Review: Is this Swift Basecamp compact caravan the ultimate cycling accessory?
Cycling Plus editor-in-chief Rob popped his caravanning cherry when he hitched a Swift Basecamp compact caravan – sorry, crossover camping vehicle! – to his Skoda for the Eroica Brittania weekend. But is he a convert? Pictures: Rob Spedding/Swift Group
I'll be honest, becoming a caravanner was not something that featured high up on my bucket list. Despite the fun holidays my aunts and uncles claimed to have with their towable holiday homes neither my parents, or grown up me, had ever succumbed to the charms of hitching a tonne of portable accommodation to back of our cars. That all changed for me one weekend in June 2017…
In a happy coincidence, top British caravan builder Swift got in touch with Cycling Plus offering us the use of one their new Basecamp models just as I was resigning myself to a weekend under canvas at the Eroica Brittania vintage ride fest. The Basecamp, said Swift was the perfect compact caravan for sporty outdoors types. In fact they don't call it a caravan but a 'crossover camping vehicle'. Like an SUV you can kip in…
The Basecamp certainly looked interesting – it's more compact than a traditional 'van, weighs 'just' 879kg and designed to be towed behind smaller vehicles. Potentially perfect for me, then, as I'd recently traded in my big diesel estate for a Skoda Fabia with a titchy turbo engine. And I did have the forethought order it with a tow bar for bike racks.
For us cycling types, anchors inside the van mean that with the double bed/settees folded up you can secure a couple of bikes inside as you travel; there's a fully functioning shower that'll work off the van's leisure battery and a barrel of water if you can't hook up to the mains on a campsite and a proper kitchen for cooking up carbs and brewing tea and coffee!
So, I headed up to Kimberley Caravans in Nottingham to meet my home for the weekend. I'll admit that there was some trepidation – the only thing I'd ever towed before was a kid's trailer behind my bike and I didn't enjoy it. Plus my colleagues helpfully sent me several YouTube compilations of caravan crashes. Kimberley Caravan's Daniel seemed un-phased that he was handing a 17 grand bit of kit over to a novice and insisted that towing was easy. As long as you remembered you were towing…
Actually, he was pretty much right. Sure, the mighty 1.2 litre petrol engine of my plucky Skoda probably isn't ideal, but the Basecamp wasn't much wider than the Fabia and as long as I kept my eyes on the mirrors I could avoid wiping out parked cars, dry stone walls and, of course, cyclists… I couldn't get to more than 50mph, though, so I guess I became a stereotypical caravanner so beloved of certain TV motoring journalists pretty quickly.
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Anyway, driving done and unhitching at Friden Grange near Buxton in Derbyshire accomplished without dropping the Basecamp on my foot I settled in. And you know what? I was pretty darned impressed. Once I'd got to grips with attaching water pipes to get the shower working and for drainage, and imposing a strict number twos ban for toilet usage, the Basecamp proved to be a brilliant, well, basecamp, for the weekend.
I was sleeping on my own, but the double bed would be fine for two reasonably sized human adults; the shower cabinet was admittedly compact but this fully grown ape could wash away cycling sweat in perfect comfort; the gas oven and hob did everything you'd want a gas oven and hob to do; the fridge kept my cheese, biscuits and
gin milk cold; and neat touches like fabric storage bins that can be removed to use as bags, USB charging points and – if you're connected to a campsite's mains electric – a stowable plug tower all impressed.
As I said earlier I was using a fully charged leisure battery and that did the job for the whole weekend, although the Basecamp also has a solar panel on top for extra juice. And were I so inclined I could have hooked up a telly to the van's digital aerial. I wasn't and didn't.
Over the weekend, the Basecamp actually drew plenty of nods of approval from seasoned 'vanners [I assume that's how you refer to them…]. That might have been down to the Mod-inspired custom paint job (which itself could be a nod in the direction of Sir Bradley Wiggins as Swift supply the Wiggins team with motorhomes) but is most likely because people who regularly tow caravans could appreciate the thought and innovation that's gone into the Basecamp. I think some were actually a little envious…
As for me? Well, I enjoyed it. Immensely. And if I had £17,000 or so spare, somewhere to store it and a bigger engine then I could see myself with one of these. While it only sleeps two, add the optional awning, force your kids to sleep outside and you've got a viable family weekend trip machine!
The Swift Basecamp is available from Kimberley Caravans in Nottingham and Darlington. Prices start at £16,995 www.kimberleycaravans.co.uk/new-caravans/swift
For more information about the Basecamp, visit www.swiftbasecamp.co.uk
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