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Is Charley and Ewan’s ride a PR disaster?

Charley and Ewan adventure on LiveWire
Ewan on a LiveWire in South America

Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman are currently (pun) riding specially equipped Harley-Davidson LiveWire electric motorcycles in what some suspect could be a PR disaster.

Critics claim their choice of bike is ridiculous. 

After all, the LiveWire has limited range (about 150km highway and about 235km city) yet they are riding thousands of kilometres from the bottom of South America to ether LA or Alaska.

PR disaster?

While Harley must be hoping it will encourage people to ride electric motorcycles, we doubt it will.

In fact, it may be an unmitigated PR disaster for both Harley and electric motorcycles in general.

We can just see them running out of juice while riding up the Andes and having to wait hours for their huge contingent of back-up vehicles to arrive.

Then they will sit around for hours while their bikes are charged up using DC chargers on the backs of their support vehicles.

Yes, we can see that could be HUGE turn-off for potential electric motorcycle customers. A PR disaster, in fact!

So if Charley and Ewan want to motivate riders to go electric, it could be a big fail.

Charley and Ewan adventure on LiveWire

Entertainment boon

But if they want to entertain, it could be a huge boon for their Long Way Up series.

Their 2004 Long Way Round and 2007 Long Way Down series were entertaining because what they did was difficult and had minimal back-up.

These days, adventure bikes are much better equipped and accessories, cameras, intercoms, etc are so much lighter and cheaper, anyone can do the same.

That’s why Charley and Ewan needed to do something different, something difficult and something that we mere mortals could not do.

They have done more than just strap on some dual-sport tyres and wire wheels.

The Long Way compatriots have cleverly organised a real adventure.

It will present heaps of dramas that will make great viewing.

In fact, we are interested to see how the cold temperatures will further erode the LiveWire’s range as batteries don’t like cold.

Tech and crew

The adventure started in September when some of the crew posted the Instagram images on this page.

Since then things have been quiet so we don’t know where they are.

There have been a few modifications to the bikes for this adventure and there is quite an extensive back-up crew involved.

Apart from new wheels, other bike modifications include: windscreens, engine guards, highway pegs, bash plates, auxiliary lights, saddlebags and fender bags.

They also seem to have removed the rear guard and plate holder.

The crew consists of two electric Rivian R1T pick-up trucks which have 650km of range.

They are also supported by two Mercedes-Benz Sprinter 4WD vans and a Ford F350 pickup truck.

So we suspect they are carrying DC fast chargers with them. 

Harley-Davidson LiveWire electric motorcycle
Mobile DC fast chargers at work

Harley claims their Fast Charge (DCFC) technology will recharge a flat battery to 80% in 40 minutes and full in 60 minutes.

Maybe the trip won’t benefit Harley’s LiveWire or electric motorcycles in general, like Long Way Round and Long Way Down did for adventure riding and the BMW GS range.

However, it should be hugely entertaining!

Harley disasterHarley-Davidson LiveWire electric motorcycle

Harley certainly doesn’t need another PR disaster with the LiveWire.

It has so far experienced one disaster after another.

Firstly the bike was delayed a month going into North America dealerships.

Then several dealerships refused to pay big money to instal DC fast chargers in order to sell them.

Sales have also been a disaster as customers have baulked at the $US29,950 (about $A44,000) ticket price.

Harley then had the PR disaster of having to temporarily pull the plug on production to fix a problem with one charger.

Long time coming

Ewan heads off on his latest adventure

The long-awaited third Ewan and Charley travel documentary has been a long time coming.

Charley has been telling us they have been planning their Long Way Up America trip for about 10 years.

The problem has been that Ewan has been so busy with Hollywood movies he could not afford a few months off.

There was also the fact that Ewan is ambassador for Moto Guzzi and Charley is ambassador for Triumph.

The pair rode BMWs in their 2004 Long Way Round and 2007 Long Way Down.

In 2015, Ewan said he may ride from California to the tip of South America on a Moto Guzzi Stelvio. That never happened and the Stelvio was retired a year later.

Charley told us last year that Ewan’s relationship with Moto Guzzi would not necessarily foil their plans:

We’ve been talking about it a long time and if the stars align we will do something like a Long Way up from Tierra Del Fuego to Alaska in the next couple of years. It really is close now. Ewan’s always had a loose relationship with Moto Guzzi so there’s no conflict there.

But rather than Moto Guzzi and Triumph, the pair have opted for the new Harley-Davidson LiveWire.

While it was thought they would go all the way to Alaska, Charley recently said the ride would go from Argentina to LA.

Maybe they don’t want to cover the same territory through Canada and Alaska that they did in the Long Way Round.

Long Way Back

It’s been a long time between trips for Ewan and Charley.

From 14 April 2004 to 29 July 2004, they rode across Europe and the USA in Long Way Round and from 12 May to 4 August 2007 they rode from the top of Scotland to Cape Town in South Africa for Long Way Down.

With Ewan becoming increasingly busy with Hollywood movies, Charley squeezed in the 2006 Dakar rally for his series, Race to Dakar, and has produced several other travel shows.

