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Ewan and Charley vs YouTube Motorcycle Overlanders – What’s REAL motorcycle adventure travel?

By 25.09.2020September 28th, 20208 Comments

Most motorcycle riders are familiar with the “Long Way” series with Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman. If you’re not, the three seasons where the duo travels round, down and up the world on motorcycles are an inspiration for many motorcyclists. The series is very well filmed, fun to watch, and, even if you’re not into motorcycling, definitely binge worthy in my book!

The one critique that the ‘Long Way’ series always gets is that these are not real adventures, because all their gear (including the bikes) is being sponsored, they have a team helping them prepare, and on the road they have 2 support cars with a doctor, security specialist and small film crew.

Less of an adventure?

While all this is true, does it make it less of an adventure? In my opinion it does NOT! Is it different from what most of us do? In some ways sure, but in the most essential ways not! Did Ewan and Charley not ride all these miles, did they not do these deep and sometimes scary river crossings, did they not suffer on some of the worst sand, mud and clay roads? Did they not pick up their own bikes after coming off? Did they not do their own road side fixes when the bike broke down? Did they not meet wonderful people along the way? Did they not go (wild) camping? Were they not invited to share food and a roof with locals? Will they not remember this for the rest of their lives? Did they not fulfil their dreams?… Of course they did all of these things, just like anyone else traveling the world on a motorcycle.

source: longwayup.com

In fact there are only two differences between Ewan and Charley and most other motorcycle travellers. (1) They filmed it professionally and shared their adventures with the world (2) They had the financial means to outsource preparation and mitigate risk, like arranging visas and carnets, having support vehicles with spare parts, a doctor and security specialist. I guess…the real question is… would it have been more of an adventure without these things? Hmmmm… let’s see…

Season 1 – Long Way Round

Looking back at Long Way Round (2004) I can think of only one situation where the ‘luxury’ of having a support team made it less adventures, and that’s the river crossings on the road of bones to reach Magadan, where the support team had arranged a big offroad truck to carry the motorcycles (and support vehicle) over the water. Would it have been more adventures without that truck? Probably, but it would have definitely been more dangerous. And that’s exactly what the support team was for. To mitigate risk.

Season 2 – Long Way Down

For Long Way Down (2007) I honestly can not think of any situation where having the support team made the trip less adventurous. In fact, there were two situations where the support team made the trip more adventurous. The first when one of the vehicles tipped over and the second where the support vehicles had difficulty crossing a big pool of mud in Kenya. That’s not to say that more ‘drama’ equals more adventure, but often these are the moments we remember best. In this situation, where everyone was helping to get the cars across, the viewer can see the team dynamics changing. From that moment on there’s no longer two motorcycles. In stead there’s just one team consisting of a bunch of guys with 3 motorcycles and 2 cars, going on the same adventure.

Season 3 – Long Way Up

At the moment of writing, only the first 3 episodes of Long Way Up (2019) are out. Season 3 is a bit different because of the electric component. Ewan and Charley are riding Harley Davidson Livewires and the support team is driving two Rivian trucks. Already two times a mobile diesel generator had to be called upon because the bikes ran out of power with no way to charge. Is this a luxury other motorcycle adventurers wouldn’t have? Yes! But then again, I don’t think any other motorcycle adventurer would even think about riding an electric bike through big stretches of ‘nothing’ in Patagonia. Choosing to go electric ads a whole other challenge to motorcycle adventure.

Long Way vs YouTube

16 years ago in 2004, Ewan and Charley were a bit of pioneers in filming their adventure. With the movie-like production of their first and second journey, they brought adventure motorcycling to the masses.

They were not the first motorcycle travellers though. There are many who did it before, but in pré YouTube times, how big was the audience that could be reached? There were only books, magazines, newspaper and only in the late 90s the odd blog started popping up. Here’s an interview between Sam Manicom (himself quite famous in the motorcycle adventure world) and Ted Simon (the godfather of motorcycle overlanding as they call him), who rode the world solo starting almost 50 years ago, in 1973.

A lot has changed since then. Now we have YouTube, GoPro, Affordable video editing, Drones and more. Recording a motorcycle journey doesn’t require a crew, boxes of tape and helicopters anymore. You can carry all equipment on your bike, and shoot & edit the footage yourself if you’ve got the time, some talent and a bit of money.

YouTube motorcycle overlanders

Searching YouTube for ‘motorcycle travel vlog’ will render you thousands of hits. From there it’s a bit of trial and error to find the ‘Long Way’ – like channels. Here’s a selection of some of the motorcycle overlanding channels I enjoy following:

Lyndon Poskitt – Races to Places

Itchy Boots – One woman, riding solo around the world

Forty Times Around – Vlog, tips and tricks from Tim

On Her Bike – Kinga, solo from Australia to everywhere

Pedro Mota – Follow Pedro to the end of the world

The men and women above are true adventurers. They travel the world on a motorcycle, alone, without a support team and without a team helping with preparations. Are they more adventurers than Ewan and Charley? They definitely have balls, that’s for sure. The risks on these trips are big. From accidents, to breaking down in the middle of nowhere, hostile environments in some countries, etc. Furthermore these guys and gals do all the video work themselves which is hard work. Take for example, a shot where the motorcycle is passing through a corner… Ewan and Charley just keep riding while Claudio (their cameraman on a motorcycle) rides ahead to take that shot and then catches up later with them. The YouTube guys need to ride ahead, put the camera in position, ride back, turn around again to ride the corner for the actual shot, then ride back to pick up the camera again.

