Posted by: Mat Oxley | Date posted: 24/04/2007
Apart from the riders and the road, the bikes are the most important part of the adventure. So what's changed since the last trip?
If something ain't broke, don't fix it. Which is why Ewan and Charley are sticking with BMW for Long Way Down. For their African odyssey, Ewan and Charley are using the R1200GS Adventure. It's the latest model in a dynasty that began in 1980 with the GS800, the bike credited with starting the adventure motorcycle genre. The boxer engine configuration - with two horizontally opposed cylinders - has been around much longer, since the 1920s.
On Long Way Down, as on the Long Way Round, there will be three bikes in all. Cameraman Claudio von Planta pilots the third GS, always riding with Ewan and Charley, unlike the support crew, which can sometimes be several days behind.
Of course, the bikes haven't been left as standard. Many happy hours have been spent browsing through catalogues, picking the trickiest gear so the bikes could be painstakingly made totally Africa-proof. Some bits make the machines more comfortable for the long-distance haul and suitable to the terrain. Others enhance driver and crash protection. Then there's the essential gadgetry for communication and filming.
For improved touring capability, there are rugged metal panniers, a tank-mounted bag with map pocket, extended luggage rack (to carry tent, sleeping bag, and so on), taller windscreen, specially adapted shock absorbers and headlights, and a canvas-covered seat to reduce sweating. The kit inside the panniers includes clothes and cooking equipment, such as a stove that runs off petrol or diesel, pots and pans, tea, coffee, multivitamins and boil-in-the-bag meals - 'like Army rations, only nicer,' says Charley.
Charley continues, 'We have to be self-sufficient. On the Long Way Round we met up with the crew every five or six days. This time we may stay a bit closer.'
Ewan and Charley will use different tyres in Europe and the rest of the trip. Last time they used ‘knobblies’ throughout. 'The knobblies were incredibly grippy on tarmac, but they're very soft, so wear out pretty quick. Plus, you get a lot of vibration,' Charley explains. 'This time we'll use a road tyre in Europe - then go to knobblies when we hit Africa.' Amazingly, the three riders suffered just one puncture between them on the Long Way Round, when Charley let down his tyres too much for better off-road grip.
For improved protection, there are tougher rocker-cover guards, a bigger, stronger engine bash plate, brake reservoir protectors, and folding rear-brake levers.
The bikes also feature GPS (the Long Way Down crew carries different cartridges for the different regions to be travelled through) and two rider-operated cameras - one helmet-mounted, while the other can be fitted by sucker pad to any part of the motorcycle. Walkie-talkie equipment is hidden away in the panniers, 'because we don't want to look too military', adds Charley.
And what of the Long Way Round bikes - what happened to them? Ewan's GS was auctioned at a UNICEF charity event for no less than £85,000. Charley's went back to BMW to be used as a (very muddy) promotional tool.