The motorbike obsessed duo tell Backstage how they grew to love their electric Harley-Davidsons on their road trip across America.
Ewan McGregor is a man used to zipping up his leathers and hitting the road on his motorbike, but he admits there’s still a certain scepticism around the electric kind.
The Star Wars actor told the Sky News Backstage podcast: “There’s sort of stigma in the bike world… You hear the word hairdryer used…
“But once you’ve ridden one, that all goes away… They’re so fast, they’re noiseless, you really feel the road. It’s a different experience and it’s really cool.”
Join Ewan McGregor and @CharleyBoorman on the first-ever electric motorcycle trip from the tip of South America to LA. #LongWayUp premieres 18 September on Apple TV+ https://t.co/ZUwT1s5bZC pic.twitter.com/bf9IqAGWS1
— Apple TV (@AppleTV) September 14, 2020
Putting his money where his mouth is, McGregor completed a 13,000-mile trip through South and Central America late last year with his old pal Charley Boorman.
The journey, which they’ve titled Long Way Up to follow on from their earlier trips Long Way Round and Long Way Down, took them 100 days to complete and saw them whizz through 13 countries and 16 border crossings.
The pair also executive produced the unscripted documentary, which is airing on Apple TV +.
But McGregor admits, it wasn’t all easy running: “The biggest challenge was charging the bikes. Where do you plug that bike into when you’re in the middle of the Bolivian desert or the Atacama Desert or in Patagonia? There are very few places to do that.”
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However, he says the solution turned out to be one of the most rewarding elements of the trip.
“It led us to meet a lot of people because we would literally rock up to people’s houses and knock on the door and ask if we could plug in. If it worked (which it didn’t always), you had two or three hours to hang about and find out about their life.”
Aware that they were travelling in poor, rural areas, they would always pay villagers for the electricity they used.
Boorman, who has been a close friend of McGregor’s for over a decade, says the bikes helped them to get closer to the countries they were travelling through in another way too.
“The experience of riding an electric bike is very different. Because there was no engine noise and no big vibration coming from the bike, it wasn’t as stressful.
“When you arrived, you weren’t so tired. And when you go through towns, you can hear people talking around you.”
Boorman says it wasn’t just environmental reasons that attracted them to the alternative method: “It was this whole idea that there’s this wave of electric coming along.”
Indeed, a network of charging points was specifically built along the route from the Southern tip of South America to Los Angeles by project partners Rivian, who travelled behind McGregor and Boorman in two prototype pick-up trucks.
McGregor explains: “That network of charges still exists and hopefully will be used by other travellers.”
But he hopes their trip will inspire people in other ways too: “More than encouraging people to do long adventure trips on electric bikes, it’s about just getting people on them in the first place. If we can do that, I’ll be proud.”
Worthy sentiments and sustainability aside, there was still an element of ‘boys on tour’ on this trek, with Swiss cameraman Claudio von Planta bearing the brunt of the japes.
Boorman explains one extra-curricular activity that became a regular part of the trip: “We would sneak out at night or when he wasn’t around and we would hang all sorts of stuff off his motorbike that we’d buy in the markets.
“People on the street would see the bikes, then they’d see Claudio with all this stuff hanging off his motorbike and they loved it!”
Laughing, McGregor adds: “It looked like a float!”
McGregor and Boorman have previous travel form (albeit on conventional motorbikes), travelling from London to New York via central Europe, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Russia, Canada and the United States on BMW motorbikes for Long Way Round in 2004.
And in 2007 they took another motorcycle trip from John o’ Groats in Scotland to Cape Town in South Africa for Long Way Down (with McGregor’s brother Colin and dad Jim also joining in for sections of the journey).
Incidentally, von Planta the long-suffering cameraman was also part of both previous projects, so was likely aware of what was in store for him on this trip.
This latest journey sees them kick off in the city of Ushuaia at the tip of South America, and travelling through Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador and up through Colombia, Central America and Mexico.
McGregor says it’s their most challenging expedition to date, but caveats that with a cheeky rider: “We were safe. And we get there. But, you know, spoiler. We made it!”
The first three episodes of Long Way Up are on Apple TV+ now, with a new episode added each week.
Hear more from the interview and a review of the show on this week’s episode of Backstage – Sky News’ entertainment podcast.