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Updated: Nov 28, 2023

Moto électrique en Afrique
Sinje's motorbike

We’ve just caught up with Sinje Gottwald, the first person to have crossed Africa solo on an electric motorcycle. It’s been a great opportunity to ask her some questions about her planning of the trip and the challenges she faced. She paved the way for electric two-wheelers travelling in Africa and as a pioneer, she paid the price of being THE FIRST. Riding from Barcelona to Cape Town, Sinje shared her captivating story with Bike Out.

Sinje, in a few words, tell us a bit about yourself, please :

My name is Sinje Gottwald. I'm German by origin, but currently reside in Barcelona. I've been working as a Key Account Manager for Cake Motorcycle in their B2B/Retail sector for two years.

What attracted you to work for cake?

I used to work for Microsoft for 7 years, and Salesforce for 2 years and at one point after my big first trip around the world (I was on the road for 3 years), I was looking for the dream job, you know. And I realized I wanted something with a purpose and Cake for me, ticks all the boxes. It is absolutely my dream job.

And previously, you spent three years touring by motorbike?

Yes, it was from 2017 to 2020. I did it with a BMW R100 GS PD.

The BMW GS ridden by Sinje during her 3 years trip across the world

But, let's talk about your trip with the electric bike.

Give us a few figures to help us to understand it in a global way.

Of course. My journey spanned from October 14, 2022, to February 15, 2023, covering 13,000 kilometres over 125 days. I crossed 19 countries, starting from Morocco and concluding in South Africa.

Africa map with itinerary followed by Sinje
Itinerary followed by Sinje from Spain to South Africa

When did you start to think about this trip? How did it come to you?

I was thinking about it before working for Cake, actually. When I did my trip around the world, in 2019 I'd already crossed Europe, Asia, Australia, South America and North America. I was just about to go to Africa on my BMW and I thought I should maybe do it differently and I've started thinking about Cake. But I was told the bike is not designed for long travel, so I gave up that plan and I decided to do it with my motorcycle, but finally, Covid-19 stopped my trip and I couldn't cross Africa. I left my BMW in Senegal.

I took a break and I finally got hired by Cake.

Why did you do this trip? What was your goal?

First of all, I just wanted to finish my trip, but I also wanted to show that travelling with an electric motorcycle was possible as log. I wanted to make it a little bit more challenging.

Africa and electric motorcycles, no one has ever done that before, and I wanted to be the first one :-)

So you've chosen the KALK AP Cake model?

The most willing for this adventure. Road legal bike, easy for the maintenance.

There are other electric motorcycles to do it, but most of the bikes are really heavy. My BMW was so heavy too. If I get stuck in mud for example, then it is easier to get through if the bike is lighter. So finally the kalk with its 80kg, was a good option.

Motorcycle in the grass during a sunset
The Kalk AP Edition

Some figures on the Kalk Ap edition

Torque (wheel) : 280 Nm*

Peak power : 11 kW*

Top speed : +90 km/h

Weight : 80 kg

Battery : 51.8V / 50Ah / 2.6kWh*

Range : up to 3 hours*

What were you worried about before leaving?

My main worry was locating electricity points. With no previous such travels to reference, information was scarce. Although, I could research political climates, border protocols, and visa requirements, charging my bike remained a gray area.

Did it prove as difficult as you thought?

Yeah, it was really hard... (Laughs)

Give us a brief rundown on your gear and what you packed:

  • 2 bags on each side of the bike

  • 2 bags on top

In the bag on top of the bike, I had one spare battery, So I had 2 batteries in total, one on the bike and one in the bag.

In the second bag on top, I had 2 chargers. Whenever I stopped to charge the batteries, I could charge 2 batteries at the same time to avoid wasting time. And then, in the side bags, one side bag was with mostly spare parts, the other one with personal stuff, and one bag pack as well with a few other things.

But mostly it was spare parts, batteries, tools, chargers and a laptop. The laptop was used to analyse the bike if something doesn't work. I brought it just in case, but I didn't have to use it.

