Some 8 years ago we published an article on the original Bushman, a portable fridge/freezer that has become legendary among campers and outback travellers.
We decided to revisit the brand and see what they’ve built on the reputation of their original product.
We came away amazed at the range of DC refrigeration products they offer but were really charmed by the smallest fridge/freezer in the lineup: the Bushman Roadie 15L.
Let’s get chilling and show you what’s so cool about the Roadie!
We Aussies live by the maxim: Bigger is Better!
But my experience is that sometimes Smaller is Smarter...
Take the Roadie for instance: it only holds 15 litres of anything yet costs about the same as some much bigger fridges. So what makes the Roadie a smart buy?
For starters, it’s perfect to position it between the front seats of many 4WDs and utes or in the cab of a truck, tractor or any other transportation mode where a regular cool drink should be within reach.
Secondly, don’t let looks fool you: it’s the smartest looking fridge that I know of, yet tough as guts on the outside and more importantly, on the inside.
It’ll go where you are going and it still goes when you need to take a long break.
Lastly, it’ll last.
Meaning that it’s built to probably outlast the vehicle you’re driving in. Of course, I cannot make any claims about that but just looking at the simplicity and the durability of its components gives me that confidence.
Now For the Reality Check
The Roadie arrived in a big box with plenty of protection from the packaging. It comes with a tie down kit and a lead to plug into any 12 or 24V vehicle power outlet.
Plus a small leaflet with instructions. Aussie rules say: just plug it in! It’s only a fridge....
Of course it will just work. But reading 2 pages of helpful hints will give you the most out of the Roadie.
The finish on the outside is immaculate: a glossy black with lid accent in red, yellow or white. The lid can be opened either way (just like most big fridges) and closes magnetically. A couple of insulated cup holders complement a big rotating knob to set the temperature. Temp goes from -18⁰ to +10⁰.
This means you can use the Roadie also as a dedicated freezer. Quite handy if you have done your shopping trip and getting home takes a couple of hours. The ice cream won’t melt and the meat won’t spoil.
My half hour commute into town brings the temp inside the Roadie down from an ambient 20 degrees to minus 5. So it’s very fast in getting down to business.
The Inside Scoop
So we like the exterior but what about the stuff inside which makes the Roadie a worthy sibling of the original Bushman?
Here are some of the hidden features: they use the renowned Danfoss compressor, which, coupled with “wire-on-tube” condensers for maximum heat exchange, makes for a very efficient fridge. In any fridge you have to get rid quickly of excess heat through good ventilation and the Roadie has vents on 3 sides and is aided by a big fan as well.
All of this is packaged in a strong powder-coated, well-insulated steel construction.
You can put it anywhere where it will fit but the best place is where you can tie it down and still within easy reach. It’s a heavy object (10 kg plus cans and bottles) so you don’t want to see things flying when coming to an unexpected sudden stop! That’s why the tie-down kit is important.
The two tie-down straps are fairly short (1m total strap length). It would have been more convenient if they were longer so that you can get to the tie down points available. You can always cut them to size if they were longer.
Most of the time once installed there’s no reason to move the Roadie but there are occasions when carrying the Roadie is needed. If the fridge is empty there’s no problem but carrying with a full content is not easy without proper handles. I can quickly make some straps to put my hands through to make carrying easier but a complimentary set of Bushman branded “handle” straps may be more professional... It’s a great way to make an entrance to a picnic or BBQ! Everyone will want to know about your awesome “esky”!
For my Territory, the best place is either behind one of the front seats or in the very back of the vehicle if access while driving is not much of an issue on shopping trips for instance. The space between the front seats in my car is already spoken for and sometimes we carry passengers in the middle row as well so we could also have it tied down in the middle of that bench seat, which makes it a convenient centre console. The Roadie’s size makes relocating it easy.
Talking about size: 15 litres is just the right capacity for its intended use but I like the form factor so much that I was wondering whether Bushman was considering having some bigger units along the same line.
The original Bushman fridge/freezer already starts at 35 and can be extended to 42, 45 or to 52 litres so strictly speaking, they already have the full range in these two products.
