The series “Long Way Up” starring Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman has just completed their 8,000 mile trek across South and Central America, all on Harley Davidson LiveWire electric motorcycles.
What we have here is maybe the most genius play against electric skeptics. If you wanted to promote how electric motorcycles can perform as good or better than regular ol’ motorbikes, this is the way to do it.
You combine the world’s most mainstream motorcycle adventure show, with the world’s most die-hard bike loyalists, the Harley Davidson crowd, with possibly the worst geography for an electric motorcycle distance test. And every second of it is being filmed.
Although the show hasn’t been released yet, Ewan and Charlie rolled into Los Angeles on the same LiveWire bikes they started the journey on, within the original time frame they had given themselves. So even before we know any details, clearly this is a huge win for the electric motorcycle.
Why Long Way Round and Down Can Influence The Public
If you haven’t watched Long Way Round, or the follow-up Long Way Down, you can stream both series on Amazon Prime Video, or watch them on Youtube.
The first journey takes Ewan and Charlie from London to New York City across Russia, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Alaska, Canada, and the northern United States. That’s over 19,000 miles traveled on motorbikes in a little over 3 months.
Here’s the final episode in Long Way Round, a recap of their first tour. This episode isn’t available on Prime Video, so it’s a nice treat if you haven’t already seen it:
A few years later, the two friends reunited with their producers for a second adventure, this time from the tip of Scotland to Cape Town, South Africa, across Europe and Africa and in places that seem pretty sketchy for anyone, let alone a couple actors who are more accustomed to movie sets than jungles.
In Long Way Down, Ewan actually takes the crew to the area in Tunisia that was home to the Star Wars set for a long time. That’s when it really hits home, that these aren’t just a couple motorcyclists making their way through a backwoods adventure. Here is one of the most famous actors on Earth riding hundreds of miles on a motorbike through treacherous terrain, and in areas where he’s worth a lot more to local kidnappers than the average person.
But that’s sort of what makes this series so interesting to watch, especially for a beginning rider. You see a person like Ewan McGregor fall off his bike a lot. Like a lot a lot. And you see him get hit by a car. And get his eyes doused with gas. He’s got more going on in his life than most of us, and yet he still chooses to risk it all for the thrill of riding a motorbike.
That kind of endorsement for riding motorcycles has a powerful effect. Even Ewan’s wife became envious and decided to learn to ride a motorbike, despite her initial fear of its inherent danger, just to join the crew on part of their journey. So, it’s no surprise that Long Way Round and Long Way Down have an influential effect on all kinds of people – non-riders, new riders, and long-time bikers who want a different kind of adventure.
The Ultimate Endorsement for Harley Davidson LongWire Electric Motorcycles
The reach and influence that this series can have on both new and experienced riders is as good as gold for the motorcycle company that sponsors the trip. You couldn’t buy that kind of marketing even if you tried.
In the beginning of the series, Charlie and Ewan actually tried to get KTM adventure motorbikes for their trip, but the company backed out at the last minute. Maybe they didn’t think the trip was achievable, or maybe entrusting their brand to a couple unproven actors seemed risky.
Either way, it could be terrible PR for a motorcycle company if the entire world watches their flagship bikes fail to do the very thing they’re designed to do: go on an adventure. And so for that reason, or maybe other factors we’re not privy to, KTM backed out.
BMW GS Adventure Bikes Took the Initial Risk
BMW stepped up and provided their top end GS adventure bikes, along with some off road training, protective gear, and support during the trip. How did the bikes fair?
They fell down a lot, like a lot a lot. And their frames broke and had to be re-soldered by some kind strangers along the backroads of Siberia. And one bike completely broke down.
But you know what? None of that mattered. These were some of the gnarliest roads imaginable, where you wouldn’t expect any vehicle to get through, let alone a two wheeled top-heavy bike. In fact, the crew’s support trucks crashed and crumbled on those same roads.
So even though we see the BMW bikes tumble a hundred times, the series is an immense endorsement for BMW Motorrad. There’s no doubt that thousands of new BMW customers were born as a result of Long Way Round and Long Way Down.
