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McGregor ready for 25,000-mile ride

Published: 31 March 2004

Updated: 19 November 2014

Next month, actors Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman will set off together on a round the world bike trip.

Starting today, we’ll bring you regular exclusive updates on their journey, and the Long Way Round TV show and book they’re making along the way.

The 25,000-mile, 15-week trip will take them through France, Luxembourg, Germany, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Ukraine, Russia, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Siberia, Canada and the U.S.

The only company they’ll have for most of the journey will be each other and a cameraman on a third bike. A full film crew with a back-up van will bring them supplies every seven days.

They’ll set off from Shepherd’s Bush in London in two weeks’ time. Will they still be friends when they get back? When we caught up with them, Boorman had just snapped the front brake lever off McGregor’s MV Agusta F4 by accidentally kicking it while climbing off one of the BMW R1150GSs they’re using for the journey…

Long Way Round, produced by David Alexanian of Elixir Films and Russ Malkin of Image Wizard TV, is scheduled to be aired this autumn. Click here for more details and further updates on the duo’s progress.

PREPARATION: McGREGOR: " We did an intensive off-road course. Well, actually it was more of an intensive falling-off course. Then we did a great hostile-environment course with some ex-soldiers. It covered medical stuff like what to do if one of us gets shot.

" Then we spent a day with Ray Mears. He taught us about basic survival stuff – how to start fires and what sort of kit we’d need.

" We’ve also been learning some Russian and doing some physical training – at least once a month! "

BOORMAN: " We’ve been training three times – endurance training, running and rowing and stuff like that. We just came back from Scotland last week, where we went to test all our camping kit, and to see what it’s like to do 350 miles a day. It was only the second time I’ve camped in my life. "

WHY? McGREGOR: " We were both looking at doing a trip with our wives, going to Spain or somewhere on sports tourers. But we’ve both got young kids, so we thought, maybe we could go somewhere like China, have an amazing ride, and the wives could fly out with the kids. But then we looked at the map, and wondered what we’d do after that. We decided we might as well just carry on around the world. "

CHARLEY BOORMAN: If you haven’t heard of Charley Boorman, you may have heard of his dad John, director of the classic 1970s film Deliverance. " I was in it, " said Boorman junior. " But I wasn’t the banjo guy – I just want to get that clear. At the very end of the movie, when John Voight comes back to his wife, there’s a little boy sitting on the sofa. That was me. I got a tricycle for it! "

Since then, Boorman has also starred in The Emerald Forest, The Bunker, and alongside McGregor in the 1996 film The Serpent’s Kiss, which is how the pair first met.

" I was playing Ewan’s secretary in the film, " said Boorman. " The first conversation we had together was about bikes and riding. We just got on really well, and we’ve stayed friends ever since. "

THE BIKES: McGREGOR: " We chose BMW R1150GSs because they’re the only bikes that have been built for the job. It’s a 25,000-mile trip over three-and-a-half months, averaging 250 miles a day, so it’s all about being able to do as much distance as possible. And the BMWs are just so solid, comfortable and easy to ride and work on. They’ve got a 300-mile tank range – and that was one of our major concerns for places like Mongolia.

" We’ve got 35-litre panniers that can be banged back into shape if they get bashed in, cameras on the front of the bikes, sat-nav and an intercom if I want to talk to Charley. Or I can use it to record my thoughts and he doesn’t have to listen to me wittering on. "

THE ROUTE: McGREGOR: " We chose the route because of our original idea to go to China. We looked at the Bering Strait, and thought if we could get there and get across to Alaska, it would be an obvious straight line around the globe. It’s not done often, because it’s not officially recognised as a round-the-world route – you normally have to cross the equator. We’re really just going round the top of the globe. We never even considered the route most people take, down through the southern hemisphere.

" The last part of Russia will be the hardest bit. There are dangerous river crossings and it will potentially be very muddy. Pulling these bikes out of the mud won’t be fun.

" It will be good to get to Canada and the US. There are beautiful roads through the Rockies, and there will be motels and places to eat and people who speak the same language. "

BOORMAN: " The other reason for taking this route is that we don’t have that much time. We have families. We don’t want to be away for two years. Also, our route covers the largest possible stretch of landmass. It means more land and

less sea. "

ACCOMMODATION: McGREGOR: " In the cities we’ll stay in hotels. The idea isn’t to camp our way around the world, it’s just to get around the world. Staying in the odd hotel will let us clean our clothes and get our kit sorted out. "

BOORMAN: " We’re also hoping to stay with locals when we can. In Mongolia there are nomadic people, and it’s common for them to put you up. But it will be nice to get a good night’s sleep once in a while in a hotel. There will be a support vehicle with a film crew, but we’ll only meet up with it every seven days. Apart from that, it’s just be us and a cameraman on a third bike. "

CRASHING: McGREGOR: " I once came off at Brands Hatch, on the Indy circuit. It was only my second time on a track and I was getting tuition from Terry Rymer, on a Ducati 748. I was improving every lap, to the point when I came round the hairpin and I was right up his arse. Then I went into the S-bends and the next thing I knew I was standing up. There was no in-between. I was chucking it into the corner and then I was standing up and I couldn’t work out what had happened. I managed to fall off straight down the middle of the S-bends, so I stayed on the Tarmac, if not on the bike. Luckily it wasn’t mine! "

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