TV Top Pick # 9: Motorcycle Touring Movies

There are motorcycling adventure movies floating around that deserve attention from my riding readers. “Long Way Up” recounts the latest adventures of actors Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman on AppleTV. Then there’s Ride Report: 10,000 Miles to Rio, an independently produced and directed film by two Las Vegas guys with minimal riding experience who set off to ride to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and making a film in the process. Lastly, Slow Ride Home is about 8 friends, members of the “Soldiers of Destiny” scooter club who make an epic cross-country ride from Florida to Seattle, WA on 125 cc motor scooters when hilarity breaks out.

All are worth watching if you ride motorcycles, think about riding motorcycles, or enjoy travel movies. The two lessor efforts (Slow Ride Home and Ride Report) are the most fun and easy for most of us to relate to. The third McGregor/Boorman effort comes on the heels of their other popular motorcycle televised riding trips, Long Way Round (2004) and Long Way Down.  Those first two movies had a bit of adventure here and there, but I found this third series ridiculously absurd – at least the first 3 episodes.  The way riders define “Adventure travel” varies widely and what actually constitutes “adventure” is a near-constant argument among travelers.  I find virtually no “adventure” in two guys riding bikes with an entourage consisting of a movie producer, a director, a couple of cameramen, at least two support trucks (and drivers) with massive amounts of tools and gear.  Add to those assets a no-limit credit card to assist with the extradition from any uncomfortable or difficult circumstance and you have something that feels to me like every bit of actual adventure has been squeezed out of the experience.  But we’ll come back to this.

Ride Report: 10,000 Miles to Rio:  In this Amazon Prime hour and a quarter movie, Matt Kendall and Tierman Turner capture a genuine motorcycling adventure.  It appeals to me the most of the three as it is so reminiscent of early road trips I took with my first motorcycle. When I got my first bike, I was totally overwhelmed with the freedom of hopping on my bike, throwing a few gallons of gas in the tank, and heading off into the horizon.  I couldn’t stop myself.  I repeatedly made up places to go and my trips were absurd, foolhardy and mostly crazy.  On top of it all, I was totally unprepared, learning through a variety of errors, how to plan a bit better for my next trip.  When I think back to my utterly naïve younger self, taking off on my bike without proper tools or gear, possibly without even checking fluids or tire pressure, I cringe. Kendall and Turner put more thought and planning into their trips than my early escapades, but they were ignorant of much and left many steps totally unanticipated, figuring “we’ll work that out when we get there.” And this is precisely why I identified with them so completely and loved this movie. It’s a super low budget film, but they manage to capture the authentic joy and utter relief when things go right along with the frustrating disappointment and despair when bikes break or they get totally lost and realize they’ll have to back track an entire day’s riding.  It is the total opposite of the big money approach of the Long Way Up saga where one tires of the continually artificial risks and feigned obstacles McGregor and Boorman encounter.  The final plug I’ll make for 10,000 Miles to Rio is the degree to which the locals extend themselves to help these two often hapless riders in distress. When we’re being bombarded daily with the supposedly vile and villainous dangers awaiting us around every unknown foreign corner, it is so refreshing to see a true reflection of what I’ve always found – most human beings just want to help out a stranger in need.

Slow Ride Home is just good, silly fun.  The idea for this movie had to have come from a night with too much alcohol and someone saying, “Ya know what we oughta’ do?”  The bikes making this trip top out at, maybe, 55-65 mph (down hill, wind at the back), although trying to average more than 45 mph over any sustained amount of time will result in parts failing frequently. Scooters are built for 20-30 minute convenience trips at relatively low speeds, in cities, with lots of stops and at most, a few trips a day.  Deciding to ride them 3,700 miles, 11 days straight cross-country, creates its own spirit of adventure.  Unsatisfied with allowing their adventure to be just staying on course and making the trip in once piece, this group of geniuses filled the route with a set of obscure and ridiculous obstacles that, if a particular rider fails to manage the obstacle he pulled from the hat for that day, faces a frat-boy list of personal humiliations from which they must chose as punishment, much to the merriment of their fellow riders.  The one I liked best was having the hair on one’s head shaved into what was affectionately known as the “cul-de-sac” cut. Watch the movie to see how good this particular style can make someone look.  Deliberately or not, they manage to poke a finger in the eye of every serious documentary filmmaker on the planet, but do it in such a way, that they’ll all be on the floor laughing.  I know I was.

