Listen to an interview with independent filmmaker and boutique hotelier Sterling Noren while reading a list of Yoda quotes and you’ll soon realize that you are looking at “two sides of the same coin.” Like the pocket-sized Jedi Master, Noren’s small stature, miles-wizened patina, and unassuming, grandfatherly demeanour camouflage some serious off-the-charts competence of an adventure motorcycling colossus within.
When it comes to ADV motorcycling, the Boorman/McGregor Long Way franchise is the standard point-of-entry into motorcycle expedition fandom and is widely credited as ground zero for motorcycling’s fastest growing category in decades. Chapeau, monsieurs. However, for viewers who have outgrown the Boy’s Own wonder twins and are now in search of more meaningful waters to dip their toes into, Sterling Noren’s Motorcycle Travel Channel on YouTube offers encyclopedic content that’s a homey and relatable mashup of Rick Steves’ Europe, masterful “how-to” instruction, and Eckhart Tolle mindfulness.
Since 1998 Noren has travelled the world filming motorcycle adventures, alone and as an esteemed collaborator of riding giants such as the GlobeRiders team, Helge Pedersen, and the Backcountry Discovery Route (BDR) organization. His measured pace, quiet body language, and calm delivery is reminiscent of ‘Mister Rogers – slowly drawing the viewer in until they are hypnotized. It’s a refreshing change from the typical, crotch-clutching, wheelie-infected “vrooom” and “braaap” videos that litter today’s motorcycle media content. Noren himself describes his approach as “meditative and relaxing…just presenting the experience as it is, without a lot of talk, explanation and personality.”
Seeker. Searcher. Wanderer. Bodhisattva. Pick your label. Unique to this petrolhead culture of ours, Sterling Noren isn’t afraid to get all existential and mushy about “solitude” and having a “higher purpose” in ones’ motorcycle adventures, thus embodying all the crunchy granola labels so quickly applied. By his own admission, Noren’s exploits are in part motivated by “looking for opportunities that prove “the world is still a magical and enchanting place, full of beautiful strangers willing to aid each other on our journey together.”
Likewise, when’s the last time you heard someone say “Where there is beauty, there is truth. The two are never far away from each other…” within the context of a garden variety jizz machine video?
It appears that audiences are beginning to pay attention. Chalk it up, maybe, to the soul-salve seeking pandemic hangover sweeping over us all?
Perhaps Noren’s resonance points to some kind of emerging zeitgeist whereby riders are tiring of the usual moto culture tropes and ready for something a dash of the metaphysical? Or, could it be the ghost of “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” reprised and recycled for the 2020’s? Regardless, after years of habitually putting out really good work to a small, slow-building audience it seems Noren is standing at the confluence of a moto-zen moment and having a well deserved minute. Much like The Force, one can almost feel his presence everywhere within ADV media these days.
His most recent series, “Riding Solo,” is a 25-plus episode omnibus covering a 6,000-mile solo ride embarked on to put time to good use during the pandemic. Spoken like a true empath, Noren states that the expedition germinated in part from an insight that “a lot of people were…wondering, how do they cope in solitude” in the face of unprecedented uncertainty and isolation? As such, he saw “Riding Solo” as a way to allow “people to vicariously experience travel and maybe see an individuals’ healthy relationship with themselves in a (solitary) situation.” With this series, Noren leans hard on the “meditative” approach, intentionally steering away from a generic, “talky” travelogue style, choosing instead to simply show what he is doing and allowing the audience to be engaged in the stillness of moments, scenery, and journeyman craft of solo adventure travel. In this manner, each viewer is free to gather learnings at their own pace, according to their own needs. It’s almost as if he’d taken a page right out of the Fred McFeely Rogers book on early childhood education…
To focus just on the feelies, however, would be doing Sterling Noren and his work a huge disservice. We bring it front it and center here because it’s a fresh new vibe, genuinely presented, without pretense. While this tone and manner may be a unique differentiator for his brand, the real meat on the bones is Noren’s mastery as a visual storyteller. His work stands apart with gorgeous cinematography and broadcast quality production values. In an amateur landscape cluttered with way too much clumsy and artless single camera GoPro footage, Noren’s work is grounded in composition, shutter speeds, and f-stops. Knowledge and skills that have been acquired over decades of “classic, old school photography, with a tripod and long lens,” as a professional adventure filmmaker. Likewise, an important part of what makes Noren’s work so good is that he doesn’t take short-cuts. As a professional, he sweats the hard work and attention to detail to see his vision through to the end, because that’s his job description. Noren states that commitment is simply “the story of my life. How many miles have I walked to and from my camera?”
Ponder on his Survivorman style process, a deep and wide portfolio reaching-back to 1998, and the fact that he was able to film and edit more than 25 episodes of “Riding Solo” in less than a year (more output than many will produce in a lifetime) and an “a-ha moment” of respect should soon set in.
Visit Sterling Noren online here https://www.youtube.com/user/NorenFilms, and here http://www.norenfilms.com, or in person here https://www.thejonquil.com/ and become closer to enlightenment you will…