"It All Started With A Monkey Bike In The Garden"

An insight into Charley Boorman's Off-Road Addiction

CHARLEY BOORMAN EXPLAINS HIS OFF-ROAD ADDICTION. Charley Boorman is a regular visitor to BMW Off Road Skills, whether we want him or not... (just kidding!) On his most recent visit, we asked him where his life-long for off-road riding came from. And the answer was worth sharing.   

BMW Off Road Skills: You’ve been coming to Off Road Skills for a long time now, but where did off-road start for you, before Long Way Round or anything like that came about?

Charley Boorman: “I suppose where it all began for me, off-road, was probably when my parents moved to Ireland when I was three or four years old, and my father made a film with Sean Connery. His son, Jason, was there and for some reason, I don’t know why, there was a little monkey bike lying around. And I remember Jason; I think I was maybe six or seven, made me push this bike up and down this hill, to try to get the thing started. We eventually got it started and Jason had a go, and then I eventually had a go and I remember going past my father on the lawn, thinking I was this amazing rider, and as I went past him he grabbed me by my hair and pulled me off the bike just as the bike went into a barbed wire fence. I was hooked on motorbikes ever since really.”

“And then there was a guy called Tommy when I was a kid, who lived in the village, he had a Maico 400 and he used to let me have a go on that. In those days the Maico 400 was the bomb, it was the absolute bike to have. I just rode around the countryside in Ireland and we used to get a little jerry can on the back of the bike, and then we’d just go up into the Wicklow mountains and just go and go until the fuel ran out. We’d fill the bike back up with the jerry can and ride home, and that’s what we did all summer.”


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So where did your involvement with adventure riding start?

“Well that’s how it all started, but I then rode road bikes and all sorts when I left Ireland; I left Ireland at sixteen. I eventually met Ewan on a film set, and we started riding bikes together, and started doing a lot of track days together at Silverstone, Donington, Brands Hatch, Oulton Park and all those places. We started doing slightly longer journeys, and we thought it would be really nice to do a REALLY long journey, which is when we started thinking about Long Way Round.

That came up in discussions as a book first, but both Ewan and I are completely dyslexic, so we couldn’t write the book, so we thought “well how are we going to do this,” we’d said ‘yes’ to these guys who were going to give us all this money, but we couldn’t write it! So someone suggested we do a video diary, and then get someone to help us put the whole thing together, so that seemed like a good idea. And then we thought “well if we’re going to do that then we might as well film it a bit,” and that’s where the idea of the TV show came along.

“So that’s where we met Simon Pavey, a good few years ago, when we came up here to test ride the BMWs. He’d just come back from the Dakar, where he’d broken his collarbone. He was being a real whinger about picking the bikes up…”

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How did your participation in the Dakar Rally come about?

“It was from that first experience that Simon and I built our relationship, and it was his involvement with the Dakar that, after I’d finished Long Way Down with Ewan, made me think that it might be possible. I came back down here and I asked “what would you think about doing the Dakar rally with me?” Luckily, he said yes. I started coming down here all the time, as much as I could, to train. I’d do school after school after school, and then we’d go and ride in the evenings or I would go and do a hare and hounds.”

“I remember the first enduro I ever did was a round of the European championship, but Simon didn’t mention that, he just said, “we’re just going to do this enduro.” It was only when we got there that he mentioned that it was a 2-day event. We started the event, and I couldn’t understand why everybody was just flying past me! Anyway, I finished the day, I’d messed up all my times, and I remember saying to Si, “I must be such a bad rider, I was so slow.” It was only then that he said I’d been racing against the best couple of hundred riders in Europe!”

“I’ve been coming back regularly ever since, and it’s been great to see the school getting better and better, and to see it change hugely from when we first came here all those years ago, to what it is now, this slick operation.”

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You’ve ridden all over the world, in many places with many people, what is it about Off Road Skills that keeps you coming back?

“Firstly, Simon’s a great friend, and Llel, his son, who I’ve known since he was a little kid, we’ve all ridden together for a long time. We did Dakar together, and I spent so much time down here when I was training for that, I got to know the whole Off Road Skills team very well.”

“It’s fun to watch new people coming in, especially when they’re coming to do their first Level One, you see in their faces that they’re all a little worried and a little quiet on the first morning of the course at signing on. Then they get up to the site, and they’re quite shocked at the size of the place where you’re riding, this incredible place. Then they do the first morning of the school, they get to lunch and you can see everyone smiling and laughing and having a great time, and then to see everyone putting everything they’ve learned into practice on the big trail ride in the afternoon is fantastic.”

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“It’s just really nice to see people’s happy faces! Some of the best riding in the world is off road riding, and I always say it’s the purest form of riding. So I always encourage people to come here and do Level 1, and then if they really like it, do Level 2 and 3. Not only is it great fun, but anything you learn here off road, makes you a better and safer rider on the road.”

Check out the courses on offer at BMW Off Road Skills and join Simon Pavey for your own off-road adventure: World of BMW.

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