My opinion on the McGregor / Boorman series I’ve left to last, because frankly, who cares what I think?  But if you’ve made it this far, you’re going to get a dose of why I find these movies tiresome, unrealistic, not really about motorcycle riding and frankly ridiculous. First, I have nothing against Ewan McGregor.  He’s a fine and highly productive actor.  I do have an issue with the idea of him being a serious motorcyclist and his general lack of commitment to acquiring the skills necessary for some of the trips he portends to complete.  It is like he’s playing another movie role.  In the 1997 movie, “Nightwatch,” he played a night watchman and law student. It was fine. He was an actor.  Nice job. However, no one was trying to seriously pretend he was a law student or night watchman. However, these motorcycle adventures are positioned as documentaries and yet he’s just playing the part of a motorcyclist, and that is what so irritates me.  Charley Boorman is a different story.  I get no bad vibes from him.  His book, although ghost written by someone else, was a superb read on his taking on the Dakar Rally. It was authentic and very good.  Boorman’s a good rider – not fancy, but he has solid skills. I admire what he’ll try to do on a bike. Now, this may be because we’ve both experienced the Dakar Rally, which is far from a walk in the park.  I chronicled that 2011 experience for The Overland Journal and you can read about it here.  Eventually I will finish the “Long Way Up” series.  I have no doubt the scenery will be spectacular and some of it will be familiar from the riding I’ve done in that part of South America. The camera work will be stunning with new drone technology, but it will take all the constraint I can muster to keep my snarky comments on the other stuff to myself.

While everyone knows Easy Rider (1969), there are other overlooked great motorcycle movies to consider if you’ve not seen them.

I’m leaving out: Easy Rider, The Wild One, The Great Escape, Being Evel, Riding Solo To The Top Of The World (2006), Mad Max: Fury Road and several others.

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2 Responses to TV Top Pick # 9: Motorcycle Touring Movies

  1. Jeremy Lindsay says:

    Thanks for the round up of decent bike movies. I’m always on the look out for something new.

    I’ve seen the Burt Munro film twice; once on release and again just recently. I got a whole new take on it the second time.

    I haven’t bothered to seek out the ‘Long Way’ movie. Something in my gut tells me that the realism is in inverse proportion to the volume of hype it’s getting. I’d be feeling like they were taking the piss, as we say here. Every shot I’ve seen of McGregor in the promo he looks too composed and well groomed. But then when you’re sponsored so heavily by global brands it’s always going to turn out like a commercial.

    Agree with you about Boorman though. He’s more your real deal biker.

    One movie I noticed was missing from your list that I thought you’d enjoy is ‘Road’. It’s the tragic story of the Dunlops and their family devotion to road racing in N Ireland and the Isle of Man. I was lucky to see Joey Dunlop race at the TT in the 80’s. The man truly was a cut above all others. I loved his humble demeanour off the bike. Here was a man setting records and yet was content to work on his own bikes and shun the limelight.

    Here’s a link to the trailer;

    TT3D is great. I like Guy Martin. He’s become a reluctant regular on the TV here. Another one who prefers personal endeavour and hard work over the temporary world of media-adulation. He did really win a TT but the pit lane speed limit judge claimed he’d exceeded it by a tiny tiny amount. So he was down graded. Can you imagine what that feels like? Jeez, I get cross when I get a ticket from one of those cameras and I didn’t have to risk my neck in the earning of the fine and points on my licence. But finishing a TT, alive and thinking you’d won only to be told ‘camera sez no’…

    Hope to see you on the Zoom again soon!


  2. Chris says:

    I have to concur with your opinions here.

    While I have not watched any of the Long Way Up as I do not have Apple TV, the whole premise seemed a bit off to begin with, and knowing the way they do the shows with the large crew and such does make it less adventure. While I definitely enjoyed the first two series they did, it was difficult to relate knowing the funding and even celebrity advantages they received along the way. Mostly just watched for the scenery and road time video and to see the interactions with the locals. It also provided some data for my own travel plans.

    Now the Ride Report to Rio I watched a month or two back and I did enjoy that as it was so much more real and far more like what I myself would experience attempting such a ride.

    I enjoyed watching it much more due to the fact that they did it all on their own without support crews and like you said were not really prepared for many of the things they would face.

    Somewhere Else Tomorrow is another I enjoyed when I watched it last year. Still have it in my watchlist on Amazon to watch again someday.

    So far be it for me to recommend Motorcycle films as I have far less experience in the topic than you seeing how I ignored the bike world for ages until I saw Long Way Round and something was ignited in me, but here are a few more I have seen recently that you might enjoy as well.

    On You Tube, similar premise of someone with little experience and lack of preparation riding from the US to the Darien Gap and back and without much planning, younger kid. Watched this bit over a year ago and found it interesting.

    Several others I have seen on Amazon Prime as well that are decently produced without the massive crew along.

    Amazon has 3 shows done by Ryan Pyle (Who is a well versed adventurer doing riding and hiking shows, so some level of experience), but were still nicely done I thought.

    Tough Rides: China

    Tough Rides: Brazil

    Tough Rides: India

    Another Amazon one I enjoyed was a show called The Ride: London to Beijing

    It follows a professional rider who gathered a group of less skilled riders to train and then lead them along that route.
    I found it interesting to watch as well.


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