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My Mercedes Sprinter Photography Adventure Van: Wiring and Power Now in Place

Very soon I’ll be heading to the mountains, now with my Sprinter photography adventure van fully armed and operational (so to speak), albeit without insulation and walls and still with a temporary desk/table. But if it’s good enough for the Darth and the Death Star, it’s good enough for me.

This has chewed up some time lately, taking two trips to Los Angeles (640 mile round trip, each). But things are now good to go and I’ve got just what I envisioned all along. May that Nikon D850 now show up please. But I have other things to cover too, so I’ll be shooting and publishing soon.

The iMac 5K travels well using the Gator Cases Creative Pro 27" iMac Carry Tote.

With this electrical setup I can work for about 20 hours on battery power with an iMac 5K and a NEC PA302W wide gamut professional display, my display of choice for all my work where evaluating sharpness and color matter. Usable power from the 5120 watt hour Lithionics battery is about 4100 watt hours, or up to 4600 watt hours in a pinch (a Macbook Pro 15" has a less than 100 watt hour battery).

With skid plates now installed and robust offroad tires, the Mercedes Sprinter Photography Adventure Van is ready to rock. The Cayenne is sold and forgotten.

I feel smug about skipping solar charging; it’s useless for my needs (but honey for foolish bees); all day on the summer solstice baking in the sun (I like shade) with dual 160W panels would produce less charging than one hour at idle from the alternator. Not only that, at idle I can easily run a 1400 watt space heater with minimal effect on the battery. I will make use of that now that it is turning colder, though I will be testing a catalytic propane heater very soon, at high altitude.

Image below is before replacing the Xantrex Freedom SW 3012 with the Xantrex Freedom XC. That change gained a ton of critically important space under the desk for legs/feet and stowage of camera bags and similar. I also moved the battery closer to the wall and to the left, gaining even more space. Table is temporary until I decide on the exact shape and height. Curtains are also temporary and the walls are not insulated or finished yet.

Lithionics 12V400A-5D-CTRL400 400 amp-hour battery and wiring panel and Xantrex Freedom SW 3012 inverter/charge in Mercedes Sprinter van

See Mercedes Sprinter: Battery, Wiring Panel, Inverter as Installed for details.

Lithionics 12V400A-5D-CTRL400 400 amp-hour battery and wiring panel and Xantrex Freedom XC inverter/charge in Mercedes Sprinter van

Below, Mercedes Sprinter cargo van, maiden voyage before any upfitting, first usage.

Mercedes Sprinter cargo van, maiden voyage before any upfitting

Mercedes Sprinter Stock Alternator Rocks: Up to 1400 watts At Idle, Can Nearly run a 1500 watt Space heater

Everything I’ve heard about the stock Mercedes Sprinter alternator is that it is rock solid. That’s what I want way down a dirt road (reliability), what I want for charging my 400 amp battery (fast reliable charging), and for running a 1500 watt space heater (delivers enough power at idle to almost run the heater on its own).

I was shocked at what I found, meaning delighted:

Mercedes Sprinter Alternator Behavior

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Mercedes Sprinter Photography Adventure Van: Light Bars Have Implications for the Turbo Intercooler

My 2017 Mercedes Sprinter cargo van came with the halogen headlights, which are not particularly bright. In the 6th decade of my life, my eyes just don’t see as well at night, and I do not find the halogen lights adequate for driving.

In particular, a dark asphalt road at night at 55 mph is too risky in not seeing a deer in time. At 65 or 70 mph on a concrete or grayish freeway it is not too bad because the road surface is medium-tone (not black), but still on the edge of acceptable out of the city, where suicidal deer often graze right at road’s edge.

