It’s a sorry sight, bandaged legs limp through the streets, arms are cradled in slings, the odd face scraped and a few blistered calves. It’s like watching soldiers returning from the frontline. Yet these sorry souls are trying to enjoy their holiday in the idyllic island of Bali. They have simply come unstuck riding a scooter in Bali, a popular and extremely useful mode of transport across all of South-East Asia.
So what to do if you are headed to Bali or somewhere that a scooter will help you get from A to B and everywhere else in between? After 3 months cruising the alleyways, byways and highways of Bali here are some tips to the budding biker when riding in Bali.
The break down is you need to be licensed both in your home country and in Bali (Indonesia) to ride a motorcycle legally. Sure, this will not stop you from being able to hire a motorbike or scooter, anyone will rent you a scooter! The two things you want to avoid is getting fined by local authorities for not being licensed correctly and also making sure you are being covered by your travel insurance should you or your passenger get injured.
Avoiding traffic fines from Balinese police
Police can and often do fine riders, even targeting foreign riders they feel will not be licensed. They are officially able to fine you if you do not hold either an Indonesian or International Driving Licence. Naturally, the more obvious you behave and area you ride in the more attention you draw from authorities.
Getting a local Indonesian License for Bali
If you are in Bali for a while, it will make sense to go to the trouble of getting a local license. The following steps are required for getting a local license whilst in Bali:
- Head to the Police station at Jalan Gunung Sanghyang No.110 (Kerobokan) Denpasar, Bali 80225
- Request a ‘SIM C’ motorbike license and pay the fee of $1M IDR (~$100 AUD)
- Show your passport, plus bring a photocopy of your passport and your local driving license from your home country
Getting an International Drivers License (IDL)
If you are only in Bali for a short visit an International Driving license might make more sense as it can be obtained before you leave for your trip. You will need to get an International Driving License from the country where you hold a current motorcycle license. Yes, that’s right an International Driving License is only applicable for a license you already have in your home country. So if you do not have a motorbike license in your home country the International Drivers License won’t cover riding a motorbike in Bali. Your national automobile association or motor registry will issue and IDL for you.
Travel Insurance – How to know you are covered riding a scooter in Bali
Unless specifically called out as an activity in your travel insurance policy, most insurers won’t cover you for injuries incurred while you while riding a motorbike in Bali on a standard policy. If it is a specifically covered activity, you will be required to be riding ‘legally’. This means you are not breaking the law in Indonesia (e.g. drinking, speeding etc) as well as holding a licence for riding a motorbike both in your home country AND Indonesia (this is either the Indonesian license OR the International licence). Lastly, it is important to check if your insurance coverage extends to pillion passengers also.
Assuming you have all your paperwork covered (and even if you don’t) riding a motorbike, for the first time ever, in Bali, is not a great idea. The most common cause of accidents is with inexperienced riders coming unstuck, not because the roads and traffic is abnormally treacherous, just the sheer numbers of people who are riding for the first time. With bikes everywhere and traffic often at a standstill it is the best way to get around. It’s just that on holidays, you are likely to have other things on your mind apart from riding a motorbike. In addition, you could be carrying a passenger and also unlikely to be wearing any protective clothing.
If you ride a bike in your home country and ride regularly you should find riding in Bali OK to adjust to, I actually think it is safer than in most countries as the speeds are a lot lower, you just need good reflexes and anticipate the worst, a common skill when riding anywhere.
Types of Bikes
Most bikes in Bali are 100-150cc step-through automatic scooters. Either Honda or Suzuki, they have a flip-up seat to store a helmet or small bag/dry gear. Most will accommodate two people and generally get you anywhere you want to go on the island (although long-distance trips could be quite tiring as speeds are slow).
You can get specialised bikes and they have a Scoopy model which is styled like a Piaggio Vespa which you see a few of as well. A few specialist outfits rent high-performance bikes, but these would be quite pointless in Bali.
