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Keep On Truckin’ – Building the Dirt Norco Team Bus

From Dirt Issue 113 – July 2011

Words by Ben Reid. Photos by Ali Beckett.

Many people think that pro sponsored riders spend all of their off–season in the gym or getting massages or drinking protein shakes…if only! It has been well documented in the mag that racers Ben Reid, Dan Stanbridge and mechanic Ali Beckett decided that they wanted to do their own thing, so around 18 months ago they set up the Dirt Norco team. It takes a hell of a lot of time and effort to run a team. Many hours spent behind a computer talking with companies, making deals and plans…and then of course there is the team bus. Here’s Ben… Mike Rose

Right, time to write some words about this thing. Firstly I thought it was time the team had a new vehicle as we were begging to outgrow my current van. I had a vision of the kind of vehicle and set–up the team should have and knew this was not something I would be able to go out and buy. I took on the project of converting a low floored welfare bus into a motor home/race truck in Feb 2010. You might remember a photo of this in Dirt last year when I first started the conversion. I had to shelve the project during last season to go ride some bikes and in September 2010, when I got home, I got back to work on it again. So, here is a little bit of an insight to what has went on with the project since it was last seen here in Dirt.

For some racers I think the off–season is a time to relax and catch up with friends, but I knew it was going to be a mission to get all the little jobs done in time for the 2011 season so I’m not going to lie, for the last 6 months I’ve pretty much locked myself in the shed and distanced myself from everything and everyone to make sure I got on with the job without distraction.

When I got home in September, there lying in my shed was the bus just how me and JR (my dad) had left it. Stripped down to the bare frame and in one hell of a state. It was a mess, not only did the bus have no side walls, it was packed full of old bike boxes and there was even a stray dog sleeping inside that had made itself at home over the summer months.

I’ve been lucky to have big JR on board the whole way through this project, his work is second to none and I would have been stuck without his input. However I very nearly lost him from the team when I brought this next idea to the table! I had been toying with the idea of raising the roof height to gain a bed above the cab and enough space inside for a false floor (to contain large water tanks underneath and storage for all the awning extrusions). JR had resigned at this point “We’d of been better off starting with four wheels and a chassis” he said. It took some work to get him back on side and I convinced that cutting the roof off was not such a bad idea. I can’t really blame him, JR works from 7am to 5pm Monday to Friday and this massive add on to the project was not something he needed to hear about. I can do a lot of the work myself but this was a big job and I needed JR’s help. Whether it be shortening the chainstays of a downhill bike or helping me put a 250f motorbike engine in a big wheel 85 JR has always been right there, this time was no different and as always he came through and gave it his all. Every evening after a long day’s work he would join me up in the shed and most nights the temperature never got over zero degrees. JR can pretty much do anything, but to take the load off him a little I went on the hunt to find someone that could manufacture a fibreglass pod for above the cab. I finally found a man willing to take on the challenge and once the price was agreed I went ahead and cut the roof off the bus. Two dodgy old trestles and three jacks were used to bring the roof up to height, we lifted it 14inches and at that point it was touching the roof of my shed so we dropped it an inch and welded her up at that. We took some time over welding the roof back on to insure all the uprights were as straight as possible to make the next job of re–sheeting the sides much easier. Once we had the bus re–seated it was off to my fibreglass man for him to construct and fit the sleeper pod. The bus was only supposed to be out of my hands for 1 week, which meant I would have it back just before the Xmas holidays and would able to continue work. However it turned out my fibreglass man was a complete cowboy and not only did I not get the buss back till mid Jan but we had to spend an extra two weeks putting right his shoddy work, this put us behind schedule big time and meant a lot of late nights were ahead to make up some time. Once I got it back me and my dad got stuck in to whatever bodywork needed done to get it ready for paint, all the side skirts, trim, and doors were fitted.

My good friend Johnny Bradly, who has painted all my previous vans, helmets bikes etc., was roped into painting the bus and the next challenge was finding a big shed to paint it in. My grandparents Norma and Ivan had the ideal shed so we turned that into a spray shop for a week. Once we got it in there another week was taken to prepare the bus for paint. Once painted I was able to fit all the custom made windows and doors. The water tanks were also custom made, they were set in place and the false floor was laid over the top. I was then able to insulate and sheet the inside of the bus, cutting out and making window frames along the way.

At this point I dropped tools for five days to complete my HGV driving test, I did this through Ian’s School of Motoring and was joined by wing man Andrew who was also hoping to sit the HGV test. Andrew was a council worker and needed his HGV so he could move up the ranks to a sweet driving job such as driving bin lorries. Andrew was a good lad and full of craic, says he hasn’t worked a day since he started with the council, “It’s a handy wee number” he would tell me. Our tutor was an old boy called Johnny Dolen who was as much of a comedian as a driving instructor. You could not take this man serious ‘at all’ and I would almost go as far to say ‘at all at all’ as Johnny would say more often than not. So myself and Andrew sat through hours and hours driving the lorry and learning from Johnny’s riddles and old school one line jokes. Such as “I only ever had one argument with the wife” long pause…“It started 27 years ago and has gone on ever since”. It went on like this all day, one joke after the other. I’d be turning the lorry 180º on a mini roundabout, chuffed with myself for not scrubbing any kerbs and I would ask how it was and he would be like, “hold on I’m telling you a joke here” all pissed off that I interrupted. He was some craic and his teaching methods clearly worked as both myself and Andrew got the big pass.

It was now getting to the time when I needed to start planning the art work and like every other off–season my good mate Andy Mearns was keen to help me out, so a few evenings were spent down at Andy’s house drawing up some ideas.

The plan for this winter was to focus on getting all the body work in a finished condition and to have the graphic work completed as well as getting the awnings made and logoed, any time left over to get work done on the inside would be a bonus and I wasn’t really planning to do much more for this season than throw a couch in the back. However the next hurdle was getting the bus taxed and insured as a motor home and this meant an inspection was in order to complete the changeover. This changed things a bit and I had to get the vehicle fitted out to a point where it was passable as a motor home. Hopefully by the time you read this it will be passed and we will be well on the road!

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