It took me a few years to find my feet, and my wheels, when I first moved to Bali. I needed a way to get around, and was sick of seeing kids and tourists zip past me on motorbikes like they were born to ride. So I gathered my courage, gave myself a pep talk, and got my hands on a motorbike. I started off by practicing in my gang (little street) and just when I thought I had mastered it, a car came along. In my head I was going to be cool, calm and collected. In reality I forgot where the break was and went straight into the bamboo fence! I might need some more practice before I’m as skilled as this guy.
I have spent plenty of time on the back of a motorbike, and here’s what I can work out about the road rules from my point of view as a passenger.
The last passenger on the scooter (I’ve seen anywhere from 2 to 5 people on a scooter) has the job of waving their hand to indicate which way the bike is turning so people don’t collide with you or cut you off as you turn.
Honk away! Honking is like another language in Bali. A honk can be used to say ‘I’m on your right’, ‘I’m on your left’, ‘ I’m right behind you’, ‘I want to go past you’, ‘ You’re going too slow’, ‘and You’re going too fast’. Drivers must honk as they come around corners to let other drivers know they’re coming around. Honking can mean hello, goodbye, or be used to blast people or animals off the road. Honking is the only way to get let into traffic or change lanes. Honking makes it all go, and everyone seems to understand what a honk means.
Have you seen motorbikes with their hazard lights on and yet they seem perfectly fine idling at the intersection? Well that’s because the hazard lights are used to tell people that the driver is going straight ahead, rather than turning left or right.
No one is really ever in a hurry so take your time, go as slow as you need, take a deep breath and honk your horn. It can’t hurt.
It goes without saying, make sure that you have a valid drivers license, insurance and a helmet. I used to get around here on a pushbike, and even though I’m pretty slow and careful on my deadly treadly, I came off my bike once and hit the road. Hard. Hitting the road at high speed on a motorbike? Without a helmet? You’ve got no chance and it’s not worth the risk, no matter how ‘free’ it feels. Helmet heads for life!
Not-so-life-important tips include:
Motorbikes can look the same. Get a key ring beeper so you don’t take someone else’s bike.
The seat hatch is handy for handbags and a small amount of groceries. But don’t forget they are there. Handbags can go missing. And from experience leaving eggs, milk and bread in the seat hatch does not end well, for the groceries or the motorbike owner.
Roads in Bali are bumpy so hold on and don’t use your phone even as a passenger. iPhones don’t bounce well on the road. Again, from experience.
If you see someone talking to themselves while on a motorbike, chances are they are using their own form of blue-tooth and their mobile phone is wedged between their head and their helmet.
Anything, and I mean anything, can be carried on a motorbike. I once saw someone moving a fridge on a motorbike.
It may seem like chaos at first, but if you go with the flow, you’ll be cruising along Bali style in no time. And don’t forget to honk!
By The Voice of Sanur Team.