So I settled on installing the Rigid Industries RDS-Series 20" light bar near the front bumper. But while this looked great, it is not without implications in blocking the airflow to the turbo intercooler. I ultimately proceeded, but only after some research as to the impact

Mercedes Sprinter: Exterior Lighting / Light Bars

Rigid Industries RDS-Series 20" - Spot
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Sprinter Photography Adventure Van: Tradeoffs in Installing Window

The 2017 Mercedes Sprinter cargo van has three areas in which pairs of windows can be installed: side windows, rear side windows, and rear windows.

Sprinter Van: Windows

Windows are not necessarily desirable everywhere in the van, and come at extra cost too.

2017 Mercedes Sprinter cargo van: Interior sheet metal cutouts for side windows behind seats
f1.8 @ 1/170 sec, ISO 20; 2017-08-27 09:10:41
iPhone 7 Plus + iPhone 7 Plus back dual camera 3.99mm f/1.8 @ 28mm (4mm)

[low-res image for bot]

Sprinter Photography Adventure Van: Installing 17-Inch Moto Metal Wheels with BF Goodrich 265/70R17 K02 All-Terrain Tires

The 17-inch Moto Metal wheels with BFGoodrich K02 all-terrain tires are installed.

Read about installation and ground clearance with 17 inch wheels on the 2017 Mercedes Sprinter 4x4:

Mercedes Sprinter: What I Chose for Wheels and Tires, Ground Clearance

Next up in Phase 1 upfitting: windows, roof fan, Lithionics battery.

Better pictures coming once I’m in the field on some dirt roads.

America’s Tire of Redwood City California mounted BF Goodrich ALL-TERRAIN T/A KO2 LT265/70R17 onto Moto Metal M0970 rim for 2017 Mercedes Sprinter 4x4

Sprinter Photography Adventure Van: Maiden Voyage Photos with Test-Run Setup

The maiden voyage for my Sprinter photography adventure van went great (aside from the hassle of having to drive 800 miles before smog would pass).

A key goal of my Mercedes Sprinter photography adventure van is to allow me to work on photography in the field as efficiently as at home (well, reasonably close). That involves taking along the NEC PA302W wide gamut display, my workhorse for image processing and evaluation, shown below as the real deal in the field as I actually worked for about 20 hours on the last trip.

The main limitation was power using the van auxiliary battery, but in early September I am getting the Lithionics 400 amp lithium battery installed, which will render all power concerns moot. That should be done by September 8, the same day the Nikon D850 arrives. I plan on heading for the mountains with Phase 1 upfitting in place so I can report right from the field without delay.

Mercedes Sprinter photography adventure van before upfitting, with temporary workstation and bed setup, doors open
f1.8 @ 1/4000 sec, ISO 20; 2017-08-09 15:13:45
iPhone 7 Plus + iPhone 7 Plus back dual camera 3.99mm f/1.8 @ 28mm (4mm)

[low-res image for bot]

For the moonlight shot below, I used the Cineo Matchbox with a 3200°K panel at about 1% output to illuminate the interior of the van; it has a 160° beam spread, perfect. Here it was powered by the optional 12V adapter; just plug into the vehicle socket and it can run a very long time, taking only 13 watts at 100% power. The Cineo Matchbox and related products maintain color consistency from 1% to 100% with a CRI of 98 and TLCI of 99 for the 3200°K panel. It uses remote phosphor technology, which is far superior to ordinary LED technology, not just for color quality but for the diffuse nature of lighting. It is very well built and extremely compact for its light output—perfect for a van if it fits into your decor—I will make it fit as the light quality is so good.

Mercedes Sprinter photography adventure van by moonlight at 11,500' elevation
f11 @ 448.0 sec, ISO 64; 2017-08-07 21:07:16
NIKON D810 + Zeiss Otus 1.4/55 ZF.2

[low-res image for bot]

Sprinter Photography Adventure Van: Delivers Aug 5, then proving it out in the field

I’m taking delivery of my Sprinter photography adventure van on August 5th in Reno, from thence before any upfitting it will get a trial run stubbed out with simple table and chair, bed platform, etc.

