The third installment of the “Long Way” series is finally live on Apple TV – are you going to check it out?
I’ve been given screener access to the whole season so I’m about halfway through the show, but I’m only allowed to discuss episodes 1-3 with you as of today as those are the only ones that are live. I’m going to assume that you’ve already seen Long Way Round (2004) and Long Way Down (2007) and are already familiar with Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman by now – if not you can buy the DVDs or possibly stream them (but I haven’t been able to find a service with them on it currently). If you only have time for one, I much prefer Round over Down.
Here’s a few of my thoughts through the first 3 episodes!
Episode 1: Preparation (46 minutes)
Things immediately kick off with a modified version of the original Long Way Round theme – they change the lyrics slightly for Down and now Up as well. Great way to get you right back in the swing of things for fans:
My favorite episodes of the other Long Way stories were the first ones, because they lay out plans and preparation – where they’re going, how they’re going to do it, and why they selected the bikes they went with (BMW R1150GS and R1200GS for the previous installments). The scene in Long Way Round where Charley and Ewan find out that KTM isn’t going to support their trip always gets a laugh out of me…and would eventually lead to a lot of BMW GS sales.
Things are no different this time around – Episode 1 is by far my favorite of the first three. In the beginning, you learn that Ewan always thought there would be three of the Long Way stories, but “life got in the way.” They got reunited after Charley had a bad motorcycle accident, and they decided to embark on a 3 month trip from the bottom of South America to Los Angeles. The duo made a big news splash a few months ago when it was revealed that they were doing this trip on the new Harley-Davidson Livewire, but there’s a great anecdote early in the episode where Ewan says that he was planning on a solo motorcycle trip from Los Angeles -> Tierra del Fuego for years. So what does a man with plenty of resources and lots of experience going around the world with big adventure bikes select when he’s traveling without support or a camera crew?
But if you’re not going to go solo and you’re instead going to ride with a big production crew and make a TV show out of it, then why not get something new and fancy? Why not try something really radical and go electric? Ewan seems to be a proponent of a future with protons and electrons – much of his house runs off solar power, and he’s getting his beautiful ’54 VW Beetle converted to electric by EV West. As one of the producers (Russ Malkin) later says, there’s “not many frontier moments in motorcycling…you’d be the first people to go this sort of distance, charging as you go.”
So Ewan and Charley take the lead on finding a bike, while Russ and another producer (David Alexanian) handle logistics. A group discussion covers that the Big 4 from Japan don’t have anything capable of this trip, so they start looking at established electric motorcycle manufacturers, including a test ride of the Zero DSR Black Forest Edition. It would be easy to assume that Harley threw a bunch of money at them, and I have no idea if that’s true or not – though the way a couple of scenes were filmed/edited made me think it was a possibility.
They then visit EV West to pick the owner’s brain, who tells them that they’re going to get a max range of 70 (even though the Zeros they just tested would easily get more than 100 (but no matter what, it’s not an encouraging number). He also says he’s interested in their story because he thinks it’s impossible, which makes for good television, I guess.
The elephant in the room, of course, is “how are they going to charge their bikes on the trip?” Well, something fascinating happens when they go talk to Rivian, an electric truck manufacturer. They talk to the CEO, RJ Scaringe, who says Rivian wants to support in a big way: “this will be the first electric drive from the tip of South America to Los Angeles, so part of that story is that we’re building infrastructure to support that.” Incredibly, Rivian commits to installing 150 quick charge locations along the route to be ready for this trip and obviously stay in place for the locals and future travelers:
Harley-Davidson dedicated 6 guys to build a prototype of a more off-road friendly LiveWire. They don’t specifically list out the modifications, but I saw crash bars, windshield, handguards, skid plate, rear rack, much thicker seat, luggage, spoked wheels, more suspension travel and a high rear fender:
Kudos to the team at Harley, because everyone who worked on the project apparently just did it on nights and weekends outside of their day jobs.
The day of departure draws nigh. We find out that the goal is to cover approximately 130 miles a day (13,000 miles in 100 days), and then everything gets shipped to the bottom of South America! As if all of this wasn’t difficult enough, they basically start in a blizzard.
As you’d imagine, there’s some serious teething problems at the start of the trip. Everything from a vehicle standpoint is a prototype, and there’s a steep learning curve. On the flip side, their gear is well-established – I spy:
– Wolfman Luggage
– Arai helmets
– Sena communicators
– Garmin Zumo GPS
– Belstaff protective gear
From this point on, your enjoyment of the show will be highly dependent on how much you like Ewan and Charley as bantering buddies, because they’re not covering a ton of distance and it feels like a lot of the footage is just dealing with range anxiety and charging hassles in varying forms. They specifically mention at the beginning of the trip that they didn’t want the show to be all about charging, but it’s a problem every ~100-ish miles, and if you’re trying to average 130 miles in a day then it’s going to happen frequently. All I’ll say is that having seen how much of a pain it it is to edit videos with even the tiny adventures that I’ve done, I do not envy the people that had to edit this all together.
One good example is a scene where the boys pull into King Penguin Park. I told Vy to come over to check it out because she loves cute animals, but she was instead greeted by a bunch of screen time about how concerned Ewan and Charley were because they couldn’t find a place to charge while they were supposed to be looking at penguins, as they needed to top off the bikes to get to their destination that night. Vy’s joking response: “I saw 30 seconds of penguins and 3 minutes of charging talk. You ripped me off, Abhi!”
Because they weren’t able to get more of a charge, they had to change their plan for the evening and stay in a different hotel. But it was one of the worst winters Argentina/Chile has seen in decades, so the bikes were too cold to charge at night and they had to bring the bikes inside. Meanwhile, their support trucks are on a different route with the plan that everyone would meet at the border, and they’ve both run out of battery and a backup diesel Sprinter van has run out of fuel. It’s madness, which means it’s entertaining…for a few minutes. But this kind of thing can easily get repetitive, so I’m hoping they can get it sorted for future episodes.
