Charley Boorman Interview Back to News List

Probably the world’s most recognisable adventure-riding celebrity, Charley Boorman is a popular character. That’s no doubt due in no small part to his friendly and approachable nature. Billy Ward sat down with the man in Africa and had a chat.

Motorcycle adventurer, bestselling author and documentary maker – the one and only Charley Boorman. How’s life in the fast lane?

“I’m not sure about the ‘fast lane’, but life is good.

“I’ve been all over the place this past couple of years, including Australia, southern Africa, Morocco, and of course mainland Europe, which is just on my doorstep. I’ve also been doing a bit of fun racing and had a great time pushing my gorgeous Triumph Thruxton around in the summer for the Café Racer Cup – a UK track event where you can race what your brung. It’s a brilliant fun day for all the family.”

In between your TV activities, you keep coming back to Africa to run tours. Why Africa?
“Easy question! “Africa is by far my favourite continent. Of all the riding I’ve done around the world, Africa always stands out as the diamond. The people, the cultures, the epic riding, and of course the wildlife. There’s not many things that beat bumping into a herd of elephants as you’re riding along. Or working on your bike at night out in the bush as you hear that deep roar of a lion. The lion could be miles away, but it sounds like it’s just down the track.

You run two long-distance adventure rides from Cape Town to Victoria Falls and from Victoria Falls to Cape Town, via Lesotho. How do Charley Boorman rides differ from others?
“I’d like to think they are the crème de la crème of tours.“Look, first, we’re in Africa and we know the place really well. But let me list what we think are some key differentiators – these are the kinds of things you need to compare with other African tours you’re considering: does your tour have a fully qualified paramedic equipped with a comprehensive medical kit? Does your tour accommodation use luxury lodges, hotels and fine dining? Does your tour have two support 4×4 vehicles, trailer, mechanic, spare motorcycle, and four crew? Does your tour have a qualified and registered African FGASA field guide? Does your tour provide a GPS with daily routes? Remember that horrible feeling of trying to keep up with the rider in front of you? Or being stuck behind a slower rider? It doesn’t happen with us.

And does your tour supply low-mileage motorcycles? We only use quality bikes, cars and trailers – this is Africa,they need to be the best. Does your tour supply activities such as safaris and river cruises? We’ve chosen our activities after years of experience – we know the best!

“And will your tour be led by a world-renowned motorcycle adventurer, international bestselling author and documentary maker – the one and only me? (Sorry, they told me to say that!)”

Your African rides visit South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Lesotho. What for you is the highlight of that itinerary?
“That’s an unfair question.
“Out of about 17 nights, there are easily 10 that are my favourite, and that’s on the upward trip alone.
“Riding through a reserve and getting within 10 metres of a white rhino, riding around a corner and having to stop because the track ahead is full of elephants, cruising along in a boat getting right up close to massive hippos…then of course, there’s the camaraderie – that whole thing that bikers have. The sheer enjoyment of being together on bikes and having a shared experience.”

Your clients are from around the world and of different riding abilities, what level of riding skills do they need to complete one of your African rides?
“My view is you have to be a competent rider in general, and then we always recommend you get yourself on to an off-road skills course in whatever country you’re in. In Australia there are several,“We’re not riding along goat tracks – we’re on the main strips. It just so happens that the main strips in Africa can often be gravel.”

And I know Simon Pavey, the 10-times Dakar legend himself, flies over each year to run a course and ride.
“Doing an off-road course will increase confidence and give that extra layer of skill so you enjoy better these amazing tracks around Africa.
“But remember this: we’re not doing an enduro, it’s just an adventure ride. The tracks are actually predominantly the standard roads. We’re not riding along goat tracks – we’re on the main strips. It just so happens that the main strips in Africa can often be gravel. They’re awesome and any reasonable rider will manage them. In fact, once you dial into them, they just become ‘normal’.
“One thing I do want to say though, is don’t get hung up with some people who think an adventure isn’t really an adventure if you’re on an organised, sup-ported ride. I’m often arguing this one out with those purists. I’m sorry, but every ride is an adventure, and I can assure everyone our African rides will be real adventures. When you’re in Africa, it doesn’t matter about support trucks, or medical kits – you’re still riding the ride and you’ll still experience one hell of an adventure, along with the sense of achievement that’ll wash over you as you arrive at the final destination. That is guaranteed!”

You’re riding a new Triumph Tiger 1200XC. What are your thoughts on the bike and how has it performed over the 10,000km of punishment you’ve given it?
“I thought the question was going to be, ‘So how does it compare to the BMW 1200GS?’ That’s the normal one I get hit with.
“Listen, I have loyalties to lots of bikes, even my first bike, the little Yamaha DT100. I still have my Yammy and even my girls learned to ride on that bike.
“The way Triumph has progressed is phenomenal. The level of sophistication, the electronics, the suspension and the design…it’s all top end. When bikes get this good, it often then boils down to personal preference.
“The Tiger 1200 is my daily ride. It sneaks through the traffic in London, my home town, and yet it will rally across north Africa, through gravel, rivers and challenging terrain. At the same time, as soon as you get to the highway, it’s pure luxury. Heated seats fore and aft, heated grips, electrically adjusted screen – the list goes on and on.”

What’s on the near horizon then, Charley?
“We’ll be planning our normal annual rides, like our big African adventure, and I have a couple of TV show ideas on the boil. But apart from that, I’m keen to get into some four-wheel action as well. I’ve been asked to get involved in some rally-ing, so I’m looking forward to that.
“The Bike Shed in Shoreditch, London, is one of my projects. I’ve been involved with it from the beginning and we’re looking to expand into the US. That’ll be exciting.
“We have our annual Australian ride and I usually hang out in Oz a little bit after the ride. I used to live in Australia in my early days, so it always feels like I’ve arrived home when I’m there.
“My girls are big and have grown into young women now, so it means me and my lovely wife, Olly, can maybe find a few travel adventures together next year.
“Finally, most things I get up to I put on my website, so check it out. But for now, thanks for the questions. I enjoyed the interview!”

A big thank you to ADV Rider who originally published this article. Check out Charley’s upcoming Compass Expeditions tours here.

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