‘African Motorcycle Diaries’ by Spencer Conway DVD

dvd-african-motorcycle-diaries-by-spencer-conwayNarration in TV travel series seems to have become obligatory. Sometimes it works, filling gaps, expanding ideas, providing background; the glue that bonds disparate scenes in the editing studio. But the wrong intonation can annoy. The repetitive, overly dramatic ‘Ten Worst…’ American cable style is excruciating. Thankfully this Diesel Films series, aired on the Travel Channel and now available as a two-and-a-half-hour DVD, hasn’t fallen foul, and that isn’t just because the narrator has an English accent!

Spencer Conway set off from a rainy England on his Yamaha 660 Ténéré to circumnavigate Africa in a clockwise direction. Unsupported, it reminded me of Jonny Bealby’s exploits in the early 90’s, albeit in the opposite direction on an earlier generation machine, and recounted in the book ‘Running with the Moon’.

Spencer’s is a solo endeavour and one that he planned to capture on hand-held and helmet cam, even though he had no experience of filming or of talking to camera. It’s a steep learning curve but one that he embraces with the same gusto he uses to tackle everything and the results are terrific. He had professional help filming in three of the 32 countries for a few days at a time, and irregularly met and travelled with a back-packer who also helped. Together it makes for great entertainment and what shines is Spencer’s infectious enthusiasm, even when he has been shot at. Who’d have thought a single bullet could destroy a rear wheel?

When his camera is stolen in Angola he isn’t bitter, just disappointed that beautiful experiences and human interaction couldn’t be captured and shared until he got a replacement.

He’s on the road for 267 days and covers 34,000 miles in that time, so you’ll appreciate that there is some urgency to his travel, but this doesn’t impact on the entertainment especially after the opening 20 minutes when his filming skills improve measurably. Perhaps riding marathon days is tempered by the fact that Spencer studied Anthropology and clearly enjoys people too. He has a ready smile and even when the going is tough he maintains that happy, endearing openness – punch-up in Dakar aside…

He never loses sight of how lucky he is to be travelling and how diverse and beautiful the continent is “Just when you thought Africa couldn’t get any more beautiful, God throws Malawi at you!”

The riding is tough, especially in DRC and he has plenty of spills throughout, but his bike is generally tough and doesn’t need quite the nursing his boots do, but he sticks with them even after they’ve been attacked by dogs. Little constants like this combine well with Spencer’s charming, down-to-earth personality to create a few inspiring hours of entertainment. The fact that some of the filming has an amateur edge combines well with the overall nature of the trip and what is after all the fulfilment of the ambition of one man with a dream, to ride an intriguing continent.

Review by Paddy Tyson

Diesel Films 148 mins (2015)

Duke Video £14.99