The famous Long Way motorcycle documentary series returns, and this time Ewan and Charley are riding HarleyDavidson ® Live Wire® motorcycles. Only one question: where should they plug them in?
Long Way Up is available on Apple TV+ September 18
Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman created the most influential motorcycling television in history with a simple formula: two friends (both actors) abandon everything to ride through the toughest terrain, with a camera crew in tow. The pair's authentic enthusiasm for life on two wheels and their cheerful embrace of the challenges that come their way have inspired hundreds of thousands of people to embrace adventure riding and dream of their own journeys .
Their debut was 2004's Long Way Round, a 19,000-mile overland trip from London to New York. Long Way Down, made in 2007, was a North to South journey from Scotland down through Africa to Cape Town. Last year, the pair reunited for the third in the Long Way trilogy. The question was, how could they make a trip that was even more demanding than the first two? Their answer: they would ride through South America and Central America up to the USA... on electric motorcycles.
In May of 2019, a group of Harley-Davidson ® engineers and designers were summoned to a conference room in the Willie G. Davidson Product Development Center. Two large boards were propped against the wall. The mood was typical of many meetings, but this one would soon be different. "You have a great opportunity," they were told. "We have a chance to take part in the Long Way Up, and accompany Ewan and Charley on a ride from Argentina to LA. But first we have to win a competition." The boards were turned around to reveal renderings of a Live Wire® model that had mutated into an adventure bike, complete with knobby tyres, a windshield and saddlebags. "We have an idea for how the Live Wire could be adapted," the team was told. There was only one problem: they had to turn the rendering into reality in just four weeks. "When we were told that, the room got a little silent," remembers Harley-Davidson Engineering Manager Rachel Wilde.
Before a motorcycle choice was made, the Long Way Up team wanted to hold a ride-off between electric bike options . At the time, the HarleyDavidson team was close to
launching the Live Wire bike... but this piece of cutting-edge technology was optimised for high performance on paved roads, not alternative terrain. Embarking on a marathon through deserts and rocky mountain passes would be akin to off-roading in a Formula 1 car. Modifications needed to be made - and fast.
For the next month, Wilde and team were based out of one conference room, working
furiously to create a Live Wire motorcycle that would accomplish the feats required of Long Way Up. Clips were streamed from Long Way Round and Long Way Down to
fuel themselves on why they were putting in the long hours, and the challenges the bike would face.
The modifications fell into four areas: suspension, wheels and tyres; rider position and comfort; cargo and luggage capacity; and extending the range of the LiveWire's battery pack to the maximum possible distance between recharges.
Although time was short, the team had one ace up its sleeve: Harley-Davidson's upcoming Pan America™ model. The Motor Company's adventure touring motorcycle was still being developed, but significant progress had already been made on major components that could be pillaged for this endeavour, including long-travel on off-road suspension, spoked wheels with adventure touring tyres, and a modular cargo
carrying system for racks and panniers. Many of these parts were adapted for the Long Way Up bikes.
The challenge that loomed largest was extending the battery range of the LiveWire
bikes. Many factors affect the discharge rate of an electric vehicle, including speed, temperature, wind resistance, aerodynamic drag... add battling through a Bolivian desert or a high-altitude Andean mountain pass and, in short, the engineers were designing for the unknown. For all those hours of work, development and iterating, the LiveWire motorcycles were completed just as the truck arrived outside the Product Development Center to take the bikes to California.
At the other end, Ewan and Charley waited to provide their review. As they spent a day putting the bike through its paces through mountain roads and twisties, the team in Milwaukee waited nervously. Would the new riding position be comfortable? Would the battery system perform, or leave them stranded by the side of the road? They ruminated on. Finally, word came from Harley-Davidson Chief Engineer Glen Koval. The bike had performed well and the battery range hit their targets. Better still, the two stars liked the look of the modified machines and how they felt.
Great news: the LiveWire had won. Now all they had to do was create two motorcycles
that would embark on the 13,000-mile trip-in just eight weeks.
South and Central America contain dramatic roads and landscapes. They don't contain a network of electric vehicle (EV) charging stations. So the HarleyDavidson team had a second challenge: keep two high- tech prototype motorcycles running
along an epic journey, and also find a way to keep them charged, all while being filmed.
The battle around charging would require a guerrilla approach to electrical engineering that was worthy of a TV show in its own right. The journey began in Ushuaia, on the southernmost tip of South America. Ushuaia is a ski town, nestled between
mountains on one side, and the ocean on the other. The town is so close to Antarctica that cruise ships depart from the port to carry intrepid tourists there.
