How did I learn to drive a SCOOTER.. in Bali

in summary: I love to drive in Bali. pretty sure it’s different in big cities, but here is fun fun fun.

I’ve been sitting on a scooter as a passenger countless times, but haven’t driven a scooter.. until now. even though I knew there was no other option to move around, I evidently had some doubts.
my only pre-education was a very short driving on my mom’s scooter in a car park – you know, just to get the feeling -, and after 5 mins I had to admit, that anyone can drive it.. however Bali is not Europe.

after few days sitting behind taxi drivers I was still hesitant, somehow I didn’t feel courageous yet to drive myself. but when I visited Nusa Penida, the time had come. when I look back, I learned to drive step by step.

the first step was in Nusa Penida; an old overused scooter, on shitty roads with pot holes. distances are huge there, and I definitely didn’t want to book an organized tour or pay for a private driver. I need my own freedom and timetable, so I rented a scooter. my point was to let’s see, whatever, if it doesn’t work I will find a plan B. if anyone’s already been in Penida, will know exactly what I mean by awful roads. seriously. they are not roads, mostly just paths or some thrown together asphalt with huge holes everywhere. as there’s no other option to reach waterfalls and other nice places, you have to deal with it. I was cruising two days all around the island and I’m sure, if I can drive here, I can drive anywhere. it was for me a steep learning curve to start, but I’m happy that I took the leap as it gave me the boost to continue.

the next step was exploring Karangasem; with another bad scooter, but at least (compared to Penida) the roads felt like heaven. it’s a huge difference when driving doesn’t hurt your ass and you don’t have to hold the bike and your full bodyweight constantly on your arms (buuut.. it can be a nice workout and good for the biceps, triceps and core muscles). here I had to get used to others on the road (Penida is pretty empty) and I had my first city experience in Amlapura with local drivers and traffic.

then in Singaraja I finally stepped up to next level with a new bike. OMG. the feeling is incomparable: the suspension, the noise, the controllability, the fuel economy.. everything. it was a Honda Vario and since then I always chose the same type. Singaraja is a real local city, so I learned a lot about how to navigate, how to stop and go, how to manage road trips, and get used to the closeness of all kinds of vehicles and the constant exhaust fumes. when you don’t have any background in driving, you are more receptive to absorb the local flow.

after a week’s break, my comeback was in Ubud. I have my opinion about the area (yes, of course will blog it), anyway I had my next learning lesson: how tourists drive in Bali. if locals drive dumb, tourists drive like arrogant a$$holes: they don’t have a clue and don’t even give a damn. it’s not surprising, that they have the most accidents. from my side I try to find the perfect combination of my European car driving experience and the 100% Bali scooter style. I have now driven every day for 3 months and till now without an accident (I had only 3 slips on gravel, well.. don’t want to turn and brake at the same time).

after a month I got my long-term hired scooter and prepared for the worst: Kuta. the bike itself is not a problem anymore, but there is a region where I avoid driving – not because I can’t, rather because I hate it -, and this is the CangguKuta line. every time I have to go there, I try not to get annoyed before reaching the area.. but at the end, I always feel like punching someone in the face. the bad drivers are out in force, and while observing the situations with some distance, I hear many times as they call out to each other.
with the rainy season and Agung-hysteria the roads are pretty empty now, and it’s not only better to get up speed, but for my nerves too.

I now have the self confidence to drive anywhere and go for long distance road trips just for fun (actually I looove them); driving a scooter feels like walking on the street, so natural, that I sometimes don’t even realize it.

and so let me share my experiences and some practical advice, that I have learned so far.

rule one: safety first..

it doesn’t matter if you lack practice or you drive slowly, no-one really cares. what matters, that be confident and totally aware, there’s no time for daydreaming. anything can happen anytime, be responsible for yourself and for others too.

therefore always wear a helmet. I know it’s more awesome to be free and feel free (e.g. in Penida you can’t even rent a helmet, only option is to bring it with you or buy one.. so actually no-one wears any), but not only because of police controls it is useful to wear one; once a pigeon thought that he could cross the road before I get there, and if I had driven without a helmet, it would have hit my head and face.. and I definitely don’t want a combat like that.

the roads in Bali are mainly okay, but of course not all; all kinds of holes and small stones make it exciting (especially during and after a rainshower). so even if you are a badass driver, there are situations when it is wise to go slower. you know.. it’s better to be a slow snail than a flat frog.
anyway if you are a slow-rider, I’m sure you will learn to drive fast; simple because the heat is so intense, that you want to arrive at your destination as soon as possible (after a few red lights during daytime you will understand what I am talking about).

do not drive, if..

you are scared
you get easily angry/offended
and especially when you are drunk!

very simple rules, particularly the last one, and still so hard to understand for many. this is the main reason for everyday accidents.. like a typical one: drunk tourist, hardly injured, without papers, who’s this guy? or my “favorite”: drunk tourist, injured local, tourist runs away (= leaves the island) without a single word or responsibility.

how locals drive..

in big average they drive like dumb AF. ohh wait, I rather show you. ;)

of course, there are some badass cruisers, but the majority are just surviving on the road. the main problem is not the style & flow of the traffic; it’s more, that they..

lack stereopsis and look only in 110 degrees ahead
don’t use the mirrors (only for checking makeup and acne on their face)
are on their mobile even while driving
and believe that others pay attention

their religion is strong, but a falling vehicle is stronger. just because they drive fast, not necessarily good. on the contrary. and if you think, that’s “okay, I will drive on the side of the road, in my own tempo and it will be fine”.. don’t. the side is more dangerous than balancing between cars in the middle. simple, because..

