Sunday, April 24, 2011


Every step of the way I ask myself one simple question, "What's its function?"  What is it I want to achieve with this project?  The answer is simple.   I want to save money, eliminate the horrible Los Angeles commute and continue to live with all of the creature comforts of modern life.

I would think all of that sounds fine to just about anyone, but there are setbacks to every plan, no matter how well thought out.  In a motorhome, there will always be a finite supply of water available that must be replenished over time.  Waste must be contained and disposed of properly.  And, of course, one must take care when consuming energy, as the cycle of sustainability has its limitations.  But, isn't that okay?  Don't animals have to hunt every day for their survival?  Don't we have to tend our vegetable gardens often, in order to reap the bounty of wonderful produce?

But, what if the animal can't find food for a brief period?  What if a rain storm wipes out our crop?  It happens.  We adjust and we survive.  "Life is difficult," as quoted from page one of the best selling book, "The Road Less Travelled."  Modern society has given us so much in the way of freedom and comfort that if we have to work for any of it we just can't understand why.  It makes us mad when the electric company reports a "brown out," and especially mad when we're going to be penalized for water use during a drought.  But that's what we get when we rely on others to do things for us.  We become dependent.  My goal is to greatly reduce that dependency.  And, I'm not afraid to pick up the slack and do a little extra life work.

So, I've addressed how the vehicle should look on the outside, in order to disappear in the city.  Of course, there will be constant considerations with respect to parking, but that's fine.  The rabbit must operate on heightened awareness at all times to avoid peril.  Perhaps I'm being too dramatic, but you get the gist.  The Roving Home serves as a life tool with which I can live in the great outdoors, but in the heart of a civilized world.

My girl and I adore cities.  There, I said it.  I know that goes against everything generally associated with RV life, but don't get me wrong.  Spending a night at 8,000 FT above sea level, I will always gaze with awe into the remarkable expanse of a starry sky, fireside, inspired by the beauty of nature itself.  But I also enjoy a lovingly prepared, baked lasagna with a glass of red wine and the groove of a jazz tune, live from the band on stage.  I keep threatening to take my girl to the symphony - perhaps when I get back home.

So, I've got all of the basics handled, but what if I can't park close enough to where I'd like to ultimately crash for the night?  Well, I could walk.  But what if walking will take too long?  I could take public transpo -- not always available.  How 'bout a cab?  Good option for cities, but sometimes I want a little more freedom to head off the beaten path without feeling stranded and without having to call someone for every trip.

How 'bout a dingy?  Boats have them.  They're the little inflatable rafts with outboard motors that you'll see tied to the back.    

I need a dingy!

One thing I absolutely will not do is tow a car.  I already have a drivable vehicle, so I don't need two.  Then I thought about the scooter on some sort of rack on the back, but that just says, "Someone lives here!"  

Same with bicycles that are stored outside of the vehicle.  Kind of feels like the "Grapes of Wrath," packing up all of one's worldly possessions and moving to find a better life.  

Not to mention the vulnerability to thievery.

The package needs to be tight!

Since the inception of The Roving Home, the notion of storing my "dingy" inside of the vehicle, away from the elements and prying eyes, has proven to be quite the hurdle.  The dingy completes the "life tool" aspect of The Roving Home, and a place for it must be realized.  

Surfing the net for answers, I happened upon the website for a bicycle manufacturer, Dahon, an innovator of folding bikes.  "Hm, that's interesting."  I dug further - cost, $1,200.  Yikes!  Now, this was for the high and mighty "Urban Performance" line of folding bikes, models with full suspension and with names like "Jetstream" and "Speed."  Sexy!  Available only through catalog order, they weren't in the cards.

Cut To: 

A year later, I'm in Taiwan, bicycle capital of the world.  Now, this no joke.  Look at these things.

Yes, that SWISSBIKE is a folder.

And, how about that for your toddler?

And below, the ultimate folder.  But, not for The Ultimate Roving Home.  Seemed a bit cheap.

And, finally...

Serious business.  These are not your garden variety dime store souvenir "Made in Taiwan" trinkets.  This is the real deal and very high quality.  And the punchline to it all?  Many of them are roughly half the asking price for the same model in the U.S.  

So, now my "wheels were spinning."  Does Dahon sell in Taiwan?  After a little armchair legwork via the Internet I discovered half dozen outlets for Dahon bicycles in the capital city of Taipei.  Off I went, in search of the elusive Jetstream P8.   

Peggy Wu, my office assistant, set me up with a map full of stickies loaded with addresses and arrows, so any cab driver could get me to where I needed.

My first mission was to get to the Taipei main train station via the High Speed Rail.

The High Speed Rail Station

Good thing the sign switches from Mandarin to English!  Whew.

Not too shabby!

The Taiwan countryside at 290 KPH (180MPH)

Welcome to Taipei, a bustling metropolis...

...with cool side streets and avenues.  And, then, on to the local train for a trip way up north to the burbs.