The main problem will be power for the computer gear; I may have to temporarily pop the hood and run things off the auxiliary battery* (basic power inverter with alligator clips), since the Lithionics 5120 Wh battery won’t go in for 2 weeks or so. Also I don't think I can take the iMac as the computer, as the power consumption may be too high for the auxiliary battery, so I’ll have to use the laptop this go-round trial run.'

* See “X27 Additional Battery Package $380” on the overview page.

Phase 1 upfitting to follow in mid to late August: Lithionics 5120 Wh battery, Xantrex / Schneider Electric Freedom 815-3012 SW 3000 watt inverter/charger, side and rear and rear door windows, marine grade flooring, roof fan, skid plates, Cooper Discovery AT/3 235/85R16 E-rated tires (11 ply equivalent).

Phase 2 will be late November; I want to give myself a few months of field use before I finalize the final built-in desk shape and other details.

Sprinter cargo van before upfitting
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NEW: Sprinter photography adventure van

Read all about my Sprinter photography adventure van.

Delivery around the end of July, upfitting phases 1 and 2 to follow.

Sprinter cargo van before upfitting

Completed: 2017 Eastern Sierra Double Century

Lloyd’s 2017 Eastern Sierra Double bib number

Weather was superb, relatively mild being cool until the June Lake area and then only a little warmer as cloud cover broke. Wind was strong coming south from Lee Vining (a boost going north, quite an impediment going south), but Hwy 120 was no problem. Even Chalfant valley was only in the high 80s and the wind was mild by comparison to last year.

I had gone up a week in advance to acclimatize and I was feeling great, having watched my diet, done some climbing, etc. I was all set up if not win then finish in the top few riders, but alas my rear wheel/tire tubular glue job screwed the pooch. It was a comedy of problems for me:

  • My SRM power meter failed at around mile 4—no wattage, no cadence, but still had speed and miles and altitude.
  • The rear tire started rubbing on the left chainstay right away, more on that below.
  • The Di2 Shifting was flaky at times at mile 100 on out.

My rear tubular tire screwed my race, or rather the bad glue job did. My local bike shop has always done a good job, but this time the results ruined any chance I had of being competitive—

  • The night before I had noticed some slight rubbing; the rubbing went away when I retightened the skewer, so this fooled me into thinking I had fixed the issue. I ought to have checked more closely, but not having a spare rear, I’m unsure what I could have done anyway.
  • Within the first few miles, the rear tire started rubbing on the left chainstay. Mild at first it steadily worsened. I stopped four times to tighten the skewer, but this did not help.
  • Climbing the big grade past Paradise, the rubbing was very noticeable, robbing me of a lot of power, and fatiguing me prematurely from the braking effect. Downhill, I could not catch any riders except those air-braking themselves, showing that the friction was substantial.
  • At mile 60 or so, I went to 140 PSI, thinking that this would slightly narrow the profile (by not allowing the tire to deform as much)—I did not want to peel the tire if I could just avoid the rubbing. This seemed to help at first...
  • By the June Lake area at mile 80 or so, the rubbing become a thump by each revolution, with a huge frictional drag that I could feel with every wheel revolution.

So at mile ~80 just shy of the village of June Lake, I stopped and peeled off the Veloflex Criterium. The Criterium was OK except for some smeared rubber on the sidewall, but the base tape was torn in one place, so the tire was kaput except as an emergency spare. The Moots Vamoots RSL chainstay was well polished and with stuck-on rubber pieces around the polish area. I mounted a Veloflex Record 22C race tire (one of two spares I carried), thinking this would clear the chainstay. Indeed it did for a while, until it blew-out 50 miles later, the tire destroyed and useless with its sidewall worn away.

Blown-out tire sidewall (by rubbing on chainstay)

At mile 130 with the first spare destroyed, I mounted my 2nd Veloflex Record spare incorrectly, intentionally: I decentered it as well as I could away from the chainstay. This seemed to work OK, because I finished that way, and the tire appeared undamaged. I think the glue might also have softened because when I peeled it off post-ride, the glue had mushed out even more, letting the tire seat more deeply (the first spare was sitting on top of ~3mm of glue in the problematic area.

