By John Pedler
Published: Tuesday, April 23, 2019
The sandy beaches and lush hinterland of Bali are simply gorgeous, and motorcycling is one of the best ways to experience the sights, sounds and aromas of one of our favourite tropical islands.
With two-wheeled freedom you can transport yourself from the busy resort centres of the south coast to the terraced rice paddies of the hills, and further afield to the more secluded seaside retreats up north.
Plus it’s a lot of fun.
But to say there’s a difference in riding conditions between Australia and Bali would be considered a heroic understatement.
Here are a few things to take into account before you saddle up.
1. They’re very easy to hire.
I selected a motorbike from a rental company catalogue at my hotel, and within 15 minutes a 110cc Honda Vario was delivered to reception.
It cost about AUD$9 a day, including insurance, and although it sported a number of battle scars, proved to be a reliable little unit.
2. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re legally able to drive them.
At no point during the hiring process was I asked to show a licence. To ride legally in Bali you must carry an International Driving Permit (IDP) – endorsed for motorcycles – together with your state licence. Otherwise you’ll need to get a local Indonesian licence.
Also, be sure the hire company gives you the rego papers, as these might be requested if you’re stopped by police.
3. There’s a fair chance you’ll be stopped by police.
Whenever I took the main road from Seminyak to Denpasar I was pulled over at a police checkpoint. The whole encounter only took a minute and was very civil, and once my IDP was checked I was on my way.
The police also look out for riders and pillions not wearing helmets.
4. Everything you’ve heard about Balinese traffic is true.
Mayhem rules. Around the main centres, traffic jams are as common as Bintang tank-tops. But the mass of motorbikes seems to flow like a river through the throng of cars, trucks and buses, seeking every possible passage through to the head of the queue. This stream of bikes will even spill onto the footpath to find a way around gridlock.
Despite the apparent chaos, the more time you spend on the road, the more you notice a vague semblance of order. There’s even a willingness to let traffic in, a politeness that’s much appreciated when you’re learning the local conditions.
5. You will get (temporarily) lost.
I’m sure there are motorcyclists who set off on daytrips years ago – before the advent of smartphone-capable GPS – who are still trying to find their way back to their hotels.
Bali’s roads are bewildering, and once you leave the main drag it’s a challenge to find reliable sign posts. In the main centres the labyrinth of narrow, one-way streets would test even the most experienced maze-conquering lab-rat. Travelling from point A to point B in Kuta, Legian and Seminyak can involve a circuitous route that seems to transcend space and time. Sometimes it’s just quicker to walk.
The best piece of navigational equipment you can carry is a pillion passenger who’s prepared to keep an eagle-eye on the GPS, and alert you every time you miss a turnoff. Expect to hear from them a lot.
I did notice that some of the most scenic countryside I encountered was a good distance away from that right-hand turn I should’ve taken 10 kilometres ago.
6. Buy a raincoat/poncho.
When my wife/pillion passenger convinced me to pull over to buy a two-person rain poncho during our ride to the hilltop village of Ubud, I figured we were squandering perfectly good satay money. The weather was warm and stunningly clear.
On the way back from Ubud we were hit by a biblical rain storm that threatened to wash the hills into the sea.
Quickly donning our wisely-purchased poncho, we arrived at the satay stand almost completely dry.
Check your travel insurance.
To be covered by your travel insurance policy you must have a motorcycle licence that’s valid in the country you intend to ride. Also, check if your policy has any other conditions, e.g. engine capacity limitations or rider age limits.
Some companies don’t cover motorcycling unless a higher premium is paid, so have a good look at the PDS before you sign up. RAA Travel Insurance covers mopeds, motor scooters and motorcycles under 50cc at no extra cost, plus RAA members save 10%.