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Doing the Highland sprint

The vagaries of classic bike ownership means that getting the damned things fixed when they break or wear out can involve travelling long distances. From Surrey (where I live) to Glasgow, in my case – where one of the few specialist Laverda mechanics to be trusted with these Italian beasts. So the weekend saw me load up the rolling chassis plus assorted other bits for the long trip up north to reunite the bike with its newly rebuilt engine.

Getting a rolling chassis minus the heavy bit i.e. the engine up the ramp into the back of the Sprinter kindly loaned by our friends at Mercedes-Benz was fairly straightforward – while there was no motive power to help propel the thing up the ramp it was light enough to push up with one manpower. The load bay was well appointed with plywood lining and loads of lashing points, making securing the bike and associated bits and pieces a doddle.

The van was lightly loaded, and the performance was always brisk without needing to rev the engine much

The driver was equally well looked after, with the firm seat providing plenty of support for the first part of the journey – a 230 mile schelp north to Huddersfield in West Yorkshire to collect my mate Martin who had kindly agreed to share the driving. He drives a tatty old Vito and even tattier, even older, Sherpa in his day job so the brand new Sprinter was luxury indeed. The driver’s seat was highly adjustable making it easy for both of us to get comfortable behind the chunky leather steering wheel. The cruise control and radio were both easy to use and set up, so we were quickly into cruise mode on the M1 with Radio 5 keeping us updated on Team GB’s progress in Rio. There were no rests for either the driver’s right or left feet when on the motorway, but they were fairly comfy flat on the floor, but the lack of a left rest in particular can encourage lazy drivers to ride the clutch pedal, with dire consequences for the transmission.

The cabin had loads of cubbies and bottles holders plus two 12V sockets and USB port to keep all our gadgets charged and secure, while the instruments were the usual clear and easy to read Merc white on black, with an equally easy to use central computer read out controlled by switches on the steering wheel. It was, however, annoying to find that the heater controls required both reading glasses and a trawl through the hand book to work out. Eventually on page 134 of the fat driver manual I learned that the two little squares on the right of the air selector dial meant ‘air is directed to the centre and side vents’. Surely there must be a clearer symbol to indicate this?

Another bugbear of mine is modern light switches. This Sprinter did have a ‘0’ rather than an ‘A’ position – but that still meant the lights stayed on. As a motorcyclist I rely on my headlight giving me a slight edge over cars and vans in the visibility stakes so I disapprove of modern vehicles that insist on using daytime running lights even in bright sunshine. If you can’t see a huge silver Sprinter coming your way then perhaps you shouldn’t be driving…

The large two-piece mirrors were superb, always giving clear views behind and to the sides, helped by the occasional beeping from the side proximity sensors. Oddly there was also a front proximity sensor but nothing to aid reversing.

The clutch was light and smooth, which made it even more disappointing to find that the manual six speed ‘box was a bit notchy and stiff, especially when selecting first and second. This was possibly because of the low mileage – only 8,500 on the clock when the van arrived. The ratios are, however, very well matched to the smooth, torquey and incredibly quiet 2.2-litre engine. The van was lightly loaded, and the performance was always brisk without needing to rev the engine much beyond 2,000rpm, and in fact it pulled well from 1,500rpm in the lower gears. Once in sixth, 2,000rpm equated to a real (sat-nav approved) 60mph, achieved with near silence in the cabin. Less impressive was the engine’s penchant for diesel – even at such sedate cruising speeds the trip computer never managed to register 40mpg. Sticking to legal limits on A-roads and motorways saw consumption drop to almost 30mpg.

The brakes were very progressive and would not put off anyone stepping from a car into the Sprinter, and after a bit of a push on the pedal, provided adequate stopping power. The ride and handling were pretty much perfect on the Scottish twisties, apart from some lurching from the rear axle over large bumps such as speed humps. The steering also proved to be precise and well balanced and it was sometimes easy to forget how big a van I was driving.

All in all, the Sprinter was the perfect travelling companion for a 1,000 mile round trip involving a mixture of A-roads, motorways and Scottish B-roads. The superbly comfortable seat meant the 650 mile trip from bonny Scotland to the Smoke was despatched in total comfort.

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