Maverick Life


Charging through Africa — Sinje Gottwald’s record-setting trip across the continent 

Charging through Africa — Sinje Gottwald’s record-setting trip across the continent 
Sinje Gottwald in Dakhla City, 1,430km from Dakar. Image: Sinje Gottwald / Cake

Sinje Gottwald has become the first person to complete a solo, unassisted crossing of Africa on an electric motorbike.

On 15 February 2023, German Sinje Gottwald became the first person to cross the African continent on an electric motorbike, solo and unassisted. She arrived in Cape Town after 125 days, travelling from Barcelona to the tip of Africa on a trip that spanned 13,000 kilometres. 

“My dream was to see the world with my own eyes. No matter how much I learn about places, seeing and experiencing them myself will always give me a better understanding. This, I feel, is particularly the case for Africa. With this adventure, I not only wanted to open up my own and people’s views and ideas about this continent but also give an example of what is possible even if the challenges seem too big at first. We are capable of a lot more than we think,” Gottwald has said.

From Spain to South Africa

She set off from Spain on 14 October 2022, ferrying across to Morocco where she would face the deep, golden sand dunes. This would be the first test of the bike, but certainly not the last. From there, she would traverse desert and more dunes, through forests and rivers and everything in between to cover the longest distance ever on an electric motorbike.

Gottwald is a seasoned biker. From 2017 to 2020, she was riding across the world on a 1994 BMW GS, crossing over Europe to Asia, South America to North America and then planned to travel from North Africa down the continent — she made it to Mali before she was forced to stop due to the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, parking her bike in Dakar and flying home. 

Gottwald remembers how her journeys were leisurely and unhurried, stopping whenever she saw somewhere she wanted to stay and riding without a strict schedule.

“I wanted to see the world … It’s so nice to see things change gradually when you go over land,” she tells Maverick Life.

This time, however, she had a mission to complete. 

“No one’s done this before unassisted … I wanted to show that the impossible is possible and to push the limits,” Gottwald says. 

“My goal was to get from Spain to South Africa on this electric vehicle, I wanted to prove that it is possible. So my mindset was completely different. It wasn’t about the scenery, or sitting there, drinking your coffee and relaxing and enjoying it.

“It was more like, ‘whatever challenges I get, I will get through them, and I will find a solution that will hopefully keep me moving’. It was for a very different purpose.”

Sinje Gottwald with her electric motorcycle in Morocco. Image: Sinje Gottwald / Cake

Sinje Gottwald with her electric motorcycle in Morocco. Image: Sinje Gottwald / Cake

Getting her electric motorcycle ready

With a wide knowledge of adventure motorbiking, Gottwald has been working for Cake, an electric motorcycle manufacturer, for a number of years as an account manager. With a dream of testing the capabilities of electric mobility, she put her own company’s product to test.

For the trip, she chose the Kalk AP, described on the Cake website as being “engineered for wildlife conservation areas” in collaboration with the Southern African Wildlife College, “optimised for rangers working to protect wildlife in the harsh conditions of the African bush.”

Gottwald explains how she quickly fell in love with the 80kg Kalk AP, which can reach a top speed of 90km/h and features 18ins off-road tires and a rear carrier for travel. It also has a 2.6KWh lithium battery, which can be charged in the bike or removed and charged separately. For a trip relying solely on electricity, Gottwald would need to learn exactly how the battery operates in all conditions.

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On the Cake website, the Kalk AP battery is noted as having a standard lifespan of up to three hours, riding style, weight and road surface dependant. In reality, Gottwald quickly figured out that her bike would last around 89km with her full pack, which included chargers, spare parts, tools, a laptop in case her bike required a software update or remote support, a camera, personal belongings and, vitally, an extra battery. 

Through trial and error, Gottwald quickly found a rhythm that worked for her; riding 50km, stopping to swap out batteries and then riding another 50km before finding a spot to charge. There, in villages and cities alike, she would charge up her batteries for around three hours before heading off again.

In motoring circles, Gottwald says that there is a constant discussion around the range of electric vehicles, and even more so when talking about long-distance and adventure travelling. While others saw this kind of trip as a no-go, Gottwald saw an opportunity and is hopeful that the technology will continue to develop. 

“We’re not really there yet. We need better batteries and longer ranges, we’re in a development phase, we’re not at the end goal yet. But even now, it is possible already. And we’re developing and going in the right direction,” she explains. 

Changing terrains

The Kalk AP is designed to navigate through different landscapes, but Africa is a large continent, and the terrain changes all the time. 

“‘In the beginning, I had no idea, because the bike wasn’t built for this trip. I didn’t know if it would actually be okay because I put it through a lot — deep water, a lot of mud, potholes, roads that really weren’t great,” Gottwald remembers. 

It was only at the border between Guinea Bissau and Guinea, where she had just crossed through a jungle and a river, that she could breathe a sigh of relief that the bike would take her where she had to go. 

Sinje Gottwald watches the sunset somewhere between Boujdour and Dakhla in the Western Sahara. Image: Sinje Gottwald / Cake

Sinje Gottwald watches the sunset somewhere between Boujdour and Dakhla in Western Sahara. Image: Sinje Gottwald / Cake

With worries about the range and finding places to charge aside, Gottwald also had to contend with the realities of travelling solo, staying healthy enough to carry on and crossing many borders. Like any traveller, there were also often visa hoops to jump through that complicated the process. 

Looking back, she says that what stood out to her were all the people who supported her. 

“People invited me to their homes and showed me how they lived … One person drove me around to find a mechanic in Conakry, Guinea, when I had an issue with the bike … I had beautiful encounters with other travellers and was on a WhatsApp group [where you can] share information,” she remembers. 

Though she acknowledges the specific challenges that come as a woman travelling by herself, she explains: “I don’t like the general view that sometimes exists that just because you’re a woman, you should reconsider doing something… 

“There are so many situations where we just back off from our own dreams. I don’t like that. And I want women to be more open to their own dreams and really go for things — and of course, always be smart about it, but don’t decide not to do it because you’re a woman,” she says. 

Gottwald also points out an important distinction about her record. 

“In this case, I’m the first person who’s done this trip unassisted, not the first woman. The first person.” DM/ML


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