Going off-road on a motorcycle is already intimidating enough for some. Doing it on an electric bike—a pre-production one at that—just seems like ratcheting the difficulty from Hard to Nightmare. But that’s exactly the premise behind the new series Long Way Up, starring known motorcycle fan Ewan McGregor. And after watching the first 4 episodes, I came away with a great deal of wanderlust.
Warning: this post contains some spoilers for Long Way Up.
Long Way Up reunites Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman
Long Way Up is the 3rd epic motorcycle journey that Ewan McGregor and his buddy Charley Boorman have undertaken. Back in 2004, the duo traveled over 20,000 miles from London to New York City through Russia and Siberia in Long Way Round. And in 2007, they set off from London to the southernmost tip of South Africa in Long Way Down.
Compared to the other two trips, Long Way Up is noticeably shorter, at ‘just’ over 13,000 miles, Apple Insider reports. The route starts at Ushuaia, at the southernmost tip of Argentina in the Tierra del Fuego archipelago. From there, the route winds through Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Columbia, Panama, Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala, and Mexico before ending in Los Angeles.
However, it almost didn’t happen, The Drive reports. McGregor and Boorman drifted apart somewhat after Long Way Down, due to life, work, and McGregor moving to the US.
Then Boorman was in two serious motorcycle accidents. In the first accident, he broke his legs, pelvis, and his wrist. And in the second, he suffered a collapsed lung and swelling in the brain. McGregor re-connected with Boorman during his recovery period, and they decided to get back on the bikes for another journey.
But it’s not just the route that’s different in Long Way Up. McGregor and Boorman were conscious of how much environmental impact their journey could have, Newsweek explains. So, they decided to go electric—not just for the bikes, but the support vehicles, too.
That’s why, rather than BMW adventure bikes, Long Way Up has McGregor and Boorman on specially-prepped Harley-Davidson LiveWires. And while the support crew has two Mercedes Sprinter vans and a Ford F-350, ADVPulse reports, the main support vehicles are two pre-production Rivian R1Ts.
Long Way Up episodes 1-4: exploring and learning on electric Harley-Davidson LiveWires
Episode 1 of Long Way Up opens with McGregor and Boorman detailing their shared history and the motivation for the journey. And then it shifts into showing all the logistics that go into planning such a trip. They include planning the route, getting all the equipment squared away, and, in what is a key source of worry in the first 4 episodes, dealing with the EVs.
At the time of filming, neither the Harley-Davidson LiveWire nor the R1T was in production. Also, while the Harley-Davidson LiveWire has more range than the Zero DSR the hosts originally tried, but it’s not a dual-sport or adventure bike. So, the bikes you see in Long Way Up are essentially customized pre-production prototypes. And the R1Ts are the first two with an official Rivian VIN.
As a result, although Rivian built over 150 charging stations along the filming route, the first 4 episodes largely center around McGregor and Boorman getting used to their bikes’ range-related quirks.
They can’t camp just anywhere, unlike in their previous journeys, RideApart reports, because they need charger access. Indeed, they have to ask for outlet access at hostels, hotels, and border crossings. And more than once, they have to receive a charge from a truck-mounted diesel generator. At one point, one of the Harley-Davidson LiveWires has to be tow-charged by one of the R1Ts.
Making matters worse is the environment. Long Way Up’s main action starts with a blizzard in Ushuaia; by episode 4, the team is trying to cross the Andes. But the bitter cold doesn’t just affect the riders, it affects the bikes, too. EV batteries don’t charge well when they’re cold, especially when Level 1 chargers are the only ones available.
The sense of adventure
However, it’s precisely these trials that make Long Way Up so appealing, Jalopnik explains. Firstly, it’s a tale of 2 fast friends exploring something new together. No one’s done a journey like this on electric bikes before. It’s also something of a hard-core validation exercise for the R1T, Motor Trend reports. And how often do you get to genuinely try something new like this?
McGregor and Boorman both muse in the first episodes that watching them struggle to charge their bikes could put people off EVs. But while fast chargers may be in short supply, camaraderie isn’t. One hotel the team stays at overnight is technically closed for the season, but the owner opens it up for them. He even lets them bring the bikes in from the cold, to try and improve the charging efficacy. No one wants this journey or these vehicles to fail.
And while Patagonia’s landscape may be harsh at times, its scenery is incredible. Huge sweeping mountainsides, beautiful ocean views, and blue-tinted glaciers are all part of the Long Way Up view. Riding may require large handlebar-wrapped mitts, and to paraphrase McGregor, enough layers to feel like the Michelin Man, but the backdrops seem worth it. Plus, the Harley-Davidson LiveWires’ silent and smooth natures mean even more of the road’s sights and sensations filter through.
Although I own a motorcycle, I’ve never done a long-distance ride on it. But I’ve backpacked extensively, at low elevations and at Pikes Peak-level heights. Planning and hiking these trips isn’t easy. And like McGregor and Boorman do in Long Way Up, I’ve experienced days when the pain and trouble don’t seem worth it. But the series also shows the other side of the adventure: the joy of the struggle, of earning the new sights you see.
Where can you watch it?
Long Way Up airs on Apple TV, with new episodes debuting every Friday. As of this writing, the first 5 episodes are up. There are 10 episodes planned in the series.
But be careful: you may find yourself looking up overlanding motorcycling gear when you’re finished.
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