trip Dream: Travel for a year for the cost of staying home,” (

“Class Bs are such a smart investment and hold their value much better than other types of rigs,” said White. “You can use them daily if needed and yet you have a fully capable RV for weekends” or longer adventures.

These van conversions are an excellent choice if most of your traveling, like the Whites, will be on highways and paved roads.

Full-time RVers Thom and Dar Hoch ( of Wisconsin are planning to downsize from their 2007 39-foot Newmar Kountry Star Class A motor home. After five years “on the road,” they are considering either a truck and camper or a Class B van for their revised RV lifestyle.

“No final decision has been made,” said Thom Hoch, “but we’re getting close.” What the Hochs favor about the Class B is its compact size, tight interior design and “stealthiness.”

“Class Bs are smaller and more nimble than most other RVs,” said Hoch. “With the exception of truck campers, the B is easier to drive and more nimble than other RVs, especially the rigs that have to be towed.” They can usually fit into the tightest of camping sites.

The Hochs stopped by the Sportsmobile ( factory in Fresno, Calif., to view how the company converts Ford, Chevy/GM and Mercedes-Benz vans into “luxurious travel homes.” According to Sportsmobile, 98-percent of their customers drive their Class B as their first or second family car.

The Class B’s interior offers many options have dual purposes, observed Hoch.

“The driver compartment’s seats can swivel around and become part of the living space. The bed, depending on the van’s design, is usually configured so it also becomes part of the seating or dining area.”

Class B motor homes can be made “to look much like any other van out there without the crazy splash graphics that’s become so big with RV manufacturers today,” said Hoch. “It’s possible to have a great camper that doesn’t look like an RV. That broadens your parking and boondocking opportunities. It’s hard to be a stealthy camper driving a 39-foot motor coach or towing a fifth-wheel trailer.”