When I came to Bali I was with my boyfriend who rode us around on the scooter. I sat happily on the back being able to look round and enjoy the scenery and take videos with my phone while he intensely watched the road and got us through the traffic.
In fact, I looked around at the conditions and I thought, “I could never do this.”
I would see other women riding a scooter though and I would think, “If they can I sure as hell can…” but I still never ever wanted to. I liked my life (to a certain extent) and didn’t want to end it with a smashed head to the cement.
When I wanted to travel alone in Bali for a while, I knew I needed to learn to ride a motorbike. If I wanted to get around at all I was going to need a scooter. And if I was going to travel anywhere without paying the big bucks for a taxi, I was going to need a scooter. All signed pointed to scooter.
Far from experienced, I do know how to get around now, and joking aside, these are good tips and should all be taken into consideration when riding a scooter in a foreign place.
Without further ado:
#1 Rent or Buy
Depending on how long you are in Bali will help you decide if you should rent or buy your bike. You can rent them for 50-60,000 Rupiah per day and if you are staying longer than 3 months, I would recommend you buy and then sell back at the end. I bought mine from Bagus Motors in Canggu and the guy offered to buy it back at the end of my use – but I am trying to sell it on a facebook group here in Bali to get as much back as I can.
#2 Fit In With The Organized Chaos
Depending on where you are, the traffic can be absolute chaos. It’s all some sort of organized chaos but basically you have to fit in with it.
Ride in the semi middle of the road, this might sound obvious, but this allows people merging in from the left to have enough room to get in. I noticed some people merge in without even looking – it’s like they expect there to be enough room, so, yeah, give it to them.
#3 Keep Your Eyes On The Road
I know it’s tempting to look around at the beautiful surroundings but cars are passing in the opposite direction all the time and they will seem like they are aiming straight for you. You have to keep an eye on them and slow down and swerve out of their way even if you have the right away to well, keep going straight.
#3.5 Keep Your Eyes On The Road Again
Look down at the road (but not directly in front of you, maybe 10 feet ahead). There are potholes and coconuts frickin’ all over the ground. Don’t hit those.
#4. Follow Cars On Either Of Their Wheels
If you happen to be following a taxi or are driving close behind a car, I recommend driving behind either left or right side of the tire of the car in front of you. Not dead center behind the car.
If you are right behind the car you won’t see potholes the car may be driving directly over and then you will hit them. If you are behind the tires the car itself is probably avoiding potholes or you will see the tires bounce. This will help make sure you are avoiding the holes too.
#5. Get A Safe Helmet – Even If You Are Renting Your Bike
This really should have been #1. Buy your own helmet. This might be the most expensive thing you buy in Bali. Get a front screen lens thing on your helmet and make sure it fits correctly. I can’t tell you how many times bugs have flown right into my face but hit the lens instead. Win.
#6. Drivers license
Make sure you have an international license. Always have it on you. Prepare to be pulled over and be prepared to bribe up, don’t argue with the cops even if you didn’t do it, pay the fine, and move on.
#7. Elbows Up Side to Side (song reference sorry had to)
Ride with your arms straight and elbows out a tad, not in/down(hold your arms up now and pretend you are doing it so you know what I am talking about).
This helps if you are to hit any small rocks or if you do accidentally hit a damn coconut, you will avoid losing all control.
Wrists straight, not down. As in strong wrists while riding not little weak ones.
#8. Keep Up On Bike Maintenance
If you bought your bike, make sure you take care of it properly. When you buy it, ask how often you need to get the oil changed, the transmission changed, the breaks etc. and make sure you follow up with that.
#9 Don’t Make Eye Contact With Police As You Drive By Them
This eliminates the chance of being pulled over. No reasons to pull you over and you will avoid their corrupt system of paying for something you didn’t do.
#10 Turning Right – It’s The Hardest Turn Of Them All
Turning right was my hardest challenge at first. So much so I joked when I first got my scooter I was just going to keep rounding the island clockwise so I never had to turn right. There is so much traffic, so try to follow other locals but not past your comfortability. When they turn right, go with them. Even if it seems like the traffic never lets up, eventually it will.
#11. Passing Cars & Trucks – Do It (if you feel comfortable)
Some trucks spill out this heavy smoke and you have to go around them(if you want to live longer and not breathe in their crappy smoke), make sure you have enough space to do this, but by all means, with enough space – pass them all.
#12. Buy/Rent A More Powerful Scooter
Get a scooter with some oomph so you can do #11.
#13. Have Easy Access To Your Phone If You Are Using GPS
Buy this phone case, or something similar. It’s easy to use, waterproof (I’ve used it for so many different things) and help prevent phone theft if you are just outright holding your phone on your bike. In busier places like Kuta and Seminyak, tourists are known to get their phones swiped right out of there hand while holding it on the bikes.
#14. Protect Your Lungs By Wearing A Mask 😷
Buy this face mask – You can find them near the till of most Pepito Markets. The pollution you are exposed to on the bikes is insane and will probably cut your life short. This mask helps eliminate almost all the emissions, so it claims.
#15. Use Your Horn
You might notice an exceptional amount of beeping going on while on the road. This is not caused by any sort of road rage but it is common to beep your horn as you pass someone to let them know you are there. Use your horn when you are about to pass others, and when you get beeped at (like hundreds of times) keep your American road rage to yourself and realize they are just letting you know they are about to pass you.