The problem? WAY too much glue on the wheel:

  • So much glue that it was hard to stretch the exceptionally pliant Veloflex Record onto the wheel, noticeably more difficult than usual due to the increased circumference. In one area, the glue appeared to be ~3mm thick!
  • Most of the glue had all mushed to one side of the wheel, thus forcing the tire towards the left chainstay. It was impossible to seat the tire properly; it would seat only skewed 2-3mm to one side. This is why even the 22C Veloflex Record blew out at mile ~130 by rubbing on the chainstay.

Below, excessive glue mushed over to one side of the rim makes it impossible to center the tire properly.

Excessive glue mushed over to one side of rim

What might have happened: I had biked up Lee Vining Canyon with a daypack and on the steep descent I used a lot of braking power. My theory is that this heated up the wheel and softened the glue. Normally that would not be an issue, but the amount of glue was excessive. And so, unknown to me, the tire mushed over to one side. Then the glue hardened again, and the tire and glue were stuck fast, decentered by ~1-2mm. At first it was not enough to rub badly, but enough to just start to rub, which is why I was fooled into thinking it was a skewer-tightness issues. But as it turns out, a little rubbing begets more and worse rubbing, as smeared off rubber on the chainstay increases friction on the tire, causing more rubbing/pulling, causing the tire to shift even more until ultimately I was probably losing 50 watts from friction near June Lake with a pronounced thump at each wheel revolution. I think also that when pedaling uphill, the torque of ~250 to 300 watts must have been forcing the wheel just a bit closer to the chainstay.

Bottom line: an event that I was hoping to win turned into 18th place of 105 men and women (#6 in age group), along with two destroyed tires: the rim tape on the Criterium was torn off when peeling it, and the Record had its sidewall blown. But by mile 130, I didn’t have the energy to be upset about it any more!

Excessive glue mushed over to one side of rim
Excessive glue mushed over to one side of rim
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Completed: Davis Double 2017

I completed the Davis Double Century (Highland route), my 6th double century this year. I had a strong performance for the first 160 miles or so, but the heat or something got to me around mile 160, and I could eat nearly nothing. Even my favorite licorice I could hardly make myself gag down even a few bits. No stomach upset, just a feeling of nausea and I could only eat a little for 7 hours afterwards. My car’s cooling system having failed, it was 7 hours after finishing that I got home around midnight—long day having been woken up at 2:30 AM and starting at 5:15 AM.

Last year I was half an hour faster, and clearly a better performance (193 vs 176 watts), but being impaired the last 30 miles or so and able to produce only ~170 watts and given the heat, I was very pleased with my performance overall, which was my best this year. As far as I can tell, I was one of the fastest riders, since only two people passed me the whole day (and they were pacelining each other, a major advantage)—though I can’t rule out someone starting earlier and riding faster. As usual I soloed it (never took any draft though I did pull the fast group for 10 miles or so, passing them all by mile 100). Those pacelining in a larger group save huge amounts of energy for many miles, which is the “smart” way to ride if you want a group-effort time that is an external assist, though many riders get very upset about that idea when put into those terms (cognitive dissonance I presume).

Next up is the Eastern Sierra Double Century where the snow-capped mountains ought to be lovely this year and the fish nervous. I don't think I'll be as fast as 2016 and my chances of winning it as I did in 2015 are slim to none, as I’ve been fighting some fatigue problem for several months (allergies and perhaps food reactions). Cutting out all grains (not that I eat much wheat but I do adore Panda licorice now abandonded for the time being), and also peanuts seems to have helped in eliminating the bloating. But the heavy rain this year has every grass and tree and bush pollinating the air heavily.

2017 Davis Double power (watts) and elevation
2016 Davis Double power (watts) and elevation
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