I reached out to Tom Stockdale, the director of Bushman Fridges but he indicated that “The Roadie is a stand-alone product and designed to be best in class.”
Well, I certainly agree with it being best in class for reasons we will further explore below but am hoping that the Roadie might become its own little product line after having been launched 2 years ago.
So what does the 15 litres capacity give you? Either 20 375ml cans or a mix of a 1.25L soft drink or wine bottle with other stuff you need to keep cool. It’s enough for a day’s work in the sun.
One of the things we were most interested in was how quickly the temperature would drop from ambient (and in a hot car that can quickly go very high!) to fridge or freezer temperatures.
Well, the Roadie did not disappoint. A half hour drive will get it to a useable state. If you put cold stuff in the unit this process will go faster of course or you can pre-cool the unit by switching your ignition to AUX. The draw is not very much but it’s always better to have a second battery or a jump starter battery, certainly when you go camping.
The other thing we wanted to know is how accurate is the freezer setting. Will it go down to -18 as advertised?
We used a remote temp sensor to suss out both the speed of cooling and the lowest temp reached. These sensors are around 20 bucks on eBay and the one I have has two sensors and you can set alarms if the temp goes outside of the boundaries you set. Very handy.
The Roadie cools down quickly enough as we’ve already seen and the max temp we scored (without having anything in the fridge) was minus 14.9 degrees.
That’s only 3⁰ off the claimed -18⁰. Close enough to be happy with.
The Bushman Roadie 15L is a bit of an oxymoron:
it’s sturdily built, yet elegant. It’s pricey, yet cheap in the long run. It’s small, yet big enough for the biggest truck. It’s Aussie, yet with the best foreign components.
Chuck it in your truck or make it the centrepiece in your suburban SUV.
The Roadie is the best companion to keep your cool on hot, long road trips or equally long harvest days.
And it can be used to keep the ice cream from melting or the meat from spoiling on long shopping trips.
Is the Bushman Roadie 15L best of class?
We think so and give it a 9 out of 10 rating.
Next step: get a tape measure and see where in your cab you’re gonna put this fella. Here are the dimensions: 535mm x 220 and 380mm high.
Then: check out this link for the Bushman page and pick your colour (as long as it is mainly black!)
Cool in the Hot Sun: the Bushman 200W Soft Folding Portable Solar Panel
The perfect buddy for any Bushman fridge that accompanies you on your trips in the great Outback would be a portable, foldable solar panel that will keep electrons flowing when you’re not driving.
Granted, the Roadie doesn’t take much to keep its cool with an average Amp draw of less than 0.6A per hour.
So, the 200W panel that Bushman sells for $899 is probably overkill for keeping the Roadie happy, but since when is a small fridge the only thing that needs juicing up when you’re camping?
I would suggest that 200W is just about the minimum to take to the Black Stump country and beyond.
The Bushman Solar Panel is extremely portable and comes in a 5 panel design with an attached pouch to carry all the leads with alligator clips and Anderson plugs, including a 5m long extension lead so that you can place the panels in the best possible spot. The closer to the sun the better, right? Just kidding! But you might be camping in the shade and a few metres from your van you’ll have a sunlit spot, so this extension lead is a must have accessory.
The 200W panel comes with an advanced solar controller with LCD display so you always know what goes in and what the output is. With great efficiency even less than blazing sun-shiny days will give you enough energy to keep batteries fully charged.
And keeping your phones topped off in remote areas is always a priority. 2 USB ports on the controller will just do that.
Even without having a fridge on board a solar panel is a must have accessory for any lengthy trip.
They have a generous 3 year warranty on this product - just like with the Roadie - because they know the German manufactured solar cells will have a calculated lifespan of 25 years! They'll still be working after we’ve run out of peak oil...
Just some final specs on this highly recommended product:
the whole kit and caboodle weighs only 5.5kgs in a very portable format. Closed, the dimensions are 560mm x 440 x 40. Fully open the 440 stretches to 2200mm.