#16. GPS Will Take You Down Some Skinny Roads, You Don’t Have To Listen
Expect to go down some funky driveways via google maps.
To avoid this you can change your directions to “car” instead of a motorbike. I’ve been taken on planks of wood that I can’t even believe google map knew about, up and down volcanos, dirt roads, through rice paddies. It’s been a wild ride for sure.
#17 Use Your Mirrors
Look in your mirrors – Don’t just ride straight, look behind you too. I mentioned that people will honk if they are about to pass you, well they don’t do that all the time. Eliminate surprises.
#18. Don’t Drink and Scoot
I can see this being tempting, especially if you are staying away from the town you are hanging out in for sunset, but, please refrain.. this is your life and is it really worth losing (potentially) over a few cocktails? Hopefully that’s a big ol’ Nope.
#19. Stray Dogs Might Chase You
If a stray dog barks at you and chases you: don’t stop. Keep going, go faster. Lose that little mf, because they will chase you, and they will get you.
#19.5 Stray Kids might Chase You?
Kids also sometimes chase you? Just me? I use the same rule that I do for the dogs lol keep going.
#20. Wave And Smile At The locals!
They love this, especially if you are exploring around a less crowded zone and they give you the stink eye like why are you here – some will even ask you where you are going, just smile back and wave. This isn’t the time for a staredown… you are in their space, consider that and say hello to let them know you aren’t a threat and you are just exploring. Their faces and mood will change instantly.
#21. Don’t Be Afraid To Get Lost
Go down a random turn, ride up a plank (seriously you will see some planks disguised as roads in some places). Ride by a paddy field. I’ve yet to come across a road you couldn’t ride down and the more secluded they are the better. I have yet to feel unsafe in Bali (except walking around at night with stray dogs – the dogs are the worst!).
#22. Watch For Side Trenches
Bali has these trenches on the side of the road that if your bike happens to go in one, it will be a real pain in your rear to figure out how to get your bike back up on the street let alone hopefully you are even okay from the fall. There are always random holes on the side of the roads just always be aware of that. Non-bike related but I watched a grown man just walk into one the other night – seemed to really hurt the guy but overall he was okay. They seriously come out of nowhere if you aren’t paying attention!
#23. Stay Calm In Crowded Intersections
If you find yourself in a super crowded intersection with bikes all around you at every angle, it can be pretty intimidating but stay calm… and just ride straight. Don’t swerve and weave around. You may not know what you are doing but the locals around you do. But they can’t do their thing if you are weavin’ all around.
#24. Yes, I’m STILL going… ok #24. Avoid Riding At Night
This is a personal preference but I try to avoid riding at night. It’s just a different playing field. It makes my evenings pretty boring when you can’t go out for dinner and ride back after dark but I have an 8 pm yoga appointment with myself every night anyway. Self-care is the new “get f*cked up.”
#25. Use Headphones For Directions
If you didn’t buy this pouch to put your phone in to help you with directions, then use headphones. Don’t be using your phone with one hand and driving with the other. It will scare everyone around you and put you in danger.
#26. One Way, Shmone Way
Scooters and traffic will be coming at you from the opposite direction… as in just because you are on the left side of the road, and you think everyone should be going straight, they don’t – they also will be coming straight at you, so expect that to happen often. It’s not really a tip just something you should look for while you drive. It’s pretty interesting how the rules are just close to none.
#27. Do As The Locals Do – To An Extent
Follow the locals. If you are stuck behind slow cars, and you see locals up on a sidewalk to get around or going down the middle of the street to get around, follow them. Why not. You’ll be okay but when a car is coming toward you, make sure you scoot in toward the road between the line of cars. If they are NOT going on a sidewalk, and you’re tempted to go on it to get around some cars, there’s probably something they know that you don’t… like the road ends with a curb. Trust me there’s a reason they aren’t going on it otherwise they’d be up there going around too. disclaimer* Locals can do stuff and not get pulled over by police that a tourist can do right behind them and get pulled over for…follow locals at your own risk.
#28. I can’t believe I’m on 28 already I thought for sure this list would max out around 15 lol… #28. Don’t Offer To Give Someone A Ride If You Don’t Know What You Are Doing
Make them get their own bike or ride, don’t put you both at risk. It’s crazy how an extra person on the back flailing around can change things. Their weight will change how you ride.
#29. Hover The Breaks With A Few Fingers
Hold a few fingers on the breaks at all times as you ride for an emergency stoppage.
#30. Which Brakes to Use And When
Don’t hold the right-hand brake if you are on some rocky surface or sandy surface… it will make your tires spin out a bit – Use the left-hand brake for those times. I use the right-hand brake for most every other time though I am not sure if that is the right way to do things.
#31. Last But Not Least: Don’t Ride On The Brakes
If you happen to have found yourself up a steep hill and need to get down, don’t constantly hold on the brake…. the brake WILL go out on you…. as in it will just no longer work anymore. To avoid this, use the left-hand brake as much as you can, and also allow the motor to slow the bike instead of using the brakes altogether.
Yes, some of these are more useful than others and yes, I had to learn most to all of them the hard way, hopefully just reading this list helps you get an idea of what to do and what not to do while you ride your scooter around but I definitely would recommend getting a motorbike to get around – although yes it can be dangerous, when you get the hang of it it’s the fastest, most fun and cheapest way to get around.