Give the bike a good checking over as it is likely to have something playing up. You should call this out before you pick it up. Renting is a piece of cake though. Rarely any paperwork and is as simple as handing over the Rupiah, once you’ve negotiated your rate.
A daily rental should not be much more than IDR 70,000 which equals about USD $6-7. Although if you take this for longer the price comes down. At the time of publication, to hire a 150cc relatively new Honda for 2 months was $3 per day. There is no shortage of hire places so ask around if you want to haggle on price or quality of wheels. And, make sure you pick a decent helmet with a working buckle and a scratch free visor. At night or in rain it can be hard to see if your visor is badly scratched.
Need a scooter in Ubud? We used Ubud Scooter Rentals which I recommend.
At first, the roads of Bali seem like an anything goes type of affair. While this might actually be true, my experience was more of organised chaos. The general rule on a bike is to keep moving. Stopping only banks up other bikes who expected you to naturally keep moving. It is like a rocks and sand analogy, the cars are rocks and the bikes are sand that fill each and every available space between and around the cars.
At intersections the approach is to be assertive and decisive about when you decide to go, then be defensive at all other times. Only at the few red traffic lights are you obliged to stop completely. At large busy intersections move with other motorists who are going the same way as you, it’s like a safety in numbers type of effect. Also use large vehicles to shield you from on coming traffic and sneak through in their shadow.
Hold your line. Most Balinese riders are quite good and will not wildly weave across the road, although they may come up alongside you quite close and don’t be surprised if you are riding three or four abreast in one lane. Holding your line will ensure you don’t weave into someone else’s path coming up behind. If you are finding you are getting squeezed, just ease back, move to the left and let others pass around you.
Use your indicators to turn off the road you are on and also to pull over, but don’t use them to overtake other bikes as this will just confuse people and you’ll be constantly using them! Also ensure you turn your indicator off when not intended as someone may pull out in front of you thinking you are turning.
A dog barks from the left, a scooter overtakes you, a truck is coming toward you on your side of the road and a pothole springs out of nowhere ripping the handles bars violently left while you are still trying to figure out if you should have taken that last turn or not. Rather than go into explicit detail, take a look at a video of a typical trip cruising the streets of Ubud.
Parking (including Denpasar Airport)
You can park a scooter just about anywhere. It’s common courtesy that you shouldn’t park in doorways or driveways. Also you shouldn’t really park other bikes in. People aren’t afraid to move your bike if it is in their way but it’s not a good practice and your bike could get damaged in the process. Likewise feel free to move a bike that has parked you in or is in your way.
Some prime positions near tourist sites might have parking officials which charge a parking fee. How official these are is debatable but at 2000 IDR it’s a small cost if you can’t find a spot elsewhere.
Denpasar Airport Parking for Motorbikes
If you are departing Bali temporarily by air (perhaps on a visa run) you might wish to ride your scooter to the airport and leave it there until your return, saving on taxi fare which could be about two weeks scooter rental! Parking is monitored closely around the airport and there are reports of bikes being damaged if not parked in a proper garage. The good news is, these are quite cheap, about IDR 20,000 ($2) per day. When heading towards the airport on Jl. Ngurah Rai, veer right along Jl. Kemayoran before you reach the boom gates to enter the airport, follow this around and you’ll see a number of motorbike parking stations on your right (Map link here). From here it’s only a short walk to the terminal.
Lastly, watch your legs when getting off the scooter, it is so easy to burn your leg on the exhaust pipe! Also be aware that the bike you’ve squeezed in next to may also still be cooling down so be aware! It hurts, and leaves a nasty scar!
Have fun & be safe!
While this information may seem all doom and gloom and perhaps contradictory to your ideal visions of cruising beaches with surfboard strapped to the side and wind running through your hair, it is just factual info based on experience, that can allow you to have the freedom and forewarning about riding a bike around Bali unencumbered with the stress that should something go wrong you are covered.