And, there it was, right out of the box, a Dahon Jetstream P8, at a little neighborhood bike shop.  The owner lives behind the shop and his whole family is there with him on the weekends.  His 4 year old daughter asked me in flawless English, "Do you speak Chinese?"  I was floored.  He didn't speak that much and she didn't know very many phrases, but before I left she asked if I'd stay and play with her and her sister.  It was quite charming.  I was flattered!  Heck, I don't even speak her language!

And, voila!  Here's my new acquisition beside the riverfront bike path that stretches from the burbs,  heading south into town.  

So, it's a full suspension, 8 speed folder with a Shimano derailleur and a Sram trigger shift -- all quality components.

Break it down...

...bag it up and stick it on the train.  A couple of these will go nicely in a custom drawer beneath the bed of The Roving Home, accessible from the rear of the van.  


Now, that's a Roving Home Exclusive.  


  1. Nice find. I've been thinking about picking up something similar lately for my rig. In the "wicked cool" category, I've got my eye on a new YikeBike (, but at $3600, I suspect I'll end up opting for something a bit more affordable.

  2. I carry a folding bike with me too and I love it! But I suspect you did way better than I did and scored a super bike at a great price.

    Good to see another post! Your search for ideas and components rivals the build itself and they're very interesting and a good read.


  3. Glenn,

    That thing is "Blade Runner" all the way. My only concern is the availability of parts and service, given that you're in remote parts of the country. The badass factor stands pretty high, though.


    Thanks for the note. I appreciate your commenting.


    If you love your bike, then you did perfect. I'm just very picky about bikes because I have long legs and I'm 6' tall. I've actually broken frame mounts because the seat post was too high. The seat post on the Jetstream is super long and has a giant diameter. It's kind of like a bike made by the military, and I surely wouldn't have paid U.S. retail for it.

  4. Another great post. I second Les, your trouble-shooting mindset is just as, if not more, interesting to read than the actual build.

  5. Nexbot -- I'm glad you find interest in the weather system that fills my brain. Some may call it obsessive, but I believe that with a project such as this, problems get solved only through constant analysis and attention to detail.

  6. Fantastic post! I've also been looking into folding bikes for nearly two years now...and yes, they are all pricey. I first found folding military bikes that are dropped out of planes with soldiers...they really are indestructible! Smart thinking...very nice find!

  7. Ezra,

    Thanks...I hope it's not too big for the space I'm envisioning. The only drawback is that I don't really have any measurements for the drawer, yet. I hope I didn't set myself up for disaster. But they sure look cool, anyway!

  8. Great post and great find! I love the folding bikes too. Heidi and I have our mountain bikes on the back of Taj hanging from a spare tire mounted rack which works okay, but yeah, it kills quite a bit of our stealth factor off. I can handle that though because of how we travel/live. If I was to stay in one city, I would definitely go your route!

    I really enjoyed reading about the journey to get the bike too! Great stuff!

    97 Roadtrek 170P "Taj Ma Trek"

  9. Mike,

    We will definitely do some traveling with the Roving Home, something that raises my concerns regarding theft. Although I spent less on those bikes than I would have in L.A., they're not cheap, by any stretch. I also like everything in my home to have its place. It's good for the chi.

  10. (NOTE: My long post had to be broken up!)

    But what the heck is this? The table shows that max current for AWG16 is 22 Amps, but only 55 Amps for AWG10! The latter is not 4 times higher? What gives?

    Well, the current capacity really has to do with the heating of the wire. The bigger wire has less surface area than those of 4 smaller wires combined, hence will get hotter than 4 wires in parallel. Hence, the AWG10 is not rated at 4x the current of the AWG16.

    So, using 4 AWG16 is actually better than a single AWG10. But if we bundle these 4 wires together, they would not be able to shed heat as well as 4 wires with airspace between them? Hence we still do not have 4X the current capacity? Indeed that is true, as the link states that "The Maximum Amps for Chassis Wiring is also a conservative rating, but is meant for wiring in air, and not in a bundle." Ah hah!

    However, for all practical applications, in order to limit the voltage drop, we would never come that close to the thermal limit of any wire. If any wire gets hot, it's NO GOOD!

    So, we can safely say that the AWG10 can carry 4 times the current of the AWG16, for the same voltage drop that is.

    Now, if we want to get even more technical, we can talk about the "skin effect" which further limit the ability of the AWG10 to carry 4X the current of the AWG16 at higher frequencies. Look at the last column in the table in the link. Ah, but I am getting way deeper than we need to know for house and RV wiring that only carry 60Hz AC at most...


  11. NOTE: This should precede the 2nd half of my long post, as seen above. However, because this 1st half has a web link, it got deleted and I am reposting here without it. Please excuse the swapped order of the two halves.

    I just found your blog and enjoyed seeing your work on the stealth van conversion. I saw your past post about wiring up your home to be, and knowing something about this, had to make the following comments.

    As a general rule, the wiring for 12V circuits requires way heavier wires than what most people are accustomed to. One usually uses much larger wires than their stated current-carrying capacity. It has to do with the voltage drop. A loss of 2 Volts due to the wiring is negligible when you start out with 115VAC, but hurts a bunch when you start out with only 12v at the source.

