As a bike rider, I always hire a scooter when in Bali. In fact, riding a motorcycle is a great way to immerse yourself in any culture. A lot of people are nervous at the prospect of stepping outside of their comfort zone and having a go. The following is a guide for beginners who want to have a crack at riding a scooter in Bali.
My trusty 125. It's actually owned by a friend of mine, and I hire this bike every time I go to Bali. This picture was taken just before a pass through a dried river valley just south of Danua Batur. It got a little rough, to say the least.
Hiring a Scooter
Scooters cost roughly AU$5 per day (at the time of publishing this post), and you only need a car license to ride one. Your hotel can probably find you a decent scooter hire but be sure to check the bike before accepting it. Check it for previous damage and ensure it's recorded on your documentation lest you get fingered for it when you return the bike. Make sure standard things like brakes, lights and mirrors are working. Most of the time this is a doddle but if you're not satisfied, go find another deal. Most places are run by good people who do this for a living, so they're unlikely to be looking to rip you off. Be humble and treat them with respect and they will do the same.
What about hiring bigger bikes?
It is my personal opinion that the only reason some people choose to ride a larger CC motorcycle in Bali can be put down to the following reasons:
- Ego. They think they are too good to ride a simple automatic scooter and want to provide it to everyone.
- They are serious about doing some long-distance touring around the Island.
So you can ride a bigger bike: Big deal. I say to both categories above; don't bother. Bali is not built for large motorcycles, and you will rarely get anywhere faster on a larger CC bike than you would on a sensible scooter. If you are still not convinced that's your business but here are some other points to consider if you don't want to heed my warning:
- You will look like a knob
- If you have mechanical problems, most workshops are not equipped to assist you because they specialise in scooters not motorcycles (think tyres etc.)
- The faster your bike can go the more likely you are to come-a-cropper (crash) in the lawless Bali traffic conditions (regardless of how awesome a rider you think you are)
- You WILL attract the attention of the police
- Scooters can easily access anywhere on the island
Insurance: Most standard policies won't cover you for riding a motorcycle, so I encourage you to ensure you are covered in case something goes wrong. I also strongly recommend that you to have your international drivers license and keep it and your home countries driver's licence with you. If you don't, you'll want to hold a few Rp50,000 notes in your pocket to avoid potential problems with the Indo Po Po. Don't keep them all in one place by the way. If you pull out one note at a time, it could be a cheaper "fine" than if you pull a wad of cash out all at once.
Respect the local laws, and you will have a ball!
A warning: If you get involved in a crash in Bali, 8 times out of 10, whether you were at fault or not, you will be made to pay for all damages. Don't bother riding if you are not 100% resigned to this.
Hired scooters generally come with a helmet. But It's worth wearing or buying a decent lid; or as good as you can find. Most helmets sold throughout South East Asia are not the same quality as those required by law here in Australia. Still, common sense will show you that some are better than others.
To buy your own, I recommend finding a helmet (only) dealer outside of the main tourist areas. In other words, one whose predominant market is locals, not tourists. A good dealer will have a decent stock of various sizes, styles and brands. It's unlikely that your shop owner will speak English, but if you don't know any Bahasa (Indonesian) don't be too concerned. You can negotiate with numbers and a calculator to get a mutually acceptable price. A good (by Bali standards) brand new helmet should only cost you between AU$20 - $50, which is a small price to pay for peace of mind and melon protection.
Scooters are automatic and pretty easy to ride. Still, the most significant cause of accidents for foreigners in Bali is going too fast, racing, unnecessary and aggressive lane splitting and drinking and driving. If it's your first time on a scooter, just take it easy. It is not a rule that you split lanes and ride on footpaths so don't get pressured into that. You are a guest in another country, respect the locals, respect your bike and consider injuries that could ruin your holiday. If you don't think you can handle those restrictions, then better you catch a taxi.
A word on road rules (to be applied throughout SE Asia)
- Big wins. If you are on a scooter, you are small. If he is in a truck, he is big. If he wants to turn in front of you, he can. Also, he will.
- Road rage is not cool anywhere; especially here. Balinese people do traffic like you do Netflix on the couch. It's just part of their day. There's no fast forward button, so don't try to beat the clock. It's all part of Island life. Also, don't be a dick.
