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5 Things I Learned While Renting a Bike in Bali

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Hectic, fun, free, scary… Balinese traffic is called many things. What I can say about it: it’s different. During my years on the island, I’ve learned these differences and my driving experience is now completely different from when I started. Why so? Read ahead:

1) People drive collaboratively

During the first weeks of my driving experience, I was completely amazed by the behavior of Balinese motorists. Sometimes coming from impossible angles, overtaking from the left (in Indonesia, you drive on the right side of the road), sometimes suddenly stopping or taking turns…

Then, it occurred to me that, in Bali, you have to drive cooperatively if you want to stay safe. What does it mean? It means you need to pay attention on everybody on the road, because everybody is paying attention to you. It does require quite a lot of extra awareness, but keeping your distances and anticipating other’s trajectories is the way to go.

Everybody looks forward, everybody tries their best to anticipate. Rear view mirrors are indeed usefull, notably when merging or exiting a parking spot, but too much glancing behind can deprive you of a decisive split second. Drivers behind you will be looking at you, so you’re free to look at drivers in front of you .

Tip: try to direct your attention not only at the vehicle immediately before you, but two or three vehicles ahead. Your peripheral vision might be a great help, too!

Tip: use your horn and beams a lot. A couple of short honks while overtaking is the norm, as well as signaling your intent to overtake to drivers on the right lane with your beams. 

2) Motorbikes are an integral part of the Balinese life

I have very rarely found people on the island who couldn’t drive at least an automatic scooter. Balinese start driving from a very young age, sometimes before 10 years old (whether it’s legal or not is another story), and the younger ones learn to use a bicycle almost as soon as they can walk.

The result is sometimes amazing, with families of 5 fitting on one bike, drivers carrying all sorts of heavy objects on the back seat or between their legs, and occasionally some feats of agility bordering 6th sense powers.
This confidence and, in many cases, life long habits, explain a lot about the Balinese traffic.

Tip: Don’t drive if you don’t feel confident with it. Hesitating will confuse fellow drivers and might create accidents.

3) Watching the road is as important as watching others

When I first got on a Balinese road, I though “This is pure chaos, they drive like crazy people”. Now that I understand that driving in Bali has nothing to do with madness, but is just done differently, I’ve found out that one of its greater risks is come not from the people, but from the roads.

The transition between smooth asphalt and rough coating riddled with potholes can be surprisingly abrupt, sharp turns may be even sharper than you think, and construction trucs regularly spill sand or worse (chalk).  I’ve been surprised more than once by a rogue hole in the ground, and chalk, especially in the south, has given me cold sweats on several occasions. I am now much more careful when driving down a road I’m not familiar with.

Tip: In the event you’re about to enter a pothole you didn’t notice, don’t brake at the last moment, you could be in for some bad road rash. Instead, let go of the gas and stand up, it does the trick!

4) Safety gears are a must

Bali is hot, bali is hot, bali is hot. Jumping on your scooter to feel some breeze in your hair is one of the most tempting things, and one of the most dangerous.
Every time go to the airport, I can see many visitors harboring casts and bandages on their legs, some even having to use crutches.
Accidents happen… and personally I’d rather be prepared.

A full helmet, long trousers and closed shoes are my minimum when it comes to safety. It doesn’t sound like much fun, granted, but a head trauma isn’t the pinnacle of holidays amusement either, nor is peeled knee or feet skin.

When I rent a scooter, I also make sure that the brakes, horn and beams are fully functional, and take a look at the tires to make sure they aren’t bald.

Tip: Wear at least a full helmet. It costs around USD40, and is a terrific investment, keeping you alive in case of bad head bump, will not only benefit to yourself, but to all who care for you, and to your fellow motorists which, in case of accident, would really hate to harm you.

5) There’s motorbike, and there’s motorbike

Renting a motorbike in Bali is very, very easy. Sometimes so easy that we forget that there can be major differences between models, even the ‘matic ones.
When the classic Vario is a good all-rounder, its rear brakes tend to lose their grip after a couple thousand kilometers. Mio and Beats are great little machines, but their small size make them difficult to handle if you’re taller than average -they are also completely unreliable passed 65km/h since they don’t let you bend well when taking curves.
The Xeon has a very strong engine and is very stable but is way heavier than its counterparts, which can be a hassle if, like me, you’re of petite stature.
The Scoopy is very popular, but very light and not very powerful, I would recommend it for beginners having to ride short distanced, but nothing more.

In the end, don’t hesitate to test drive the available models and find one that fits your driving style. I can make a huge difference both in driving pleasure and safety 🙂

Tip: Automatic motorbike rental prices vary from IDR 350.000 to IDR 500.000, beware of anything out of this range. Also, ask whether the bike is insured against both accident and theft. It doesn’t happen often, but that a risk better left covered!

What’s your own experience while driving in Bali? Is there anything you want to add to the list? Le me know in the comments 🙂

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