There’s no doubt about it, the original Long Way Round (LWR) series that launched in 2004 was a resounding success among bikers and beyond.
Following the completion of Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman’s around the world trip, BMW enjoyed sky-high sales of the GS bike they had provided the duo with and KTM were left kicking themselves having publicly ditched their offer of providing bikes, lacking faith in the project.
It inspired a generation of British riders to learn how to ride and many existing licence holders to do more than wheel the bike out of the garage for a Sunday morning ride twice a year.
Additionally, Charley Boorman became a household name in the motorcycling industry with his books and TV shows that followed, including Long Way Down, the follow-up series that saw the team transverse the African continent in 2007.
Now in 2020, Long Way Up sees the ‘Long Way’ team attempt to tackle 13,000 miles, over 100 days and 16 border crossings from the Ushuaia in Argentina to Los Angeles in the US, and this time on electric motorbikes (Harley-Davidson LiveWires).
Moving with the times
I’m quite possibly the target market for this show. A ’30 to 40-something’ motorcyclist who loved the two previous series, who would consider going electric perhaps earlier than many others, which is a difficult sale when the infrastructure isn’t quite there yet.
In fact, I loved the original so much I too was one of those bikers who realised their dream of taking ‘big’ bike trips around Europe. So, I was ecstatic to learn that the LWR team were tackling a new series, which surprisingly I’d heard nothing about until it launched.
Despite its success, the original series was a bit marmite within the hardcore motorcycle community, often criticised for how much Ewan and Charley appeared to moan about the difficulties of an around the world trip on a motorcycle, with brand new bikes, support teams and resources most could only dream of. So much so, it became the subject of a YouTube spoof, ‘Ewan and Thingy’, where the chaps would break down in tears over a broken shoelace, only to find one in an articulated lorry that was following them, loaded with kit. You get the picture. A bit mean, but pretty funny even to those who loved the show.
Hardship while circumnavigating the world by motorcycle is realistic of course. I defy anyone not to go through some kind of struggle on such a mission. But maybe quite a bit less if you have no money worries, near-endless resources and the opportunity of a lifetime – that was certainly the view of many jealous armchair motorcyclists sat at home, scoffing at the TV.
For this reason and more, this series was a big risk. Riding through rural South America is challenging enough, without the burden of a prototype electric engine.
This time the team are backed by Harley-Davidson, electric automotive technology-mogul’s Rivian, and the production juggernaut that is Apple, probably hovering in the background.
More than just travelling
Throughout Long Way Round, the journey shared with the viewer was just as much emotional as physical with Ewan and Charley. You really felt the moments of anger, frustration, joy and elation throughout the highs and lows of chasing their shadows around the world. It made it appealing to not just the bloke sat at home, but also their wives and kids too (I’m generalising, but you get my point). This was largely achieved through how open and candid Ewan and Charley were about their relationships with their families, the crew, the cameraman and each other. You built a bond with them through the TV and you felt part of the trip. I couldn’t wait for next week’s episode.
A cold start
The series jumps in with a quick start. Plans are already made. It seems like much of this time investment in building a relationship with the viewer was glazed over this time. Maybe they presumed we know enough from before. Or perhaps the LWR team wanted to avoid having to address what’s been sprawled over tabloids about Ewan’s private life since the last couple of trips. (It kind of feels that way.)
The premise of the trip is simple. To adapt some development electric Harley-Davidson’s to be able to withstand a 13,000 mile ride, with the team driving two prototype electric SUVs in tow. Rivian, the provider of the SUVs, would also be working ahead of the team to install fast charging points throughout the planned route. These installations would be left as a kind of ‘Long Way Legacy’ for future electric-powered travellers.
Once the guys overcome the usual big trip adversities and set off from the southernmost point of South America, for a good couple of episodes, you’re left wondering how Claudio (the cameraman who follows) is able to follow them without his own problems, given that Ewan and Charley seem to struggle with battery range at different times. Turns out, he’s on a Sportster.
The elephant in the room
It’s a shame that there’s little mention of Claudio and his bike for a good few episodes, until it becomes unavoidable because he runs out of petrol and the team are left trying to find a shortcut to the fuel pumps due to the South American oil supply issues; pretty ironic given the concerns for electrical infrastructure!
