BELSTAFF X LONG WAY:
HOW TO TRAVEL OUTSIDE YOUR COMFORT ZONE
To celebrate the start of moto season and our exclusive Long Way Up collection, we caught up with the show’s director/producers – David Alexanian and Russ Malkin – to discover what it means to take the long way.
In 2021, with much of the world still grounded, most of us have resigned ourselves to living vicariously through others, looking to the big or the small screen for a slice of adventure and a journey into the unknown. Thankfully, we haven’t had to look too far.
For almost 20 years, the Long Way team, led by friends and motorcycle enthusiasts Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman, have travelled close to 50,000 miles across the globe on their bikes, and captured their pursuits on camera thanks to the director/producers David Alexanian and Russ Malkin. The result of these adventures is three captivating, witty and surprisingly honest travel documentary series that show what it means to live life outside the lines, and the versatile kit you need to make an adventure a success – typified by Belstaff’s adaptable uniform for each of the rides.
“I think the philosophy behind Long Way, of not speeding from A to B and taking time to be out in nature, to see the mountains, taking time to talk to the people and understand the culture that we go through is so important,” says Russ Malkin. “We love bikes and love travel... Combine all that with the epic views of the world and the people that we meet and that was what crystallised the idea of Long Way.”
The project began with 2004’s Long Way Round, a 20,000-mile trip from London to New York that captured the journey through Europe and the Ukraine, into Russia, through to Alaska and down through Canada and America, following friends Ewan and Charley as they navigated through unfamiliar terrain, negotiating with border authorities and getting involved in the local community and UNICEF initiatives along the way. The second venture, the Long Way Down, released in 2007, brought everyone back together for a similarly ambitious 15,000-mile ride following a similar format. The series saw the pair travel on BMW motorbikes from John O’Groats at the northernmost tip of Scotland to Cape Agulhas on the southernmost tip of South Africa. The most recent series, Long Way Up (released in 2020 and currently streaming on Apple) followed a 13,000-mile ride on electric Harley Davidson motorcycles and 4x4s through 13 countries in South and Central America – a venture only made possible by electric adventure vehicles company Rivian who plotted a series of charging stations along the route.
The modes of transport used throughout the three series evolved organically as vehicle technology developed, adapting to the needs of an ever more modern adventurer, and the clothing packed for each expedition developed, too. Belstaff provided key pieces for the guys as they embarked upon the Long Way Round, before creating a purpose-built adventure suit for the Long Way Down that would adapt to the changeable climates along the route. For the latest series, Belstaff’s designers worked closely with the team on a versatile collection of 19 pieces, split to serve you both on and off the bike. “Forming a joint history has great value and now that we’ve actually started to develop our own products with Belstaff it makes it even more enjoyable,” says Russ.
“It’s been a really cool partnership – it’s 20 years of collaborating,” says David Alexanian. There’s so much technology in what you wear on the bike, and it’s very interesting for us seeing how that’s evolved over that time.” The Long Way Jacket and Trousers in the new collection are built from a Gore-Tex Pro tri-layer laminate and packed with removable CE-approved D30 armour. “When you’re on the road, you don’t really know what’s going to be thrown at you,” he says. For this reason, pieces such as the Charley Denim Jeans (designed with Boorman) are transformative, with all the style and comfort of classic indigo denim and hidden depths in the built-in knee and hip armour. “There’s certainly a style part of it, because, you know, it’s great looking stuff and we love that, but it’s super functional, too, says David. “None of us take it lightly that we’ve survived these trips without major incident, and we really respect the protective nature – it’s armour. You’ve got your passport in there, you’ve got your maps, it’s your second skin.”
The Long Way idea started out with humble beginnings, but was an international affair from the outset. Initial conversations between Ewan, Charley and Russ happened in London over tea and toast. Cut to LA in 2002 and the core team was now fully formed, with David Alexanian completing the line-up. David, Russ and Charley were all set to jump on a call with Ewan, who was filming in Australia. At the last moment, the three men got on a flight to Sydney and surprised Ewan in person. As the story goes, Ewan filmed his final scenes on the Star Wars set, put down his lightsabre and slipped on his Belstaff jacket, and the four headed off to discuss the Long Way Round project, which was later fleshed out over fish and chips near Bondi Beach.
This spirit of spontaneity and informality has informed each of the three series. “We don’t plan too much, and I think people like that,” says David. “The idea really is to try to get lost.” The focus on embracing the unknown gives the series an air of authenticity – something the team tried to harness from the outset. On that aforementioned day in Sydney, the Stereophonics new album was playing in car; they later contacted singer-songwriter Kelly Jones and the Stereophonics went on to compose the theme songs. Similarly, the Belstaff jacket Ewan was wearing on that day and the collective appreciation the group had for the brand meant that it became the natural outfitting partner, and the collaboration has only strengthened over the years. “It’s hard to put your finger on why relationships work but there is a certain style that comes with Belstaff and mixed with its practicality and its heritage, there is a certain mystique,” says Russ.
A personal touch always been intrinsic to the project and this intimacy – which informed both the small on-the-road team (which has consistently comprised just six people) and the nature of the filming and editing process – is perhaps why the Long Way has had such lasting and widespread appeal, both inside and outside the moto community. “It was very important from the outset to make sure that we just filmed what the boys did rather than ‘lights, camera, action”, says Russ. “The idea to shoot behind the scenes was also important so that people can see the highs and lows that we went through as we tried to put our deals together to allow the expedition to happen.”
“People have a nose for what’s real and what’s not,” says David. “Ewan and Charley aren’t trying to be cool, they’re not macho guys. When you watch them ride, they are so accessible, talking about their strengths and weaknesses… I think people gravitate to it. There is a magnetism.”
This commitment to authenticity is mirrored in the Belstaff and Long Way Up collaboration collection, and each piece has its own story to tell. The Long Way Up Montana Jacket is lined in Ewan McGregor’s family tartan for a touch of hidden heritage. This pattern is also mirrored in the McGregor Pro Jacket – cut from 12oz waxed cotton sourced from Scottish Mill Halley Stevensons, which is based near Ewan’s family home. It’s these little details that ensure the pieces and the Long Way philosophy live on, inspiring people to get out there and do something different.
“I would always recommend to anybody to just set off and do your own adventure. You never regret travelling your own way, the long way,” says Russ. “Do something rugged and close to nature as it makes you feel good. When you see the birds and the trees and listen, you can also then reflect on life, and I feel that makes those moments very precious indeed. Do it with a friend or a family member and you’ll have amazing memories to recollect on later in life.”