For me, personally, I only brought one pair of pants, 2 T-shirts, a toothbrush, my documents and that's it. The more you bring, the shortest is the range of your motorcycle.

Weight of your luggage?

40 kilograms including the battery (One battery is 17 kg).

What sort of impact did that have on the range?

In the beginning, there was no impact because, in Morocco, the roads were good and flat, there was no wind and the range was absolutely fine. I had to go slow to preserve the range. One day I could do 90 km with one battery which was great, I had wind from the back so it helped me but generally, I could do 50/60 km on one charge.

What was your charging process? You charged your battery once a day and you used your 2 batteries?

I left very early in the morning when the sun was rising because I wanted to use the daylight as much as possible. Then I rode for 3-4 hours with both batteries, Then had a stop to charge both batteries for 3 hours, and then went for another 3-4 hours. But it was possible only at the beginning when there was great infrastructure. From Guinea-Bissau to the south I didn't have great infrastructure, so I had to stop sometimes even after 30 km, where I could charge. Sometimes there was only one house in the village that had electricity. You know, the place where every villager is going to charge their phone.

How many km a day?

200 roughly in Morocco. Obviously, less after. I was doing a lot of off-road and of course because there was less infrastructure to charge the bike.

Did you have a riding plan for the week?

No, (laughs) I just rode as much as I could and when I was exhausted, I stopped. Or, for example, If I had to ask for a visa because I had to stop on the way for that, I was taking this time to rest. But, I was riding almost every day.

Did you have a checklist in the morning before you left?

No, I didn't have that, but I used to regularly check the bike, The chain, the tires but there's nothing much to do because it's an electric motorcycle. There are not a lot of things you can check (Laughs).

So what sort of electric bike spare parts did you bring with you?

I know, I had experience with my BMW. Air filter, oil, etc. Especially if you go off-road, so I was used to all of this, but with an electric motorcycle… if it has an issue, you can not fix it like that, you have to change a part. It can be a display or controller, so I brought the ones that could eventually break down. And you don't need to get mechanical skills because it is just screws to remove, you change the part and that's it.

So it was easier to fix than another type of motorbike?

To be honest, I didn't really have to change anything because nothing important really broke, but it would have been easy. The laptop would have told me what was wrong.

And how did you go about charging your battery?

In Morocco, I stopped at a gas stations and asked for electricity, and it was working well. When it got harder in the south in Guinea-Bissau, I had to plan every day during the evening. Sometimes I took a look at Google Maps and Google Photos to see if they had electricity lights in the house. That was crazy. If this was the case, I knew that I would ask people if they have electricity. I had to say ok, tomorrow let's ride 50 km, and then I will stop to charge, and another 30 km to charge again. But even with this kind of plan, it was really hard because sometimes people just didn't have electricity. Sometimes they would have electricity, but it was not working because of blackouts or generator broke. So It was really challenging.

Was it easy to change the battery on this model ? How did you do exactly ? How long did it take ?

I had to take off the seat, unscrew two screws (that I didn't put back again),

pull off the battery and replace it. Let's say, it is a 5 minutes process.

Were people welcoming when you asked them to charge your bike?

Most of the gas stations were welcoming. Sometimes I had to pay, sometimes not. Whenever I arrived in a village I would ask anyone, ''I need electricity for my motorcycle'' but they never understood what I meant. It took a long time to explain. And sometimes they brought me to a mechanic because they thought I wanted to put liquid in my battery. So sometimes I had to show a picture or a video of what I needed exactly. I was always a bit stressed because the longer it took to explain, the less time I had to finish my day, and I didn't want to arrive at night.

What was the average amount asked by local people to charge your 2 batteries when you had to pay ?

I almost never paid because they didn't want. Most of the time, I offered, but they were saying, no.

But I paid for the petrol for the generator.

Where did you usually sleep? Hotels?