There’s a feeling that the cameras attempt to hide him, keep him out of shot and edit him out because he’s on a ‘gas’ powered motorcycle. I know he’s a cameraman, but he was much more involved in previous series. It’s perfectly reasonable that he rides a gas-powered motorcycle – he’ll be doing far more miles than Ewan and Charley as he speeds off to get in position for a shot, before catching the team up again.
If they didn’t intentionally avoid Claudio and his bike, they almost certainly edited out an enormous long-wheel based Mercedes van with a heavy diesel . There is mention of it, but it’s definitely around in the background of quite a few shots, following the bikes when you think they’re unsupported. There’s virtually no feature or mention of how the two Rivian trucks manage to get to South America, which is just annoying from a continuity perspective.
Some people might consider this to be ‘unfair’ and that ‘they didn’t really ride powered by electricity’. I think this is what the production team were trying to avoid by editing and clever shots. However, the aim of the show is clear – to ride electric bikes from A to B.
It’s only until episode 7 that Ewan quite honestly states “we’re not environmentalists, we just wanted to do this trip on electric bikes because it’s the future”. Perhaps if this came a bit earlier on in the series, it would have helped.
The greater good
Despite these slight bumps in the road, the show itself is an excellent successor to the Long Way Down, offering a new dynamic with this electrified chapter.
The destinations, the journey and the camaraderie are on point, all with a sprinkling of nostalgia thrown in for good measure. We get to meet Jamyan McGregor, the daughter Ewan adopted, having met her on a trip to UNICEF in Mongolia on the original Long Way Round trip back in the early 2000s.
South America provides a picturesque backdrop for Claudio’s drone work – another new dynamic – for which he needs to be highly commended. It’s simply stunning. I’m a qualified commercial drone pilot myself, so I know how difficult smooth, well-timed drone shots can be to achieve. It adds a new element to the viewing experience and actually makes the most of our 4K Ready TVs for once.
The electric impact
The show is bound to inspire riders to think electric, given the huge impact the first series had on buying habits. How many GS owners would have considered a huge touring bike before 2004? Only the ‘true’ adventurers. The GS has become much more than that now.
The team have to be applauded for having the balls to go electric. Any biker in their heart would take a normal bike to get the most out of the trip. Plenty would have watched that. Perhaps more. But of those who did watch, they might actually be inspired once again, this time to be part of the seemingly unstoppable drive towards electric transport. I’m personally already falling down a YouTube black hole of electric bike ‘How To’ videos and reviews, whetting my appetite for the 2021 riding season.
It’s truly amazing that they managed to ride that distance electric, all the while helping to improve the infrastructure of charging points along the way thanks to partnerships with Rivian.
Yes, there’s kind of a PR issue. The show is billed as ‘the guys attempting to ride electric bikes from A to B’. And that’s what it is, but perhaps not in the way many viewers would expect.
More time would have made the show into what I believe people were expecting, enabling the team to wait around for the bikes to charge in the more rural locations. I suppose the pressure of a big budget production and primarily Ewan’s film schedule made this impossible. And anyway, who wants to watch a bike charge for 3 days?
Should you watch the Long Way Up?
In short, yes.
Many petrol heads by name and nature, turn their nose up at electric power. Those as well as the purist adventure motorcyclist probably won’t like this show – they will almost certainly cringe when the guys opt to spend a fortune kitting a bus out to transport themselves and their motorcycles through a potentially dodgy area of Mexico.
Then again, most of us will never understand what it must be to be someone like Ewan, a huge potential target for a cartel on a trip like this I suppose.
For those of you who enjoy a good adventure show or have some affinity for the Long Way team, add this to your list of shows to binge. It’s seriously watchable and I found myself really looking forward to the next episode each week.
In the real world
Finally, despite the huge burden electric power was for the guys on this trip, I think electric bikes really are more than ready for most ‘standard’ road riders in the developed world, where commutes might be 20-30 miles per day, accompanied by the odd 70-100 mile blast on the weekend. Charging wouldn’t be needed away from home; so long as you have a garage this shouldn’t be an issue. I think it’s safe to say that most bikes in the UK will be under some sort of cover or safe lockup, so access to slow charging electricity shouldn’t be a huge problem.
For now, I’m not quite ready to make the leap, but excited to see what the big brands look to roll out over the next year or two. I’ll be first in line for a test ride.