In 2004, Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman circumnavigated the globe on a pair of BMW R1150 GS Adventure motorcycles. There were actually three bikes: the third was ridden by a cameraman. Starting in London, they rode across Western and Central Europe then on to Ukraine, Western Russia, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Siberia and Canada, over a cumulative distance of almost 19,000 miles.
The ride was featured in a TV series called Long Way Round. This was shown on Sky and the BBC before being released to two DVD boxed sets including a special edition boxed set for the trip’s anniversary. The adventure increased the awareness of two-wheel globetrotting many times over and inspired countless motorcycle riders to take off around the world on their own two-wheeled adventures.
McGregor wanted to do the trip on BMW motorcycles, while Boorman preferred the specialist off-road and adventure bikes made by KTM. After off-road tests on KTM and BMW machines, McGregor agreed to go for KTMs, but KTM ultimately declined to provide them with promotional bikes out of concern that the team might fail. This turned out to be a bad decision.
BMW then contributed three BMW R1150GS all-terrain motorcycles, which were modified to help the team achieve and document their mission. They were also equipped with cameras, microphones and display/viewfinder screens mounted on the dashboards. A customised GPS with specially mapped waypoints in Mongolia and Siberia was crucial in areas with no roads or signposts.
BMW also supplied GS motorcycles for the second ride: Long Way Down. The R1200 GS Adventures were kitted out in a similar way. All four bikes are still owned by BMW and have been exhibited many times.
Having owned two very similar GSs – a later twin spark 2005 BMW 1150 GS Adventure and 2007 R1200 GS – to the base models used by Boorman and McGregor, I can testify to great build quality on both. When it comes to used bike prices and residual values, decent build quality gives the bikes an inherent price advantage over lesser bikes from the same market niche.
When one also factors in the higher cost new of BMW motorcycles and consumer perceptions of enhanced badge value, the combined effect on used prices can be significant. While one would probably not claim that McGregor and Boorman’s adventure rides alone have helped preserve strong brand values for GS motorcycles, the effect of the shows on the profile for these bikes and the clear demonstration of their ability to tackle adventures of this scale with few modifications was undeniably positive for used prices.
Anyone who has looked into buying a BMW R1150 GS Adventure knows just how well these bikes hold their money. Mine has not dropped a penny in the four years I have owned it, and this is despite a total production for BMW R1150 GS and GS Adventure models of over 75,000 bikes. This level of supply is usually a killer for residual values for such a niche motorcycle, so the McGregor Effect should not be underestimated.
Ewan McGregor rides electric Harley Davidson
Now McGregor and Boorman are back on two wheels, riding 13,000 miles through South and Central America, en route to Los Angeles. This time, the pair are on electric Harley Davidson motorcycles, so the challenge has been ramped up a bit, both in choosing bikes that seem to be ill-suited to adventure riding and swapping the IC drivetrain to run with electric power instead. The trailer for the series (below) shows all the points would one would expect – range anxiety, dependence on AC infrastructure in less developed countries, weight and style of bike and so on. This all increases the watchability of the ride and, done properly, rubs off well for all those brands who contribute to the adventure.
On the face of it, Harley Davidson is a brand that has not been doing so well in recent years. The parent company is going through a change of direction which has not been greeted with open arms by the traditional Harley Davidson buyer, but then the redirection is focused on finding new buyers and new HD riders. Sending HDs from the tip of South America with a film star and his hooligan mate is a good way to push that idea of “new Harley”.
It wasn’t without its challenges, McGregor admits: “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.
“There’s also a sort of stigma in the bike world; you hear the word hairdryer used in relation to electric motorcycles. 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.”
Harley Davidson electric motorcycle costs
Bennett’s bike channel summed up the issue of prices for electric Harley Davidsons in a recent review of the Harley Davidson Livewire model. “A Harley-Davidson Livewire is going to cost you £28,995 plus on-the-road costs. That’s £10,505 more than Zero’s new SR/F, and roughly £9,000 more than Energica’s Esse Esse 9. £28,995 is enough to buy Ducati Panigale V4 S and a Honda Monkey 125, with a thousand quid in change left over to blow on a 65” 4k Smart TV.
“Of course, it was always going to be wallet unfriendly. The intended audience is presumed to have money and be happy to pay a premium, and, as a sector, EVs are still very much in the early-adopter phase (especially in motorcycling). Harley-Davidson no doubt has an aggressive plan to claw back its investment in EV, and will be ploughing that cash back into new models and continuing R&D. The Livewire is just the first in a long series.”
So here we have a £30k bike at the front of the electric motorcycle revolution that is £10k dearer than similar bikes, runs an Italian rather than a US electric motor and is being sold by a company in fairly dire financial straits. You may think that HD is betting quite a lot on the sales figures of these electric machines and you would probably be right. However, while the technology of the bikes will be outdated in two to three years, the presence of McGregor and Boorman in the marketing material is a plus. Assuming the bikes do well, overcoming the worries on range and riding experience amongst the fairly inert biking fraternity will be another plus.
Though we cannot currently compare pre- and post- McGregor residual values for electric Harley Davidson motorcycles, previous experience with big GS models which sold like proverbial hotcakes after riding around the world with Ewan McGregor in the saddle could be a big feather in the cap for sales figures. Volume sales are not the best protection for residual values, but it is a way for manufactirers to sell more bikes and make more margin and develop more new bikes with more affordable prices.
Ultimately, the market will decide where the prices for used electric motorcycles end up, but sticking them on TV for several weeks ahead of the release of a big selling box set may prove to have been a very canny move by the Harley-Davidson marketing team.