Encounter: Michael Martin

If you’re looking for someone who truly makes their whole life a ride, you’d be hard pressed to find a better example than motorcycle adventurer, photographer, geographer and documentary producer, Michael Martin. With more than 100 expeditions completed to some of the most remote places on earth, this desert expert has always used a BMW GS motorcycle to transport him and his equipment close to landscapes, nature and even the people living life on the edges of existence.
But he doesn’t travel quite like the rest of us. He has spent the last six years exploring on two wheels, crossing ice deserts, volcanic deserts and dry deserts to amass material for his latest project, perhaps not surprisingly called Planet Desert.
The plan is for a nine-hour DVD documentary box-set that will first be sold to TV companies in his native Germany and then across the world next year. The new book will be released in German, English and French. It’s 450 pages long, with lots of geography, stacks of images and 300 pages of text. The photography however, is what Michael is most famous for and he has been on the road since 1991 taking beautiful images of the world. Indeed the cover image of Overland issue 14 is a remote selfie he captured in South America.
In the early days he loaded up his first R100GS with medium and small format cameras. Now with just one digital, he takes three lenses and saves a huge amount of space. X-ray machines and border security no longer freaks him out as memory cards are more easy to conceal and aren’t as easily damaged as hundreds of rolls of film that he’d also have to protect from extremes of weather and the risk of theft.
The digital revolution has been a real liberator, as the GoPro generation is discovering too of course, and now it’s so much easier to alter the sensitivity of sensors to capture global beauty regardless of weather conditions. Using cameras from -50° C to +50° C, and having the grease in the camera’s motor freeze, is as challenging as riding in a similar range… He says the toughest trip on the bike was made in Mongolia, where he crossed the Gobi at temperatures below -40° C, but it was worth it to see and experience the snowy dunes.
The only desert he hasn’t actually ridden is the Antarctic, as he can’t gain permission and, anyway, would rather witness that barren beauty by dogsled.
His work – various documentaries and so far nearly 30 books – has been recognised worldwide, including being awarded an honorary medal from the Royal Geographic Society. With this new project he says he wants to ensure that more people understand that deserts must be protected along with rainforests and oceans, but they are too often seen as marginal spaces where weapons can be tested, discarded aircraft can be left, or as somewhere to be plundered for raw materials.
He believes no transport lets you experience the diversity of the world like a motorbike, but most of all he appreciates the way he is received by locals; always open and warm to the bike. Something every one of us is able to experience.

Paddy Tyson
This originally appeared in Issue 16