12 min read

So finally, you are there in beautiful Indonesia. It doesn’t take long before you realise almost the entire country is riding a motorcycle. We are not only talking about adults but even kids drive in Indonesia motor, really… kids… maybe 8 years old. Soon you will also consider driving a motorcycle. It’s one of the cheapest and quickest ways to get around. So should you drive a motorcycle when in Indonesia? Well, before you start driving a motorcycle you should at least think about the things you will come across I explain below.

Roads

Know what you are starting with when driving a bike in Indonesia. Roads might not be roads as expected (there might not be roads at all). Are you already driving? It will mean you will soon notice the bumps and holes in the road. Please try not to drive into those. Your bike may take a few but it is not that good for the suspension.
Depending on where you are from, it might take some time before you get used to the traffic driving on the left side. Try to watch your speed and adjust according to the road conditions. Watch always the road, but in Indonesia watch them twice! Keeping the roads maintained is not the best skill of Indonesians.

Weather

When you drive a motorcycle you might not want to drive in the rain. For sure you will encounter some heavy showers that will make you wet until your underwear. Are you sure you don’t mind to wait when there is a long rainy shower? And even after waiting for the rain to stop, you might not feel safe driving anymore. The thing is that wholes I just mentioned in the paragraph before…, they are full of water and they are almost invisible… please drive slowly and watch the road like an eagle!

Location

It makes a world of a difference if you drive through a sawah (rice field), over a mountain, through a kampong (village), town, and everything in between. Especially when you start driving I don’t recommend driving on a mountain or in the city. Driving through a sawah or village is fine. Just know that the skills of drivers asked in the city is a lot higher than in the kampong or sawah. Your driving skills should be ‘’level expert’’ before you even think about trying to drive there.

In cities like Jakarta, Surabaya or Malang it’s just too busy to drive like a tourist.

Without knowing the unwritten rules and way of thinking of Indonesian people you can create some pretty dangerous situations for yourself and them. You will also notice a big difference between the people that come from the city and the people that usually stay in and around their kampong. In general the people from the kampong can’t drive that well as the people from the city (it is just because they don’t need to be that good). So remember when you drive in the village they may show different behaviour in terms of following the ‘’traffic rules’’ and their anticipation.

> Read: the unwritten rules of traffic in Indonesia

Clothing

Driving a motorbike means you will get dirty. Besides getting from time to time a rain shower you will also regularly experience the pollution of the other traffic, warungs (that sell sate) and factories. You might want to think about using long clothes. Wearing long clothes will make you less dirty and protect you against an unexpected fall. Also a must is a buff, scarf or mask because if you are often on busy roads you will experience the heavy pollution of trucks, buses and all other traffic. When driving you might not feel the pollution immediately but when waiting for the traffic light you will for sure notice it.

Should you drive a motorcycle when in Indonesia?

Safety and local rules

You just stepped on your motorbike and just made a small round when the police make you stop because you don’t wear a helmet. Because nobody wears a helmet doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use either. In some parts of Indonesia it is even mandatory to wear a helmet. Don’t forget to ask about the local rules!
In all cases it is always handy to have your SMTK with you (it shows the ownership of the bike). Some places you are not allowed to drive away if you can’t show your SMTK. For example in Surabaya when leaving a parking place you need to show the document if not they will just keep your bike until you come with the paper.
Because people and the police act differently per city and region it is wise to ask beforehand the local people what you should arrange and what to expect before riding your bike. And one thing I am just not questioning is that you own a driver license. Driving with no license is possible but it is just asking for problems.

Crime

Driving at night might not be always a good idea. There have been incidents of people being hurt by other people or killed for their bike… Bike hijacks are in some parts of Indonesia more common than you want to believe firsthand. Besides that, people and traffic rules change at night. For example: a green traffic light doesn’t have to mean it is safe to drive (people drive much more often crossing a red traffic light at night).

Rented bike, used bike or new bike

So for most of us it will make more sense to rent a bike. Most of us will not stay long enough to justify the costs of a second hand or new bike. In that case make beforehand clear agreements with the rental if you might get involved in an accident. Check your bike and make sure the motor is working properly. Don’t forget to ask for the SMTK and make sure it’s the official one. If you got a fake or copy it could ruin your trip when you try to leave a parking place or want to enter a border.
Your insurance might not cover your costs when you ride a motorbike and have an accident. Check your insurance policy at home to make sure you don’t get some unexpected surprises afterwards.

Parking

After you are tired and want to take a break you want to park your bike somewhere safe. There are 3 kinds of parking places you can come across.
– The most often seen type is a parking place with a parkir (the person that assists in parking). The parkir helps to find your spot, sometimes parks the bike for you and makes it ready for leaving, and of course guards it while you are away. Often you get a receipt with a number that has your numberplate written on it. When you come pick up your bike the parkir takes the receipt and gets your bike. When you leave you need to pay a 1000 Rupiah fee for the service the parkir has provided.
– The second type are the big parking places (for example malls) that are organised and have park barriers at the entry and exit. When you enter you get a receipt. You can park your bike yourself. There will be people and camera’s around that guard your bike. When leaving you pay a fee at the exit to somebody in a parking house. The fee will often be determined on the duration you parked your bike.
– The last type is the one where nobody checks your bike or charge you for parking. This is usually in the kampong or places where not enough people come to have a parkir.

Conclusion and other ways of transportation

So what is my final answer on the question if you should drive a motorcycle when in Indonesia?
Please look at your own situation and possibilities and just use common sense. Risks are always there but it really shouldn’t stop you. Maybe the things above have turned you down for exploring Indonesia by motor. But in the end taking risks means creating a real journey right?

Exploring Indonesia by motor is just the best way to get around. Maybe you don’t dare to drive by yourself, then GoJek might be a solution for you. GO-JEK is a taxi service which has both a regular car taxi service as one by motor. There are many more taxi services in Indonesia which are also great to get around. Just know there are enough options to explore otherwise.

> See here my article for The 4 most used transportation apps in Indonesia