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Long Way Up - Going in Circles with Ewan and Charlie


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Published in: Media

Going in Circles—on Ewan and Charley’s Latest “Adventure”

In October of 2004, a new kind of travel series debuted on Sky One in Britain, “The Long Way Round.” It featured two best friends, their motorcycles, and a plan to circumnavigate the world. The duo was followed by a film crew to document the endeavor. For the average audience this was unusual and interesting television, but certainly not a “must-see” show. But for motorcyclists it was exciting, and it immediately developed somewhat of a cult following. What differentiated the series from what would have been otherwise been just a regular travel television was Ewan McGregor.

Fresh off the set of Revenge of the Sith, the third and final Star Wars film in which McGregor played the Jedi Master, Obi-Wan Kenobi, he, along with his best friend Charley Boorman, set off from London aboard a pair of BMW R1150Gses, traveling through western and central Europe, Ukraine, Russia, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Siberia, Canada and the U.S. to New York City—over a cumulative 18,887 miles. For many, the series provoked, promoted, and encouraged ideas buried deep beneath obligations and missed opportunities. It highlighted places many motorcyclists dreamed of one day exploring, and also showcased the hardships of overlanding by motorcycle in seldom seen foreign lands. Further, it touched on the connections we all have with the machines we ride and the friends we ride them with. But there was always one thing in the back of the minds of many motorcyclists, something the average television viewer likely overlooked—the chase truck.

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Adventure riders have been known to refer to themselves as the “lone wolves” of the greater motorcycle community. Exploring the backcountry or traveling abroad on bikes built and equipped specifically to handle it all. A home on wheels with only the essentials packed in their panniers. And that’s what separates ADV riders from other long-distance motorcyclists. Self-reliance and a sense of independence, able to traverse any terrain, overcome any obstacle, and negotiate border crossings, pitching their tents when the sun sets and their backs begin to ache. So, when we see a chase truck full of spare parts and emergency accoutrements, or, in this case, a petrol-powered generator, some may cringe a little.

And that brings us to the latest installment in Ewan and Charley’s “Up, Down and Around” series, which is an AppleTV+ exclusive, told via multiple episodes, highlighting the recent trip the two gentlemen took on a pair of all-electric Harley-Davidson motorcycles. The boys started from Ushuaia, Argentina, through South and Central America to Los Angeles, CA, recharging their LiveWires along the way. But for some, that’s where the adventure ends and the television began. Traveling through countries and across a continent which is not only dependent on fossil fuels but nearly absent of any electric vehicle charging stations left many motorcyclists wondering how the pair pulled it off.

Again, we turn to the chase truck, or in this case, a cadre of vehicles, including a Ford F-350, two Rivan R1Ts and Mercedes Sprinter, all of which helped Ewan and Charley keep their LiveWires, alive. While the pair did manage to charge their bikes at hotels and restaurants along the way, “fueling” their Harley’s 15.5kWh lithium-ion batteries using 120V household current—with the absence of Level 3 DC “fast charger” stations in South America—proved to be quite the hurdle.

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For those unfamiliar, the “fast charger” takes only 40-minutes for an 80% charge and just one-hour for a 100% charge. In contrast, when charging off 120V household current, it takes nearly 12-hours to fully charge a LiveWire. So, how could Obi-Wan and his companion truly call this an adventure? Where’s the thrill, the risk, or even the reward when you’re being followed closely by a film crew, chase truck and an assortment of vehicles ready to re-fill your batteries or replace your broken bikes, should it come to that?

This also raises an entirely different question. Are Ewan and Charley really adventure motorcyclists?

For many, Charley’s presence in the motorcycle industry has been felt more substantially than Ewan, especially following the release of Long Way Round. In 2006, Boorman competed in the Dakar Rally, where he filmed the series Race to Dakar, which aired on Sky 2 in the U.K. in October 2006. And while he had to retire from the race after five days due to injury, Boorman showed the ADV community that he was truly a card-carrying member. He followed that program up with a pair of shows appropriately titled, By Any Means, where Boorman traveled from his home in Ireland to Sydney, Australia with a second season taking him from Oz to Japan, both series utilizing only local transport appropriate to the area, and air travel only when there was no other choice. Those programs were succeeded by Charley Boorman’s Extreme Frontiers, another TV series created in conjunction with “Long Way” producer, Russ Malkin. With those credentials to say Charley “isn’t an adventure traveler” is ridiculous.

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But Ewan has been largely absent from the adventure motorcycling scene. Save for the occasional press conference or motorcycle show appearance, Ewan’s truancy has led many in the adventure motorcycle community to wonder whether he’s truly “ADV.” Perhaps if he made himself more available to motorcycle media, or attended a few local rallies to show his support for the industry, some of us might not be so salty?

But I don’t think this is really the question we are seeking to answer, is it? I think what we’re curious about is, why any of that really matters, and why it seems to bother some “purists”?

When Long Way Round (2005) followed by Long Way Down (2007) became available on DVD in the United States, they lit fires under the ass of the motorcycle industry. From executives to enthusiasts, the television series sparked newfound interest in long-distance adventure-style motorcycle travel—something Americans, especially, were wholly unfamiliar with. The idea of crossing continents, packing your belonging into aluminum panniers, and living out of tents while navigating the red tape of international expeditions was a powerful drug, and many were hooked. Arguably, the series opened the door to the mainstream adventure motorcycle market as we know it.

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The formerly stagnant flow of ADV machines suddenly became the Prom Queens of the industry, with everyone from Honda and Husqvarna brewing up contenders. Their trip showed us what was possible. It made the impossible journey seem possible. Not dumbing down danger, but making the risks feel worth it—showcasing the versatility of these higher powered, beefed up, dual-purpose motorcycles and, perhaps more importantly, highlighted why someone might want to own one.

As the years passed and the popularity of “adventure motorcycling” reached unprecedented heights, much of what came to bear could easily be a product of Charley and Ewan’s trip. And while the pendulum has swung from an absence of available ADV bikes to an abundance, from single-cylinder dual-sports to twin-cylinder monsters with Grand Prix horsepower, it’s important to remember where we were in 2004 when the first episode of Long Way Round aired on Sky One. Because if you consider how far we’ve come since Ewan and Charley’s first venture, we should thank the guys for their contributions to our community as opposed to belittling their efforts. After all, it’s this very content which was the springboard for the industry—for the innovation of it, and for making adventure motorcycling mainstream. And maybe that’s just what they hope to do with the electric transportation industry, too. Only time will tell.

Long Way Up available now on Apple TV+ at tv.apple.com.



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