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Old 12-26-2008, 06:08 PM   #1
Kenneth_Moore
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Default Long Way Down

Long Way Down

There probably aren't too many motorcyclists out there who haven't at least heard of "Long Way Round." This was an enormously popular documentary that followed a pair of actors as they rode their BMW GS motorcycles around the world. I watched and reviewed it a while back, and found it enjoyable on a number of levels. However, I suspect that Long Way Down proves the old adage: "Quit while you're ahead." Thanks to the miracle of NetFlix, I obtained the DVDs and put in the hours.

Long Way Round may not have single-handedly kicked off the Adventure Bike fad we're in the midst of, but it certainly turned a lot of people on to it. Last year at Bike Week I saw at least as many GS style ADV bikes around Daytona as I did full-blown choppers. And these guys had as much money in their bikes as a lot of choppers; there is no end to the accessories and gear for the ADV rider. If there were ADV bikes around in previous years, they were a drop in the bucket. BMW owns this market, which brings to mind an interesting bit: At the start of Long Way Round, Charlie Boorman, Ewan McGregor's partner in the trip, was pushing hard for KTM bikes for the ride. They tested the KTMs, and apparently thought they had a deal for the bikes. At the last minute, KTM pulled the plug, (reason given: the trip might fail and make KTM look bad) and the rest is history. McGregor and Boorman went on to produce hours of wildly popular documentary motorcycle footage on BMWs. The documentaries were broadcast world-wide as TeeVee shows as well as distributed on DVD. I have to think somebody at KTM is being slowly roasted alive to this day in a paint-cure oven for that boner.

Imagine yourself in this position: you have a virtually unlimited budget, you can hire assistants, "fixers," doctors, consultants, security personnel, and guides. BMW, Touratech, Nokia, and other major vendors in the ADV motorcycle business are giving you their products to use, and you get three plus months to go ride a bike. And in spite of all that, you still manage to have in-fighting, personality clashes, arguments, and various angst amongst your team, your employees, and your family. Go figure. (Sidebar: in the first show, Snap-On was the tool vendor, this time, MAC got the franchise).

It appears that in this show, a lot of people who were behind the scenes in the first go-round (RRR!) decided to be in front of the scenes this time. McGregor's old lady insists on riding along, even though she's never ridden a bike in her life. She falls down a lot at first, but then seems to get the hang of it. We see as much of the support crew (camera men, the director and producer, the medical guy, etc.) as we do the actual riders. In the first release, they at least made an effort to make it seem like Charley and Ewan were out there on their own. In this version, they are basically riding point for a mini-convoy (a heavily armed convoy, much of the time). From time to time they wander off on their own to camp, otherwise they're staying with the crew in hotels, safari resorts, etc. Rugged and daring adventurers, putting it all on the line, living life to the fullest! I beg your pardon, but do you have any Grey Poupon?

The first chapter features training for the crew on being accosted by evil border guards, running the gauntlet of explosions and gun battles, and fending off face-eating hyenas. All of this was intended to minimize the danger of traveling in Africa, yet by the end of the three (count 'em 3!) DVDs, the worst thing that happened was that the two Americans in the support team couldn't get visas into Libya and had to leave the trip for three days. Instead, the crew learned that although there's danger everywhere, anywhere they went in Africa they were treated with kindness, generosity, and good will. Were they just really lucky? They did manage (like in the first trip) to dump their bikes hundreds of times. And the camera-bike guy rear-ended Charlie pretty hard right at the end of the trip. But the bikes kept on; the only failures being the rear shocks on two of the bikes after a few thousand miles of washboard and potholes. Credit given where due: BMW builds a damn sturdy bike.

The rest of the chapters document the team's ride from the Northern tip of Scotland to the Southermost tip of Africa. They travel through Europe to Italy, then hop over on a boat to Africa, where they follow the Nile to about mid-continent. They then cut West toward the Atlantic, and head to Capetown from there. There's about 6 hours of material here.

The most interesting segment in my mind was near the end. The crew was on their last leg of unpaved, difficult roads. The bikes and trucks were a hundred or so miles from anywhere, and they came across this Austrialian guy riding his bicycle, all by himself. I'm talking about the middle of f'ing nowhere. This guy had been on the road for over a DECADE, by himself, going around the world on human power alone. He'd even crossed oceans on some sort of pedal boat. You can almost see the crainial re-boot going across Ewan and Charley's faces, as they mentally compared their journey to his.

There are many people for whom motorcycles are transportation. In the "1st World," they are the minority. For most of us, bikes are something we do because we want to, not because we have to. So why do we do it? A lot of people like the performance aspect; track or street, that R1 will eat most any car on the planet for lunch. For another group, the motorcycle is an expression of their culture, their lifestyle. Clothing, vacations, weekends, even S.O.s become completely intertwined with the motorcycle; be it a Gold Wing rider going to his 15th consecutive Honda Hoot (oops, not this year) or a tattooed, leather-vested Harly riding computer geek planning for Sturgis all winter. And for a number of motorcyclists, their bike is the physical manifestation of a likely unattainable fantasy. "One day I'm going to toss some tee shirts and socks in the aluminium panniers and head for Tierra del Fuego." Uh-huh. But in the meantime, another GPS gets mounted, another light kit gets wired, and another weekend ride to the park is a little salve on the burning desire to escape. Because, after all, we just want to be left alone to ride our bikes and do our thing, without being hassled by The Man. And don't hassle the two SUVs loaded with money, cameras, spares, and bodyguards either.
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Old 12-26-2008, 06:31 PM   #2
seruzawa
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Thanks for all the work you put in on this. So now I don't have to. I never had much interest in the documentary, knowing that these millionaires were "adventuring" with massive support. I wouldn't ride to Mexico, much less Africa. I've been in a few countries and I'd stick to Europe, Japan, Taiwan and some other actually civilized nations and avoid the third world hellholes where someone like you or me would just disappear when some cop or soldier took a fancy to our bikes.
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Old 12-26-2008, 07:45 PM   #3
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"Long Way Round." I read the book. For a real adventure, try reading 'Riding the Edge' by Dave Barr. He took his Shovelhead for an 83,000 mile trip. The best part is that Dave has no legs from a military incident! Crazy.
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Old 12-27-2008, 06:07 AM   #4
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I just read "Long Way Down" also. I found the writing flat at best. Perhaps the DVDs are better, kinda like "Love Story", ya know were the movie was the primary and the book an after thought. I didn't drool on the pages or anything, told my brother is was a present for him, no need to reread.
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Old 12-29-2008, 08:30 AM   #5
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I liked the series for the cinematography and the side stories. The bike riding was sort of secondary.
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Old 12-29-2008, 12:12 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by pushrod View Post
I liked the series for the cinematography and the side stories. The bike riding was sort of secondary.
You're right, Claudio came a "long way" in his camera work since the first series. He's the star of the show for sure, even though you almost never see him.
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