Yes, mostly in hotels, but not the one you imagine (Laughs). It is less than standard. With a normal motorcycle, you can always sleep in a nice place because you go 300 km from one place to another place. If you have to go a few more kilometres to reach a bigger city or village, it is possible. But for me, I couldn't go to the next bigger village to find something better. So sometimes it was where there were no tourists at all, and they had no hotels. Only a dirty room with no toilet and no hot water, and sometimes it was really unpleasant.

Your worst moment in a few words?

There are many bad moments, to be honest, but I would say crossing Nigeria. I did not feel safe.

There are a lot of militaries and policemen. They are very aggressive. There was a high risk of something happening to me. One day, one guy just hit me. People are yelling at you with an AK47 pointing at you. You don't know if they are real or fake military, so you don't know what to do.

Where did you cross the border in Nigeria?

From South Benin. Leaving the country was the next issue as well because the border with Cameroon was closed due to a high risk of kidnapping, so I had to take a boat, but it was not the nicest cruise…

I have to say that I had a military escort in the country for a while because the military said to me that it was too dangerous for me to travel alone.

At one point, they couldn't escort me anymore because there was a truck in the middle of the road, so they gave me advices before leaving me : "when you are in your room don't open the door to anyone, leave it closed whoever is knocking. He told me as well not to stop in the next villages, even if it was the military who asked it because they were probably fake ones.

Military guy with a motorcycle
The military escort in Nigeria

No one tried to steal your motorbike?

I was really careful every night and during the day. At night, if it was possible, I was taking it inside my room and if it was not possible I never would have left it outside. Every night, I always had a discussion with my host to arrange where I could leave the bike. But not a single night outside. And I always put a cover on it and a disc lock with alarm that one guy in Senegal gave to me.

How long did it take to cross Nigeria in the end?

I only had a seven-day visa so it was really stressful because they changed the rules when I was in Africa. You couldn't ask for a visa on the spot. You had to do it from home. So, that's why I had only a seven-day visa after negotiating with the guys at the border.

Your best moment in a few words?

There are a lot too, fortunately. Let me think… I would say in Guinea. I had a problem with a screw that was broken off on the motorbike because I tightened it too much, and a Lebanese community did everything they could to help me to get the bike fixed within one day. After that, they invited me to a birthday party. It was a really nice moment!

Group picture front a typical guinean house
Encounter in Guinea

Your best country to meet the local people?

In every country you can meet nice people, but it depends on how you are yourself. I love talking to people, but to be honest, I didn't have much time to meet and stay with them and share things with them. I've shared some good moments when I was invited to their house when I was invited for example to taste their alcohol from palm trees and to see how they were making it. That was really interesting, but I was too much into the road trip to stay a lot.

Your best country for landscapes?

Difficult question, but If I had to choose I would say Gabon because it was really green and nice.

Motorcycle on a road surounded by equatorial forest
The cake in Gabon

 And Sahara and Namibia I would say for the desert. I love desert rides!

Motorbike in the middle of a desert in Mauritania
In Mauritania

Best country to charge a bike?

Morocco definitely

Do you still ride a bike today? If yes, which bike do you own?

The Kalk is used for marketing purposes now with Cake. It has been exposed at Eicma in November. I got my BMW back this year! I went there with a french governemental flight and I rode it back to Spain. I have a Husqvarna 450cc as well and a Cake Makka for Barcelona.

Why would you recommend people to travel on an electric motorcycle?

Let's do the distinction between traveling and crossing Africa with an electric motorcycle. Because crossing Africa was really challenging. But, I can definitely recommend traveling with an electric motorcycle because first of all, there is no maintenance and it is easy to just use it! It is so beautiful as well to be on a motorcycle that doesn't make any sound. It is even easier to connect to people because you don't go fast and you have more time to discover the things around you.

This is one of the reasons why people travel on a motorcycle because, you smell everything, you see everything, you feel everything better than in a car. You're definitely closer to people.

Where can we follow your adventure?

Only on Instagram

I put up a new picture pretty much every day,

Thanks a lot, Sinje.

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