they don’t really use the indicators (and usually forget to turn it off)
they stop in front of you without any warning
anyone can enter the road without looking around
and they love to drive against the traffic (just because it’s a shorter way)

car drivers are different than bikers. the main problem, that cars are status symbols and they buy bigger and bigger cars, but the road size is the same.. sometimes the car simple doesn’t fit, and of course they are afraid of their precious belonging. the other problem is, that they lack proprioception when driving, so they love to drive in the middle of the road, not really in their lane. as overtaking is basically from the right, every action actually happens in the opposing lane.. sometimes left-hand traffic is totally pointless. this is why I overtake many times from the left, simple because there is a lot of space, it’s bit faster and more safe.

basic and very simple rules on the road..

left-hand traffic (but anyone can come from anywhere)
horn means usually “notice me” (many horns mean “wtf are you doing you a$$”)
lines and signs are just for your kind information (except main road traffic lights, it’s better to pay attention for them)
you can turn left literally anytime
road conditions are more than tricky (sloping, up & down hills and hairpin turns anytime anywhere)
you share the road with animals (besides people chickens, dogs and frogs are the most common)
and the most important: what’s in front of you is your responsibility

everyone drives according to the above point; what’s behind them is not their problem. honestly, I don’t use the mirror that much either (not like at home), simple because it can be confusing (no chance to figure out what they want). anyway on main roads and highways mirror is a must if you don’t want to die!

accidents..

to make it clear: no-one wants to kill you. they want to take your money and might rob you, but no-one wants to take your life. so all the news like “we were attacked on the empty road and didn’t know, that we are fighting for our lives or for the iPhones” are stupid. of course you are fighting for your belongings.. another topic whether it is worth it.

most of the accidents happen with tourists and the reasons are very simple: they are drunk and/or they are irresponsible and/or they are in the Canggu-Kuta line. I don’t really understand people.. typical sceneries are well known, but they still do the same and are surprised. so again, do yourself a favor and..

do not drive when you are drunk/high
do not hold the phone (or whatever) in your hand
do not be arrogant
and at least try not to act like a victim

if you want to be a better driver than the average..

be fully conscious and visible
widen your periphery: use the mirrors and watch the road
overtake when it’s safe, not when you are pissed off
always hold the steering wheel: the island experiences constant windy, especially on open roads and when speeding

something extra..

for your health wear face masks and sunglasses: too much exhaust fumes, flying pieces gravel and flying insects are in the air
wear shoes, or at least flip flops (why is it cool to drive barefoot?.. eww)
and always have a poncho with you (believe me, you will need it)

renting a scooter..

it’s very easy, rental is at every corner. anyway, to avoid any unnecessary scams, rent from your hotel/hostel/homestay or recommendation.
daily prices are between 50-70k; it depends on the area and the condition of the scooter. if you rent for more days, you can try to negotiate a better price (bargaining usually works here too).
long-term rentals are actually the best. monthly price is around 550-700k, but in this case it’s really important to rent from the proper guy.
helmet usually comes with the bike, but always check the size, and extra if it has a shield.

scooters do not have insurance in Bali, so if anything happens, you probably have to pay. of course, small scratches and damages are everyday occurrences (they don’t really care about them), but an accident or loss of the bike is another story. it totally depends on the rental place, but best to be aware of this prior to renting your scooter.

two main scooter types are on the streets.. Vario and Scoopy. my fave is the Vario, for one person it’s perfect. the Scoopy is for me the mum-bike, it’s better and more comfortable for 2 person.
new bikes are always better, because the chassis suffers a lot on the roads. old ones are mostly in good condition, but if you regularly drive on unsealed roads, believe me, after a few days your ass will beg for a new bike.

the fuel is super cheap, and you have basically three options to fill the tank:

1. the main petrol station is the Pertamina, you can find it everywhere next to the main roads, a full tank is about 20k. there are dedicated lines for scooters, that works very quick & easy; when it’s your turn, just remove the gas cap, an attendant fills the petrol, you give the money and done (pretty effective, this takes literally 2 mins).

2. the mobile stations (Pertamini) are more popular next to the side roads and are operated by small shops. the price is variable, a full tank is between 20-30k.

3. in worst case and/or when you are cruising in the middle of nowhere, don’t panic, because you can find petrol in bottles everywhere. they “serve” it usually in vodka bottles and one liter price is between 7-10k.

driving license..

officially every foreigner needs an international driving license in Indonesia. unofficially you can drive without it, just have 50k in your pocket.
out of tourist areas police control is not too common, but it still can happen anytime – it’s useful to know the fixed check points, usually there are alternate roads you can use to skip a police check. it doesn’t mean I encourage you to go illegal, but (if) they want to fine you, they will find a reason – don’t talk, just give the money and you are free (so you spare yourself some time and stress too).

if you don’t have an international license, but want to assure yourself, an alternate option is to obtain an Indonesian driving license for tourists. from my point of you it has no sense for short term and only driving a scooter, but for long-term it can be a good solution.

the international license has a lot of benefits. without it..

you can’t buy a scooter
you can’t rent and drive a car
you can’t bring the scooter out of the island (you could have so much more freedom, and no need to bargain with taxi drivers and hunt for another rental place)
accidents are not covered by your travel insurance

Bali is beautiful, it would be a huge mistake not to explore. besides the freedom, that you can stop wherever you want, on a scooter you will find amazing places, that you would totally miss out on an organized tour.

driving is fun, driving is easy.. just pay a bit of attention.

enjoy the ride!‪

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