    Take for example the 16 gauge wire. The Web link at powerstream dot com shows that this wire size can safely carry 22 Amps, meaning it will not get too hot to cause the insulation to melt at that current, but do we want to use it at that high current? Let's see.

    The above link shows the resistance of this wire is 4.016 Ohms per 1000 ft, or 0.004 Ohms/ft. If a circuit has a total length of 20 ft (counting both positive and negative conductors), then it has a resistance of 0.004X20 = 0.08 Ohms.

    Then, Ohm's Law says "V (voltage drop) = R (resistance) times I (current)", so that at the maximum current of 22 Amps, the voltage loss is 22X0.08 = 1.76 V. This represents a nearly 15% loss of voltage (hence power) if the source is a 12V battery.

    Now, if you double up the wires, meaning using two sets of 16-gauge wires in parallel, then each wire would carry only half the current, and you would lose only half of the above 1.76V. Note that another way of saying the above is that the "combined" wire has 1/2 the resistance of the original 16-gauge, or only 0.002 Ohms/ft.

    The above brings us to another simple law of physics. Namely, the resistance of a wire is proportional to its length, and inversely proportional to its cross-section.

    Now, the AWG (American Wire Gauge) standard is logarithmic, and in such a way that a decrease of 6 gauge is very closely a doubling in wire diameter. Let's look at the table in the above link again. The AWG 16 wire has a diameter of 0.0508", but the AWG 10 wire has a diameter of 0.1019", which is double that of the former. Now, the area of a circle is proportional to the diameter squared, so when we double the wire diameter, we quadruple its cross-section.

    Then, applying the above law of physics, that if the cross-section is quadrupled, the bigger wire acts like 4 smaller wires twisted together, and should have 1/4 the resistance. Let's look.

    AWG16: 4.016 Ohms/1000 ft.
    AWG10: 0.9989 Ohms/1000 ft, or about 1/4 of the above.

    Bingo! So far, so good! All the above agrees with common sense.

    (To be continued...)

  12. NWB -- Thank you for taking the time to share so much detailed information. I must admit that I'm certainly not a licensed electrician and have electrical engineering knowledge limited to the parameters of temporary installations for entertainment lighting systems. That being said, I suppose that once my infrastructure is complete and my batteries are installed, I will to take a meter reading and see if I'll need to rewire those 12 volt sockets. I've basically just taken a page from our standard practice of laying down more copper wire depending on amperage requirements. But, as you said, 12 volt will behave much differently and perhaps I needed to dig a little deeper into DC power information before laying out my plan.

    It wouldn't be too difficult to do and I'm certainly curious now that I have some more education from patient and interested parties such as yourself. I greatly appreciate your knowledge.

  13. Rob,

    Don't get me wrong! I don't think you did a bad job at all, and in fact like your panel with the 2KW inverter mounted. What I tried to say, in a round-about way is that it is valid to add parallel wires to an existing circuit if you want to beef it up.

    I am an electronics engineer by training and by trade, and usually work with microelectronics, meaning very small and low-power electronics stuff. So, the only and first time I ever work with super heavy wire was when I wired my 2KW inverter to my motorhome.

    Holy cow! At currents as high as 200A, it is tough to minimize the voltage drop between the batteries and the inverter. Theory is one thing, but practice is what makes one appreciates the fact that it takes a lot
    of copper at the low voltage of 12V, and hundred of amps.

    Setting my DVM to the lowest setting, I measured the voltage drops across each segment of cable, each connection point, each bus bar, each fuse. Dang! I kept losing tens of millivolts here, a dozen of millivolts there. Soon, I was approaching a volt. That hurts!

    From that experience, I just wanted to share the fact that one should use a lot heavier gauge than one is used to, to the point that it may look totally ridiculous, then it is probably just about right.

    Anyway, I am now in the process of converting all my stock 12V lights of my class C to LED to help boondocking. I like the LED lights and dimmers that you got.

    Being a tinkering electronic engineer, I already got some bare high-power LED assemblies from eBay and am now in the process of mounting them into the existing stock light fixtures. There is a bit of complication due the heatsinking requirement; high power LEDs run hot and will burn out if they are not mounted on heatsinks. I am also designing an integral current regulator that will be mounted into each light fixture. The voltage from the battery can climb from the nominal 12V up to as high as 14.8V. The LED's non-linear characteristic means that the current they draw increases rapidly with the voltage, and if set for good brightness at 12V, they would burn out at 14.8V. Your dimmmer will provide that regulating function, I believe.



  14. I think your ideas for the project are very interesting. Especially your intention of how to keep the outside of the vehicle so that it will "disappear" in the city. Very smart.

    I really hope this works out. Please keep us posted!

  15. Hi, I found your blog about 3 days ago and have been amazed at the amount of time and planning you are putting into the house. Any idea when you will be getting back to the blog? This is like a great book I can not put down!

  16. Anon - Funny how my attempts to write on a professional level never garnered as much attention as my telling of the story of this build. It thrills me to read positive reviews of what should be entertaining reading. Because, at the end of the day, that's what a blog should do - entertain! Thanks for the note.