Ewan McGregor and his buddy Charley Boorman weren’t the first to drop everything to ride across the world on motorcycles, but they are probably the most famous. Their TV shows – Long Way Round and Long Way Up – made adventure riding a popular pursuit. Now, every hedge fund manager and dentist rides a BMW GS in the hopes that, one day, he or she will follow in Ewan and Charley’s tire tracks.
Their third series, Long Way Up, in which they ride a pair of electric Harley-Davidsons from Patagonia to California, will debut on Apple TV+ in September.
Ewan and Charley’s first adventures took place on massive BMW GS bikes, just like the one that is before me now at the BMW GS Adventure School at the Horseshoe Valley Resort in Oro Medonte, Ontario about an hour north of Toronto.
For so many riders, this is where their own around-the-world adventure really starts.
Clinton Smout, the founder and head instructor, has been teaching people to ride off-road since before I could ride a bicycle on pavement. He’s even trained with BMW in Germany, proving his mettle by riding around the world himself.
When Smout does it, riding the new 1250 GS Adventure looks easy. Most riders would be intimidated by this beast, especially a beginner (which your assigned correspondent very much is). The 1250 is BMW’s biggest off-road bike, weighing around 600 lbs with more torque than most compact cars.
Mercifully, the school day starts off on small, plastic 250cc dirt bikes. We’ll work out way up to the big BMWs.
Balance is key. Riding a motorcycle at low speeds – as you often do off-road when going over roots and rocks – is a bit like trying balance one bowling ball on top of another. All the weight needs to be right down the middle. To start, Smout demonstrates how to stand up while riding the bike around a dirt track, squeezing the gas tank with his knees, keeping a light touch on the bars. He gets cocky and starts doing it with his left hand in air, off the bars entirely.
Now: your turn. The first few laps I was bucked back and forth, nearly falling off, looking like a rodeo clown. Eventually, you find that balance point and it all sort of clicks. You’re not supposed to hold on to the bike so much as balance on it.
Got that? Okay. Now here’s how to stomp on the rear brake and skid to a halt without falling over. Next: pull tight u-turns at walking pace, then learn to ride up and down hills that would be a challenge even to walk up.