  1. Hi Mark, typo, “mortals” not “morals”. Nice article. Wish there was more press coverage of LWU.

  2. I’m in Lima Peru headed south on my DR650.
    They’ve just been spotted a few days ago just South and East of Lima.
    One bike out front, then Charlie and Ewan and one Rivien pickup behind

  3. Easy fix put sidecars on …Diesel generators in the sidecars to
    charge the bikes as they go…..Amazed the engineers at harley
    didn’t already come up with this one

  4. Touring South America with $35K sitting underneath you, experiencing life to the full as you tour utterly destitute places where the people who live there survive (and not for long before ill health, malnutrition, a drug gang or police hit squad gets to them), on a wing and a prayer and less than a dollar a day. Aren’t the poor so generous, having so little? Well, let’s see you try that without a little private army and camera crew with you. And don’t forget that diesel truck riding behind you with the spare batteries and living quarters. I mean, I’m sure South America is full of yuppy coffeehouses and electric vehicle recharge points, and that that diesel truck provided by the MoCo “isn’t there”. Try the local ayahuasca so you can tell everyone about how you met the Goddess but never had to meet a poor person or do a day’s work this past 20 years.

  5. Hmmm, I wonder why they have EXTRA lights installed? Won’t help the battery life / range, even though the current draw for the LED’s would be minimal. Surely they’re not riding at night?

  6. Hi Mark – interesting write up. My ten cents worth is…
    Long Way Round – more or less changed my life. I was so blown away by it that by 2005 I’d started ‘Biketruck’ – moving motorbikes to Africa in a truck – giving up a highly paid corporate career and looking for any opportunity to get work in and around the adventure motorcycle world. I did the Hero’s Legend Dakar Rally with Hubert Auriol (Dakar winner on bike and car) and got deeper and deeper into long distance travel, some enduro and bike rallies. Long Way Down – was more feed for the adventure in me, not as fresh or as raw as LWR but still highly entertaining. Bizarrely, I subsequently went on to work with Charley Boorman across numerous projects – all over the world. I’ve just returned from 10,000k’s across southern Africa and over the last two years I’ve done about 60,000k’s – including Australia, South America, Europe and the Middle East – all primarily off road.

    The boys get a fair bit of stick here and there – ‘rich kids’, ‘support crew’, ‘sell outs’, ‘security’, ‘money’, ‘helicopters’, ‘spare bikes’, ‘hotels’, ‘actors’, ‘plastic adventurers’ – you get the point – I could go on. Just remember, from the beginning, they’ve never tried to pretend they were exceptional riders or expert adventure riders – they filmed all the fuckups (there were many) and the bike drops (mainly Ewan) and even the arguments. They’re making a TV show – they need camera people and some sort of crew – that’s why LWR won world acclaim and was sold to over 70 countries. The book – again – won international awards and sold and sold. They managed this because they had a professional approach to the documentary and a team to help capture everything. They also had some luck and I think crested a wave that was already gaining momentum from people like Mondo Enduro, Chris Scott and of course many others less well known.

    Now here they are again – this time, right out there on a limb. Doing something that can’t really be done. Going against the grain. Creating a fair bit of controversy. Picking a brand probably nobody would have picked – yet when they had many options to choose from. Attracting the critics – ‘it’s a PR disaster’ – ‘must be getting paid big time’ – ‘where are the helicopters’ and on and on.

    I think it’s fantastic. I love the gamble. I love the way they’ve turned it all upside down and shocked everyone (no pun there Mark). I love them being ‘different’. I wish them all the best because to top LWR, they had to do something really really different. Time will tell – but I’m optimistic.

    PR disaster? I doubt it – how many PR disasters has BMW had? or KTM? How are they doing? We are living in an age were ‘e’ just about fits in front of everything we do and this new documentary may not be what the majority was all waiting for, maybe hoping for – but – it could well be the very next wave to be crested and by doing so, Charley and Ewan may just be part of that momentum, part of that new ‘e’ world that is slowly but surely creeping over us all. Warts n’all, this will be talked about analysed, criticized and probably enjoyed by thousands, if not hundreds of thousands.|

    Just my opinion… but I’m an expert in fuck all… 🙂
    Billy @Biketruck
    ps. Follow me to argue the toss but in the meantime, check out this neat little youtube clip that for me anyway, reminds me of how good LWR, LWD was… not sure who created it, but it capture it well…

  7. 60 minutes to fast charge the battery for a 150km range … Start the morning with a 150km ride, stop for a 60 min breakfast, ride a further 150km, lunch, another 150km, site-seeing on foot or afternoon tea, 150km ride, dinner. They have a crew to plan out each day, and they could easily do 600km/day. More if needed. And they have total control over editing to include a few problems and bloopers, but keep the whole story moving along and interesting.

    I don’t know why so many people want have these hang-ups about electric bikes. Firstly, the bikes themselves are ‘first generation’, so we can expect significant improvements as storage technology improves, regenerative braking, etc. Secondly, as far as fuel goes, electricity refuelling will be so much easier to rollout than oil-based (petrol, diesel, etc) ever was, be it fuel stations connected to the electricity grid (including at home, work, shops, etc), or local generation (eg at remote sites like farms, camp grounds, etc) by solar panels, wind, mini-hydro on a local river, or whatever. Compare that to the infrastructure required to have and maintain an oil-based fuel station, including transporting imported fuel by ship, through ports, out the road network to the petrol station, that uses electricity to pump it from tanks into your vehicle.

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