Did Ewan and Charley have less of an adventure than these men and woman? Again, I’d have to say no! I guess it all depends on how you define adventure. Is adventure related to the amount of danger you expose yourself to? Is adventure related to the amount of preparation you (don’t) do? Is adventure related to how much video work you do? Or is adventure experiencing the road, the scenery, the people, the culture and overcoming obstacles while riding motorcycle? For me, it’s the latter.

Are ‘Long Way’ like TV series still of this time?

I had to think long and hard about this one to be honest. No doubt YouTube is taking a big piece of the pie (the pie being our attention) nowadays. It’s my go to source for gear reviews, motorcycle reviews and more and more for entertainment too. Still I’m currently in anticipation of the next episode of Long Way Up. More than the next video of any of the channels mentioned above. Why? Maybe it’s nostalgia (Ewan and Charley are around my age), but it’s also the production quality of the whole series. Sure, as a solo YouTuber you can make really great videos, but there are shots and situations that can only be filmed with a crew that’s 100% dedicated on making a great TV show. And as a solo YouTuber you only have so much time to edit your videos while on the road.

So, Ewan and Charley… how does Long Way Diagonal sound?



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  • Ramiro Varela Benvenuto says:

    I am in strong disagreement with your perception. Money changes everything. And in this case they have all good and bad things a lot of money can bring. You can see the money thing in the eyes of many people they find along, in how they are treated… and, for epic is proportional to effort. Their effort is greatly reduced when compared to other overlanders. It is completely different and, to me, much less significant.

  • Mark says:

    I had it the other way around. I saw the two Long Way shows and was amazed. Then I discovered the youtubers who did it solo, with no support, and I thought… I’m not watching another Long Way film.

  • Sean says:

    The Long Way real? Nope, definitely not!

    Over-landing to me is about challenge; it’s about taking on the world (in a limited way) and overcoming whatever that world throws at you, yourself. It’s about self-reliance, and having a back-up team to help you through it all, defeats the purpose; it turns life into a soap.

    But then millions of people like soaps! 🙂

  • Dirk says:

    I fully agree with you.
    Myself, I discovered the long way series during corona lockdown – as a sort of escapism being stuck in my own four walls. How come I have not had noticed this before? Stupid me.
    Anyway, after that I (or the YouTube algorithm) discovered lots of channels of motorcycle overlanders. I have been closely following Kinga and Noraly now. Great!
    But still I admire Charly and Ewan. Not only for their riding skills (Kinga is better) nor for their authentity (Noraly is better at this). Not only are they pioneers and alone for this reason they must be honored. But they are also very entertaining – they must sure be as actors. They and their cameramen and director know how to produce a show like this. And a show it is! This is made for guys like me stuck in my own four walls dreaming of traveling the world.
    I am sort of reserved concerning the LiveWire thing. This makes it a bit like fake. But still I am looking forward to AppleTV One this fall and then I will definitely watch Long Way Up.

  • Brad Schafferius says:

    Noraly and Kinga leave them for dead. There is no comparison.

  • Kam says:

    In general, I am a fan of Charley and Ewan. Although, I haven’t watched the recent epic overloading expedition on electric bikes, I have watched Long Way Around half a dozen times. Great to watch in winter or spring when there is really nothing else that comes close from a production point of view. I think we all wish we had an army of drones and GoPro shooting every angle of our rides and to then have some media expert stick and edit the raw footage. Even Kinga and Lydon Poskitt have help with the editing process before posting to YouTube. I guess my point is, some of the better adventure docu series on YouTube or other ( Apple TV, Netflix, Hulu, etc. ) have a fair amount of production around them. It does make them more appealing to the eye. Nothing like having short 6 second transitions between angle shots, new scenery, etc. I guess my point is, the answer to the question has two perspectives. Enjoyment from the riders point of view or from the audience.

    Not all of us are professional hard core enduro racers and riders like Lyndon Poskitt. I sure wish I was. I love his Dakar and Africa Eco race series. I personally think his footage of Dakar Rally races is far better than the official TV coverage. Amazing perspective from a mally moto racer.

    Put pushing into my 60s, I try to keep my brittle bones safe so I can ride for at least another decade. I have travelled the entire Rockies several times on a Yamaha WR250R. For my level of skill, that was my biggest adventure. For me adventure is pushing your boundaries both from a cultural and riding perspective. But, we all have different levels of skills.

  • Bart says:

    This is such an interesting discussion. Here and elsewhere. They are all stories, around the campfire travel re-telling, communicated with more or less complexity, technology and sophistication.

    Look up “Hawthorne Effect” and “Heisenburg Uncertainty”.

    The only true is alone, unobserved.

  • Zarathustra says:

    You could say C&E are more of posers than adventurers. But that is ignoring the herculean effort they had to put into their adventure. It was so much more than just buying, or being gifted, a trip. I have big respect for the fact that they made it around the world. And south Africa to South Africa from UK. And north South America up to United States, on electric bikes. So IMHO they are adventurers who are also posers. But all the fake drama put me completely off watching their shows. YouTube channels like C90 adventurers, Noraly, Itchy boots, etc. are better.
    However, first to videotape around the world trip. Nope, that would be Austin Vince and his pals in Mondo Enduro.

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