One interesting tidbit that comes out from all this is that the Rivian truck can be charged while it’s being towed! In Episode 1, it’s said that 1 hour of tow-charging can get the battery from empty to 50% – that’ll be an appealing feature for RV owners….or TV shows that have support trucks with them.
They covered 235 miles in this episode, but we’re not told how many days it took them to do so.
Episode 3: Southern Patagonia (45 minutes)
Episode 3 begins as Episode 2 ends – two riders nervous about the range of their electric motorcycles. Ewan and Charley are in a race against time, they have 3 hours to cover 65 miles and get on a ferry. That…doesn’t sound difficult, but Ewan runs out of charge about a mile away from the port and he then has to get towed by holding on to the B-pillar of a Rivian.
The boys stop at an eco camp for the night, and we get to see some behind the scenes about how they get their power from turbines powered by a local stream. So it’s pretty cool that the LiveWires are being charged by water. Except, when Charley goes to check in on the bikes in the evening, you’ll never guess what happened – the bikes stopped charging. This is a common theme so far and a reminder of how crucial infrastructure is to make a trip like this work. Weirdly, the next morning both bikes were completely dead. Turns out that main battery which powers the electric motor was fine, but the 12V battery that runs the ECU had died. They get jump starts from a car and all is well, but the lack of charging throughout the night means they just have ~45 miles of range to start the day with. They have such positive attitudes, but I would find this incredibly tedious.
We get our first peek at the camera bike, which is a gas-powered Harley-Davidson XL1200 Roadster in Stone Washed White Pearl with knobbies and who knows what else in terms of modifications:
There’s flashes of fun with Ewan and Charley having a good time and joking around, but every evening they’re in the same situation: trying to find a balance between not going too fast because that depletes the battery quickly and not going too slow so you don’t have to suffer through the cold night before you can get to the hotel. I bet the XR650L probably sounds pretty good to these guys right about now. The helmet camera footage footage shows that they typically cruise at 30-40 miles per hour, even when they’re on highways.
Part of what makes this trip difficult is that they have to go through some of the most remote locations early, and they haven’t gotten into a good routine about charging yet. At one point they have to call up a truck loaded with a diesel generator to charge the bikes, which is 50% amusing, 50% disappointing. Long Way Round did a fantastic job of capturing the joy of exploring with a buddy and highlighting interesting things along their journey. Through three episodes, Long Way Up has just taught me that touring on an electric bike does not seem worth the effort (but it does make me want to try a LiveWire).
In the first episode when the group is discussing going electric in the first place, David (one of the producers) says that “I think some of the best parts [from previous Long Way stories] are when you’re…going out and into it [the remote wilderness]. I wouldn’t want to sacrifice that.” They’ve been sacrificing a lot of it so far. I know that Ewan and Charley looked at this as a challenge – would it be possible to ride electric bikes from the bottom of South America to Los Angeles? Challenges are cool, but in this case it’s not particularly entertaining for the viewer and the lack of range really limits what they can see, and therefore what they can show. Near the end of Episode 3, Ewan says “I don’t want to discourage people from using electric bikes because I think they’re amazing. It’s just difficult to get these long distances from them at this time.” We’re two weeks into the trip and they haven’t covered 1,000 miles yet.
Will I keep watching? Yeah – I’m hoping that Episodes 2 and 3 were intentionally edited to emphasize the struggle so viewers feel like the talent is putting in their dues and that things will get easier and happier coming up soon. I’m going to give it a few more episodes, but if the next couple have a similar percentage of time dedicated to charging woes and not the amazing things people should be seeing in South America, I’ll probably give up. With that said, I really loved the first episode and I would be delighted to watch an in-depth video about what Harley-Davidson did to the LiveWires to prep them for this trip.
I’m flirting with the idea of covering the rest of the episodes in a similar way to this post – is that something you’re interested in? If you want to watch along, you can give Apple $4.99/month for a couple of months and watch the series. Or if you’re ambitious, I guess you can wait for all the episodes to come out, try the 7-day free trial, and then cram them all in…
Here’s the trailer, and below you’ll find the press release. Enjoy!
The trailer for “Long Way Up,” the epic, new Apple Original series from stars Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman is now available. The first three episodes of the 11-part unscripted series will premiere globally on Apple TV+ on Friday, September 18. New episodes will roll out weekly, every Friday.
“Long Way Up” reunites McGregor and Boorman for the ultimate adventure in travel and friendship after more than a decade since their last motorbike adventure around the world. In their most challenging expedition to date, the two cover 13,000 miles over 100 days from Ushuaia at the tip of South America to Los Angeles. In order to contribute to the sustainability of the planet, the duo travels on modified electric Harley-Davidson LiveWire® motorcycles.
Using cutting-edge technology, they travel through 16 border crossings and 13 countries along with their longtime collaborators, directors David Alexanian and Russ Malkin, who follow in the first two electric Rivian trucks ever made.
“Long Way Up” was created and executive produced by Ewan McGregor, Charley Boorman, David Alexanian and Russ Malkin.
Apple TV+ is available on the Apple TV app on iPhone, iPad, Apple TV, iPod touch, Mac, select Samsung and LG smart TVs, Amazon Fire TV and Roku devices, as well as at tv.apple.com, for $4.99 per month with a seven-day free trial. The Apple TV app will be available on Sony and VIZIO smart TVs later this year. For a limited time, customers who purchase a new iPhone, iPad, Apple TV, Mac or iPod touch can enjoy one year of Apple TV+ for free. This special offer is good for three months after the first activation of the eligible device.*