The motorcycles were flown from Chicago to Buenos Aires, and then taken south by truck. The Harley- Davidson team followed by a similar route and found the large boxes in a shipyard warehouse. Without their bags even unpacked, the first challenge
presented itself: they needed to fabricate and install fixtures for audio and video equipment.
Technical Specialist Ryan Kelly remembers hammering out pieces of scrap metal, using an abandoned crane as an anvil. This piece of 'backwoods engineering' set the tone for the coming weeks and months. Fortunately, the bikes had survived their journey intact, and soon it was time for Ewan and Charley to officially unpack the boxes and take the bikes for an initial ride. "They had, of course, seen the bikes already, but we had made further modifications since then," explains Kelly. "The guys were like giddy kids on Christmas morning." The duo set off for a park on the tip of the continent called the 'End of the World'. Being in the Southern Hemisphere, winter conditions were treacherously slushy and icy.
With their hearts in their mouths, the Harley-Davidson team followed behind the two riders in their truck. And then the snow came, which rapidly developed into a blizzard. "It was pretty intense," remembers Kelly - an understatement. Once the ride north began, the riders were supported by a pair of electric trucks supplied by Long Way Up co-sponsor Rivian, a start- up electric vehicle manufacturer based in Michigan. Those trucks would prove very handy in later stages
of the ride after H-D and Rivian engineers figured out how to adapt them into mobile charging units, ensuring the
availability of power in the remotest of locations.
"For the initial part of the route, we were involved with the electric company that supports the area," says Kelly. "We were building charging stations as we went along. There are now some towns in Argentina that don't have paved roads but do have an electric charging station." A veritable EV version of Johnny Appleseed.
The charging challenges became more extreme. "At one point, we had to utilise the power in the building we were working
in and rewire the breaker box to hook up our charging equipment for the bikes," explains Kelly. "That ended up being a theme throughout the trip. We've got to get these bikes charged, so what do we need to do to build a grid to do that? We'd see how much power could be sourced and figure out a way to create a system that the bikes could charge from."
The theme was to keep the bikes charged by any means necessary, keep them running by any means necessary, and repeat. As every adventure motorcyclist knows, the adventure begins when trouble begins. Over the coming months, the adventures would
come thick and fast. We Won't spoil the TV series, but expect to see the team wrestle with challenges from terrain, Weather, civic unrest, angry police, denied border crossings and more.
And yet through all this, the electric motorcycles managed to not just keep going, but thrive, even in the toughest
country of them all - Bolivia. Here the team had to battle through desolate high desert that was blazing hot in the
daytime and freezing at night. The surface of the road , if there even was one, ranged from deep sand to baked washboard
"Everything broke in Bolivia, except the electric bikes," recalls Kelly. "The support truck, the production crew's truck, even the Sportster motorcycle that was being ridden by Claudio the cameraman."
From Bolivia, the team entered Peru, and here they did what any self-respecting motorcycle tourist does When they're halfway through a long journey: stopped at a Harley-Davidson dealership.
"I think it was the only Harley dealership in the country," says Kelly. "We did a halfway point inspection and replaced some parts. We didn't really need to, but we figured that since we'd brought the spare parts along, we might as Well use them.
"During the second half of the journey, the team slogged through Colombia, Panama, Mexico, and finally up into California. Here, in the land of abundant charging stations, the Harley-Davidson team could finally relax. But throughout their long weeks of redneck engineering and hot-wiring, they had proved something very important: with sufficient willpower, electric motorcycles are something that can happen today, in any part of the world.
Ewan and Charley's series is in some way a look backwards to a romantic era of frontier heroes diving head first into the unknown with no care for the consequences. These figures don't just provide entertainment, but in pushing limits provide us with a glimpse of the future.
After many false starts, the electric vehicle revolution is finally coming. Tesla has shown the path ahead in auto mobiles,
and Harley-Davidson is demonstrating the state-of-the-art in motorcycles.
There may be many motorcycles that can complete this journey with less support, less stress and less cost, but for how long? Give it a few more years, and the jet fighter whine of an electric motorcycle engine may become as recognisable as the roar of a V-twin.
In fact, there are now some charging stations placed in South America to help you along the way, which were planted by this very trip. May they act as a monument to the progress of EV propulsion for years to come.
The Long way Up journey eventually finished at another H-D dealership, this one in Fullerton, just outside of LA. At the tin1c of writing, the bikes are still there , awaiting a triumphant journey home to Milwaukee where they'll be exhibited at the Harley- Davidson Museum.
Wilde, along with the rest of the team, is proud of how the bikes fared. "I couldn't have wished for anything better. Harley-Davidson knows how to design motorcycles and we proved it. We never had a mechanical failure on one of those bikes. They ran like champs."