Confessions of a Serial Motorcycle Adventurer

Motorbikes, beaten-up roads and eating balls – Charley Boorman shares his adventures.
Motorcycle adventurer Charlie Boorman riding his BMW in the savannah in South Africa
Long road ahead in Africa, 2010 © Billy Ward
By Will Gray

Charley Boorman is best known for his epic 'Long Way Round' around-the-world motorcycle journey with the actor Ewan McGregor, but he's clocked up countless miles since then. He thought he'd experienced most things, until he was handed a Mongolian 'delicacy' to eat...

How did you get into adventure?

As a kid, my father [film director John Boorman] dragged me round the world to crazy film locations. Later, I went into acting, but it didn't take off, as I kept choosing movies for the location. I'd get on the plane, read the script and think "ooh, fucking hell, this is bad. But great location!"

How did you get into motorbikes?

A guy in my village had a motorbike. I was too small to reach the ground, so he put me on, and I went around the field until I fell off! That started my obsession.

Motorcycle adventurer Charley Boorman racing the Dakar Rally in Senegal.
Race to Dakar: “Bloody dangerous,” says Charley © Big Earth

You must have ridden some crazy places?

The Road of Bones [in Russia] was really intense. Most of the bridges were gone, and the rivers were deep and fast. We sat for a day and a half once, waiting for a truck to help. In Mongolia, our support car crashed, and one guy was coughing and peeing blood. The nearest hospital was three days drive away! No air ambulance, nothing. That made us realize we were on a genuine expedition. It was there, too, where we had to eat testicles. We stopped at a Ger and a woman opened up the lid of this big pot to reveal this grey soup of balls. They gave us one each. Mine was huge. It exploded in my mouth!

Charley Boorman: motorcycle adventurer. He's ridden countless miles around the world on his bike.
Charley Boorman: motorcycle adventurer © Mark Hinchcliffe

What's the worst place you’ve been?

I did the Dakar Rally on a bike and we ended up in Senegal. My God, what a place. Certainly not as romantic as it sounds! It was pretty grotty. Some places in India I've been to were pretty rough too, and in Egypt some people threw stones at us. But in a way it's nice for a place to be edgy… The Dakar was bloody scary. The bikes start first each day and when the fast cars and trucks come through you have an alarm that sounds. But it just makes you jump – you look back and there's a truck coming at you at 150 km/h [93 mph]. It's so dangerous.

In 2008 Charley Boorman travelled from Ireland to Sydney 'By Any Means'. It was broadcast as a TV documentary.
In 2008 Boorman travelled from Ireland to Sydney © Big Earth

Biggest scrape?

On By Any Means, we sailed from East Timor to Darwin and had three days in 10–15m swells. Not only was it shit scary, it was also uncomfortable. You need to go to the toilet after a while and in 10–15m swells that's bloody hard! I've never been in a boat toilet and thought, 'ah, that's well thought out'!

What's next?

We've got another "Extreme Frontiers" TV show planned for Mexico in January, but before then I'm doing some off-road motorcycle tours in Africa. We do Cape Town to Victoria Falls, Victoria Falls to Johannesburg and Johannesburg via Lesotho to Cape Town [in South Africa]. I've done it for five years, and we're planning something similar in Morocco for next February too.

Charley Boorman and Ewan McGregor during their Long Way Round motorcycle trip around the world
With Ewan McGregor © Big Earth
Next Story