- It's what's in front of you that counts. Cars, truck and other motorcycles will overtake you at will. The majority will avoid hitting you until they are an inch in front of you at which time you are no longer their problem. Your job is to avoid running into what's in front of you. The role of everyone behind you is to avoid hitting you. To attempt to manage both is a recipe for insanity.
- Indicators are pretty flashing lights. Feel free to use them - or not. As will your fellow road users.
- In Bali and most other SE Asian countries, you use your horn to warn another road user that you are overtaking them.
Most parking is simple and easy in Bali but, as you can imagine, it is at a premium in some of the busier places. Here is a guide to parking in Bali in active centres:
- Don't park in bays in front of a shop you are not visiting. They tend to get a tad bitter about that.
- Often old men are employed to manage parking on busy streets. Sometimes they will ask you not to lock your steering so they can reorganise the parking in your absence. You are expected to pay them when you return to your bike. The price is usually only a few Rupiah so keep some small notes handy in your pocket.
- Leave your new helmet hung over the mirror - especially if you don't like it and never want to see it again...
- Sometimes you will return to find your bike boxed in by other scooters. In these cases, don't be shy about moving the other bikes to get to yours. It's also expected that you put them back when you're done.
- Scooters aren't that heavy. Use the handle on the back to lift and drag the back wheel when parking and moving your bike.
A Few Places to Ride
Bali is a place that is synonymous with international holidaymakers. In fact, it is the first and ONLY overseas destination for many Aussies. Its central tourist hub, Kuta, is ironically both an attraction and deterrent for potential tourists. Sadly too many people who visit the Island for the first time are either put off by the hyper commercialism of Kuta, and it's surroundings. Worse, in my opinion, become addicted to its syrupy facade and don't even bother to step off it's crooked, predictable path. If you are either one of these, let me implore you to give some of the lesser-known parts of the Island your consideration.
This was the balcony view from the Rijasa Agung hotel in Ubud. Incredible spot. You are looking down on a river in the steep valley below. This place was a good 20 minutes south-east of Ubud.
Ubud is a comfortable ride from Kuta. It will take you about 2-3 hours on the scooter, but you might need a little navigational support. Don't expect a highway ride to your destinations of choice in Bali. The road to Ubud is full of turns and is mostly houses and shops either side of the way. But the location is worth it.
Ubud has the best markets I have seen in Bali. There are things here you just wouldn't find in Kuta or Seminyak. The surrounds are also worth exploring. It's a mountain town, so some of the vistas to the North West of Ubud are well worth exploring on your bike.
I had to stop the bike and get a rain jacket out to keep the cold at bay just before I took this pic. Just next to me was a guy selling bread and fruit.
Danau Batur is a lake in the North-Eastern side of the Island. As far as the joy of riding goes, Bali rarely gets better than the pass through the mountains above the lake. A word of warning, either side of summer it gets cold and drizzly up here. Enjoy winding roads through lush rainforest and a view to take your breath away.
One of the prominent features of Candidasa is this lake in the middle of the town, directly adjacent the ocean. You can't see it very well in this pic but on the opposite side is a French restaurant called La Rouge. Well worth making the journey just to eat here!
In Bahasa whenever you see something spelt with a "C", it is pronounced "Ch". So Candiadasa is actually pronounced "Chandidasa". It's a single road, oceanside town about 3 hours out of Denpasar. The road to Candidasa is slightly more civilised with dual lanes most of the way. It's a destination worth visiting on an overnight adventure, in my opinion. It's also worth noting that Candidasa is a popular spot for Scuba Diving tours.
This is the room Madeleine (my daughter), and I stayed in. Yes, that's a yellow teddy bear giving you the moon. Yes, that's the ocean out there. This view is from the second floor of a villa built atop a Bluff. There's some swanky villa's and a small hotel about 100 metres down a gravel track from here with wifi and a communal swimming pool. Bliss!
Heading West? Balian is another worthy destination after a decent ride. This is Bali like it was meant to be. My favourite place to stay here is Pondok Pisces. The rooms have Ratan ceiling fans and mosquito nets over the beds instead of air conditioners. And prepare to fall asleep to the thunderous noise of waves crashing on the beach directly below your cliffside perch. No shops. No hawkers. Beers on plastic chairs overlooking a pristine ocean. It's also a top surfing spot.
How did I do?
My guide is in no way definitive, but I hope it helps to encourage some of you to break away from the "traditional" Bali Aussie experience. If you have something to add, please join the discussion below. Ride safe!