Driving a motorcycle is very dangerous in Indonesia. Many people ruin their holiday because of accidents. A lot of people, mostly the young but oldies too, seem to think that, once they leave their home country, they have an endless supply of “Get out of Jail Free” cards. Sorry but life is not like that.
To those readers who aren’t experienced riders, or have limited experience, don’t even think about riding a motorcycle in Indonesia. You can hire a car with driver for $40-$50 a day, depending on your bargaining skills. You will be ferried around hassle free. Sure, it’s not motorcycling, but you won’t get lost and you’ll get back home with all bark intact and a swag load of happy memories.
So, you’ve landed in Bali and want to hire two wheels to get around. If you value your life bring your own helmet with you. The ones supplied by bike hirers may be from a bygone era. In any case, bike helmets in Indonesia are of dubious quality. Of course, you will have your driver’s licence with you and an International Driving Permit endorsed for motorcycles.
Now for the interesting bit – travel insurance. You know that not all policies are the same, so you opt for the one that covers adventure activities, including recreational motorcycling. You’ve paid the higher premium; you’ve covered all bases, right? Hopefully yes, but you may run into some problems if you haven’t read the fine print carefully. Let’s imagine you are unfortunate enough to sustain an injury, and need to make a claim. You will probably be asked for documents such as a copy of the Hire Agreement you made when renting the bike. Details of the Hirer’s insurer may be required. Certainly copies of your driver’s licence, your IDP and a copy of any police report will be expected. You must also supply receipts from all expenses incurred and if you are hospitalised you must contact the Insurer immediately. The cardinal rule is: read the fine print carefully – know what you are covered for and what the loopholes are. For example, if you were riding pillion and were injured, generally the policy states you are covered but, they may ask for a copy of the guy up fronts licence. This is an important point: there are many places in Indonesia where the ojek , or motorcycle taxi, is a popular way of getting around. You decide to have a few drinks and decide to leave your hired bike at the hotel and take an ojek: smart thinking. But, before you get on ask to see the guy’s SIM (licence). If he can’t show it you, take a licensed cab instead.
You will be assailed by eager owners who hire out their bikes on a casual basis in order to help accumulate the IDR500,000 they have to find each month to pay the bike off. So, if you take up one of these offers, where does that leave you? I would suggest, basically without a leg to stand on. The guy will be unlikely to give you a written hire agreement. He won’t even want to see if you have a licence. All he may ask for is a copy of your passport and he’ll want to know where you’re staying. You better only hire from a registered vehicle hire business. Google ‘motorcycle hire Bali’ and you will have a large number to choose from all offering scooters and bikes from between $5 – $8 per day – less for extended hires.
There are a few idiosyncratic elements attached to driving/riding in Indonesia that you have to come to terms with. For example, using indicators is optional, as is the necessity to wait for a break in the traffic before doing a U-turn. When entering a major road from a driveway or a minor road, you just drive out and expect the traffic to slow or go around you. Rear vision mirrors are strictly for wusses; bikes look much more stylish without them. In rural areas lights are not really necessary. A pillion passenger holding a torch, or flashing one occasionally if batteries are low, will suffice. At busy intersections on multi-lane roads, where traffic lights are on a long cycle, if the light has only been red for a few seconds just plough on through – after all the intersection is pretty wide and the other guys will stop rather than hit you.. If you’re a pretty girl on a scooter it’s best to avoid eye contact with male road users as you never know what sleazeoids are out there. The best way to do this is to text on your mobile as you’re riding, looking up occasionally to make sure you haven’t missed your exit.
Oh, and when you see a gap and pull out to overtake that truck or bus that’s been showering you with diesel smoke for the last 5 km, get back in quickly because guaranteed there’ll be a couple of young bucks behind you also hell bent on overtaking and getting back in to avoid the oncoming traffic. But, don’t expect them to do the same for you as they haven’t got eyes in the backs of their heads. Remember: they ditched the rear views in pursuit of that more stylish look ages ago!
One thing you will have to get used to is the congestion in southern Bali and Java. Even on the best roads, such as the By-Pass Road to Sanur, vehicles travel much closer together. And, especially at major intersections, it seems every rider wants to be in the front row of the grid. It’s not unusual to see riders mount footpaths if they see a vacant spot further up front.
Generally though, for the experienced rider, riding in Bali, although different, is not too challenging. As long as you keep your wits about you, keep to the speed of the traffic around you and don’t take risks you will be fine. Traffic moves a lot more slowly and, although congested, 85% of the vehicles are scooters and small motorcycles. In Bali the roads are pretty good and are quite well signposted. However, as vegetation grows so quickly you often find signs partially or even totally obscured which can present problems. In islands east of Bali traffic is a lot less dense but the roads are not as good. Lombok’s main roads are OK but minor roads can be very bad. The same goes for Sumbawa and Flores excepting that the major highways west to east across these islands has a number of poorly maintained sections that can reduce travelling times considerably.
One thing to be on the lookout for in Bali is the police. I rarely see motorcycle police or police in cars. Officers are usually stationed in police boxes at intersections or just standing at the edge of the road. The best way to avoid these guys is to pull up in the right-hand lane at the lights and, if possible, not make any eye contact with them at all. The one thing they all do is check for licences and IDPs as they know from experience that many tourists don’t have them. They are keen to book motorists for the slightest infringements such as stopping on or over the white line at the lights. Don’t even think about riding around without a helmet even if you’re just going 100m down the street. If police see you, you will be booked – guaranteed.
Now, here’s the interesting bit. How much of the filthy lucre do you hand over? There are tourists being brow beaten into parting with the equivalent of hundreds of dollars for very minor infringements. If you do find yourself in this situation, stay calm. Never travel with a lot of cash in your wallet. If you can, don’t even have a wallet with you when you’re riding. Keep cash and credit cards safely tucked away in your money belt which should ride out of sight below your belt line. If the cop says, ‘You must pay a fine.’ don’t ask how much. If you are smart you will have an IDR 50,000 note in your pocket together with a few other small notes. Take out this money and simply hand over the IDR 50,000 as if you’ve been through the whole palaver before and you’ll be on your way. Oh, and don’t bother asking for a receipt. The worst thing you can do is start arguing. You are escalating a minor matter into something major. If there are two cops involved remember this: the cop who’s doing all the talking will be the one who has the best English. In this situation he has more status than his mate and he will not want to lose face in front of him. By arguing you are increasing your chances of getting into some ugly, stand-off which is just a waste of time. Pay the money, smile and move off to the next adventure.
This content was submitted by Steve.