Hauling motorcycles on the regular? Don’t think pickup truck, think van.
For those of us who ride motorcycles for everyday transportation in addition to riding them for fun, the notion of driving a four-wheeled vehicle is practically anathema. Except of course if said vehicle is used for the express purpose of transporting motorcycles. Whether we're hauling race bikes to the track, or our non-plated dirt bikes out to our favorite off-highway vehicle (OHV) area, a capable and reliable hauling machine makes being a "cager" worth the trouble.
Enter the 2016 Ram Promaster cargo van. For the better part of 2016, the RideApart editorial team has been hauling, delivering, and returning motorcycles and scooters of practically every type all over California in this van. The handy hauler has pulled 18-foot trailers loaded to the gills with dirt bikes, and been a home away from home as we camped in it trackside at weekend motorcycle races and even delivered a palate of Pabst Blue Ribbon tall boys to a mechanical bull rodeo party. We tested the flexible van in just about every moto-hauling scenario and – despite a few ergonomic and door hardware complaints – the Promaster's low bed height, spacious cargo capacity, and in-town maneuverability had our pickup trucks collecting dust for the months we drove our big black van.
As our long-term loan is coming to an end, to say that we're experiencing some separation anxiety is something of an understatement.
Whether we're hauling race bikes to the track, or our non-plated dirt bikes out to our favorite OHV area, a capable and reliable hauling machine makes being a "cager" worth the trouble.
Our long-term test car is a Promaster 1500 low-roof model with the 136-inch (3,454 millimetre) wheelbase. Optional equipment includes a Mopar roadside safety kit, sidewall tiedown rings, navigation, and sliding doors with tinted windows on both the driver and passenger sides of the van. We also spec’d the backup camera and towing packages – two of the most oft-used features during our test.
The Promaster's huge front window, forward-placed front seats and narrow, tall stance give it very non-American looks, and we like that. It makes this vehicle easier to drive everyday – more on that in a minute.
Our Promaster came with the three-passenger rear bench seat, and while we initially loved the idea of being able to haul bikes and passengers at the same time, we quickly discovered that having the seats in place didn’t actually leave enough room for a bike. So out they came, which was a tool-heavy operation, dashing any thoughts of quickly re-installing the seats should the need arise.
We also had our Promaster upfitted with a three-shelf tool rack, including locking removable tool drawers and customizable storage compartments. The tool system was great for storing tiedowns, bike parts, and gear of any kind, and the removable drawers made getting at and moving things around super convenient. One small downside of the shelving unit was that it occupied about half a metre of valuable motorcycle space from its position over the rear passenger-side wheel well. That said, the added benefit of the tool rack more than made up for the space it occupied.
Hauling Loads: What This Van Does Best
When it came time to load and haul our first motorcycle, we were left wanting for some better-placed tiedown points at the front of the van. After a little improvising, however, we were able to use the rear mount points of the driver and passenger seats. Not being specifically designed for motorcycle transport, of course, the van wasn't equipped with front wheel chocks. But after a little more improvisation, a 1.5-metre-long 4x4 wood block fit nicely onto the floor of the van behind the cockpit, making a secure place to brace the front wheels of two forward-facing bikes.
The best feature of the Ram Promaster 1500 is its very low cargo area ingress height. The low bed removes much of the stress of loading and unloading expensive motorcycles, by removing the need to place a step at the rear of the van – even moreso for when you find yourself having to load the van alone. Behind the driver and passenger seats there’s a cavernous 8,600 litres (303.7 cubic feet) of capacity, and even with the low roof height option, moving around and securing cargo was a breeze – the windowed sliding doors on both sides helped here, too.
The Ram’s rear doors are affixed with rotating hinges, meaning you can open the doors all the way around, leaving an unobstructed load entryway. However, long-term use showed serious wear and tear here. The main rear door handle all but stopped working by the end of our test, requiring us to have to open it from the inside of the van.
On The Road
Despite being, essentially, a large box on wheels, the Promaster is surprisingly easy to maneuver in tight areas. Forward visibility is excellent, as are side and rear views, thanks to those large (optional) windows. The high-resolution backup camera and lots of proximity sensors are good for parking and negotiating tight city passages, too.
At speed, the Promaster’s dynamics can be separated into two distinct personalities: Empty Van and Loaded Van. Full of cargo, the stuffed Promaster felt planted on the road – adding a lot of weight will do that, obviously. Driving the empty van, however, was less confidence-inspiring. When unencumbered, we experienced a lot of wheel hop from the rear suspension, and in heavy crosswinds, the van was often a bit much to handle. It’s not nearly as pleasant and all-around easy to drive as, say, a Mercedes-Benz Sprinter or even a Ford Transit. In terms of the Promaster, we always preferred driving it with a full load out back.
Comfort And Ergonomics
The interior fit and finish is utilitarian but not austere. The Uconnect infotainment system, with its integrated Bluetooth and navigation functionality, is a breeze to use, and amenities like satellite radio and a leather-wrapped steering wheel are small but upscale touches that add a bit of everyday-car pleasantness to this work van.
Driver’s seat comfort leaves a lot to be desired. This cab-forward, high-up seating position is awkward compared to pretty much anything else on the road, but not atypical for this sort of Euro-style van. It’s just not comfortable on the long haul – you can’t ever really stretch out or settle in. Sliding the seat all the way back still doesn't add any real legroom, and even then, the steering wheel becomes too far away to operate comfortably.
Engine And Performance
Promasters are available with a couple of engines, but we went for the 280-horsepower, 3.6-litre V6, matched with a six-speed automatic transmission and front-wheel drive. Given the light weight of the van when unloaded, this thing will actually do the 0-60 miles per hour (0-96 km/h) run in just over eight seconds, which is kind of impressive. Having that much power on hand makes it not feel so sluggish when loaded up, too. Most importantly for long hauls, we found that we could get just about 600 kilometres of range from a single fill-up of the 91 litre fuel tank.
The front-wheel-drive setup of this van provides surefooted handling when the surfaces get slippery, but we’d much prefer a rear- or all-wheel-drive configuration for times when we’re towing.
After six months of living with the Ram Promaster 1500, we’re genuinely sad to see it go. Despite a few shortcomings, it proved to be a fantastic motorcycle hauler – better than any pickup truck, hands down. The security of keeping some of the beautiful bikes we haul every week covered up and out of the elements was a huge plus, that makes us dread going back to the old pickup truck routine. You might not consider a van as the answer for bike duty, but it’s a surprisingly livable and pleasant way to handle all your work with ease.
|2016 RAM PROMASTER 1500 CARGO|
|OUTPUT||280 Horsepower / 260 Pound-Feet|
|WEIGHT||2,117 Kilograms (4,667 Pounds)|
|TOWING CAPACITY||2,313 Kilograms (5,100 Pounds)|
|CARGO VOLUME||8,600 Litres (303.7 Cubic Feet)|
|AS-TESTED PRICE||$38,640 USD (US model tested)|
Photos: Jessie Gentry / RideApart