Long Way Up – A Decade Later with New Technology
Fast forward over 10 years later and the world has changed in tremendous ways. First, we now have GoPros and 360 cams and drones and all sorts of filmmaking tools to document a touring adventure.
Whereas in 2004 and 2007, during the first two series, motorcycle helmets had to be outfitted with very early adventure-cam technology that was usable at best. Most of the series was actually shot by a third motorcyclists who worked as a cameraman on both trips, riding alongside Ewan and Charlie during every harrowing minute of the expedition.
You can imagine the cat and mouse game that is required to document a motorcycle trip. First the cameraman rides up a ways, stops and gets out his equipment, sets up a shot, signals to the subjects to go ahead and ride past him as he gets maybe a few seconds of shots of the bikes going toward and away from him. Everyone stops, the cameraman puts the equipment away, rides ahead, and does it all over again.
So needless to say, we’re excited to see how filmmaking technology might change the look of Long Way Up, even though the same cameraman and crew came alongside this trip.
Harley Davidson LiveWire Range and Charging Time
But the real change here is obviously the bikes. It was hardly yesterday when we learned that Harley Davidson LiveWire bikes were ceasing production – if only temporarily – because of issues with their slow chargers. That’s in addition to the fact that the LiveWire motorcycle is not really an adventure bike in the first place. It had to be modified for the show. Modified how? No one knows yet.
Why not Zero Motorcycles FXS? It certainly appears ready for a rugged adventure, and the company has had lots of years of electric motorbikes under their belt. An endorsement like a very publicized trip through South and Central America by the likes of Ewan McGregor and company would certainly be a boon to Zero Motorcycles.
But clearly Harley Davidson is investing a lot into going electric, and so they got this gig, and now that the bikes have made it back, the stage is set for the LiveWire to make a splash in 2020.
For most people who are even considering an electric motorcycle, it’s not the price tag that’s a barrier, although $30,000 is certainly not nothing. But it’s the range, or lack thereof, in an all-electric vehicle. There’s even a word for it: range anxiety.
The Harley Davidson LiveWire range is estimated at somewhere between 100-140 miles before needing an electric refuel. If a fast charging station is available, it can be charged to 80 percent in just 40 minutes. And with Teslas and EVs growing in popularity, there’s enough fast charging stations out there that makes cross country expeditions totally possible.
Well, at least crossing some countries. That’s why a ride through South and Central America is maybe the worst idea ever for an electric motorcycle. How many fast charging stations can you expect out there? Chile currently has 4 fast charging stations. Argentina has one.
Luckily, like Teslas and other electric vehicles, the Harley Davidson LiveWire has the ability to be charged using a standard outlet. For most people who intend to ride an emotorcycle on their daily commute, this means you can plug it in overnight and have enough juice to get through everyday and even weekend adventures.
But if you’re Ewan and Charlie and you plan to ride 300-400 miles per day, stopping every 100 miles and having to wait for 8-10 hours on a slow charger is challenging, to say the least. It’s not like you can bring a spare tank of electricity with you, like you can with a spare tank of gas. That would be a spare battery, and well, the batteries on these bikes is massive. The entire bike is sort of built around the battery.
Setting the Stage for Electric Motorcycles in 2020
And yet, they made it. 8,000 miles in about 90 days, on an electric motorcycle averages to about 88 miles per day. You can expect that some parts of their journey took all day to get through a small, rough patch, in between days where they were on asphalt near cities.
It’s the times where there’s absolutely no electricity around, not even a household outlet, that seems like a possible scenario during the tour. There’s talk about the crew having to use a local’s gas generator at some point during the trip. Or maybe they ran out of juice and had to depend on their support vans? We’ll find out soon enough.
The show should be out in early 2020 and maybe by then, the Harley Davidson LiveWire will be ready to change people’s minds about electric motorcycles. Or maybe the show will open the gate to more people learning about electric bikes in general, the kinds of motorbikes the average person can get behind, like the Super 73 S1.
Anyway, you can be sure 2020 will be an exciting year for electric motorbikes. And we’re looking forward to joining in on that excitement.
Harley Davidson LiveWire – official website