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.
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:
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?