The Motorcycle Portraits is a project by photographer/filmmaker David Goldman, who travels the world making documentaries, and takes time out to interview interesting people in the motorcycle scene, wherever he might be.  The result is a single exemplary photo, a geolocation of his subject, and a transcribed interview.  The audio of his interviews can be found on The Motorcycle Portraits website.

The following Motorcycle Portraits session is with Sinje Gottwald, a motorcycle adventurer who’s been mostly on the road for years, on a variety of machines.  While she began her RTW trip on a BMW GS, she’s currently traveling on a CAKE Kalk through Africa, in an attempt to set a long-distance record with an electric motorcycle. You can follow her amazing Instagram feed here.

The Motorcycle Portrait of Sinje Gottwald and her BMW GS, taken while she was touring North America in 2019. [David Goldman]

Tell us about yourself:

So My name is Sinje, I come from Stuttgart Germany, and I was born there in 1983. My mom is Korean, my dad is German, and I got into motorcycling cause my dad: he used to travel a lot on motorcycles in the 70’s and so he always told me all of his stories. He rode all the way from New York to Ecuador he also rode from German to the Ivory Coast and all those stories that he always used to tell me and my siblings were always so interesting to me so that’s when I first got into motorcycling. I used to ride on the back of his motorcycle since I was about 5 years old.

Sinje in her happy place, riding through the desert in Mauritania in Feb. 2020, before the Covid lockdown complicated her travel plans. [Sinje Gottwald]

How did you first get interested in motorcycles:

I first got into motorcycles because of my dad. He used to travel a lot and I thought it was really cool what he did. When I turned 24 I got my license and went on my first big trip to Morocco.  When I first got my license 10 years ago, I just wanted to ride a motorcycle – that was basically it. I just wanted to ride. I had different pictures in my head of course. You know, freedom and being able to get from one place to another. I’ve been traveling around the world on a motorcycle for 27 months now, and after being on the motorcycle for such a long time, the way l look at it and the way I feel about riding motorcycles has changed completely. I often get asked if I couldn’t do this whole trip in a car or in some other vehicle. I think riding a motorcycle in places, especially places that are unknown to me, is very different. People always – wherever I stop – walk up to me and are interested. They want to know about the bike, they want to know what model, even people who are not interested in motorcycles generally, they want to know about the bike, they want to know where we’ve been.  I think the bike is a magnet somehow.  To me it’s more of a door opener, it helps me to get in contact with other people in different places, and I think you wouldn’t have that if you were in a car.

Sinje in Cartagena, Colombia in May 2019: “I just wanted to take a picture with these beautiful women but then Teresa, Yveth, Maritza and I ended up spending some time together chatting about life and my journey while laughing so so much – it really made me very happy” [Sinje Gottwald]

Tell me a story that could not have happened without motorcycles in your life:

When I decided to go on this trip around the world, I only had about 3 months to prepare for the whole trip.  And I didn’t have a bike. First I had to decide on and get a bike within a very short period of time. I talked to a couple of people and every person told me to get a different bike, so at one point I just decided to go and take a look at different bikes.  When I found this specific bike that I’m riding around the world with now, I knew exactly that it was going to be it. It’s a 1994 Urban GS PD, an old BMW, and I decided to take it, first because I felt very comfortable with it, and second it’s an old bike so it’s very mechanical. I thought it would be easier to get it repaired once I was in countries where there are no mechanics for bigger bikes.

Sinje’s current mount: a CAKE Kalk AP on which she is riding down the West coast of Africa, hoping to set a distance record on EVs. [Sinje Gottwald]
I left Germany in 2017 without any mechanical knowledge, and I didn’t know much about this bike, but I was confident I would always find someone to help me. That’s what I thought.  After only three weeks, when I got to Istanbul, that’s where for the first time the bike it just didn’t run anymore. I went to a gas station to fill up and after that it just didn’t start anymore. It was about 100Km outside of Istanbul and people don’t speak English there. I had no idea what it could be, I tried to jump start it but it wasn’t the battery so I was stuck there and also desperate. I had checked out from the hotel in the morning in Istanbul, and the guy at checkout told me that he loves motorcycles; he gave me his business card and said ‘if you ever get into trouble in Turkey or if you ever need anything while you are here just give a call’, so I was really lucky that I kept his card. I just called him and told him I was a bit outside of Istanbul and the bike wasn’t starting and so he organized everything from Istanbul. He sent someone to come and pick me up and tow the bike and while all of this was happening (it took several hours) but while all of this was happening he was already trying to find out if there was any good mechanic in the city who would be willing, and who knows about old BMWs. I got to Istanbul after about three or four hours and we went to an old tiny garage in the old part of the city. I got introduced to this guy who works on old BMWs, and he immediately started working on the bike and took the starter apart, and told me that it was the magnets had got loose.  He repaired it for the next two days, and for the next two days I was their best friend. They invited me to dinner, they took me out for a ride, they gave me another bike to ride for those two days, they invited me to their family. After two days the bike was in perfect condition again, and I wanted to pay for the work he did on the bike, but I wasn’t allowed to. So that was my experience in Istanbul for my very first break-down of the bike.

Plenty of this too: Sinje keeps a sense of humor about such spills, but says here sand-riding skills are now excellent. [Sinje Gottwald]

What do motorcycles mean to you:

So riding solo as a woman I didn’t really think about it as being special in the beginning, but now that I’ve been on the road for such a long time, I realize that it’s a bit sad, but it’s still very special in our society, in our world, and I only met three other women who ride solo around the world on this trip in two years. I’ve met so many other people; guys, groups, couples, but female solo riders not so many. Wherever I go most people ask me “so where’s your group. Where is the rest of your group?”  When I tell them I’m alone their faces change, everyone is really amazed by it or even surprised, and some people say you’re crazy. How can you do it, are you not afraid of being alone on the road as a woman, and sometimes I think it’s really annoying that some people say “as a woman” As a woman it must be so and so difficult or dangerous whatever.  But unfortunately as a woman, you have to be a bit more cautious when you’re on the road and yeah, I do whatever I can so that I don’t risk too much. I also learn on the road that riding around the world alone is inspiring to other women. I didn’t realize that at the very beginning, but now I get lots of emails and messages via social channels and I’m happy that some other women now have got inspired and think that because me and some other women that are riding around the world solo that they can do it as well, and I think that’s a good thing. I think we all as women we have to support each other and I think that’s what’s happening right now. I think the more women that are on the road, I think the more women that will be on the road in the future.  

The awesome vastness of the global landscape means at times you are truly alone, as in the Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia. [Sinje Gottwald]
Explore other fascinating people in our Motorcycle Portraits series here.



David Goldman is photographer and filmmaker who has traveled the world on projects documenting human trafficking, maternal health and marginalized people. He also interviews and photographs motorcyclists in this travels for his series The Motorcycle Portraits. You can follow his website here, his IG here, and his FB here. Explore all his stories for The Vintagent here.