6 tips for riding a scooter in Bali

So you’ve arrived in Bali and noticed that scooters seem to almost outnumber people. You see endless streams of bikes; some carrying an entire family, others carting farm animals around and some even being used to move house. It doesn’t look that hard, and if everyone else can do it, so can you, right? Well, sure, but you might want to consider a few things before you risk your life (and everyone else’s) by taking to the road on two wheels.

1. Get a licence & insurance

Just because most people don’t bother, doesn’t make it legal. In Bali, even though it may seem like there are no laws, it is technically illegal to drive without a licence, although the guy hiring you the scooter won’t ask to see one. In most countries, including Australia, you can easily pick up an international drivers' permit before you leave home, however, some websites suggest you also need a motorbike licence in your home country in order to legally ride a scooter in Bali. Yes, there’s a fair chance you’ll get away with riding without one, but if you get pulled over, you’re in the wrong and you can expect to pay a ‘penalty’ (read: bribe). See Tip 3 on how to do this. You also wouldn't even want to consider taking to the roads (or doing anything in Bali) if you haven't got travel insurance. Most companies will only insure you for riding a motorbike up to 50cc. I personally use Australian based insurer Fastcover.

2. Wear a helmet

You might look super cute riding around with your hair flowing in the wind, drying your tiny bikini (or speedos) as you zip through the streets, tasting freedom and loving life. But all that will come to an end very promptly if you hit the dirt. Knocking out all your teeth might ruin all those holiday selfies you were planning to take. Oh, and you could die. There’s also the issue of making yourself a target for the police. You may as well be waving at them screaming “I’d like to pay a bribe, please pull me over!!” See Tip 3 on how to deal with this.

Note: This helmet is for joke purposes only. Do not wear one like this.

Note: This helmet is for joke purposes only. Do not wear one like this.

3. If you’re caught riding illegally, expect to pay a ‘penalty’

Ok, so you’ve been caught by police doing the opposite of Tip 1 and/or 2 and now you have to pay a ‘penalty’. If it comes to this, make sure you bargain (yes, bargain) in good humour. You are, after all, the one breaking the law. For most police in Bali, bribing tourists, sorry, I mean enforcing the law, is a bit of fun. In fact, some of the acts I’ve seen are worthy of an Oscar nomination. There’s a lot of head shaking, finger wagging and threats to take you to the police station. That is, until they finally suggest there may be another solution to your problem: to pay a penalty. This is where you gratefully jump in and ask how much. And then the bargaining starts. It’s just like shopping at the market; they start high, you start low and you meet somewhere in the middle. The trick is to always keep about Rp50,000 in a pocket or somewhere accessible and say that’s all you have. NEVER take out a wallet full of cash. It will be the last you see of it. Once the transaction is done, your previously stern policeman is likely to be all smiles, clap you on the back and wish you a great day!

4. Follow the locals

Bali probably does have actual rules, but there’s no point in being the only one who follows them if it means you’re going to get in everyone’s way. It’s a good idea to spend some time walking around or riding a bicycle before you graduate to a scooter, so that you can get a better understanding of how things work on the roads. If the Balinese are all moving out the way because a truck is coming down the wrong side of the road, then do the same. If they’re all stopped at a red light, then you should stop too. Just keep watching what the locals are doing and follow their lead.

5. Don’t drive like an a**hole

The Balinese are generally fairly patient and non-aggressive when on the road. It might look like chaos, but it’s organised chaos and for the most part it works pretty well. There’s constant tooting, but instead of being the equivalent of giving someone the finger, it’s more just “Here I am, be careful!” You would be wise to use your horn in the same manner instead of using it as a sign of aggression. The Balinese also don’t have any ownership over their space, so they will generally let you in, or back off so you can merge. Feel free to show others the same courtesy.

6. Objects on the road might be a hazard signal.

You might have noticed that the roads in Bali aren’t exactly up to the standard you might have in your home country. There are potholes the size of craters, especially after it’s been raining for a while and the carefully placed asphalt simply washes away. The Balinese help each other out by putting something in the hole (such as a coconut or a small tree) to warn other road users that it’s there. It’s the local version of a hazard sign (minus the flashing red lights) so if you see one, swerve.

And just to reiterate, don't get on a bike without insurance! I personally use Australian based insurer Fastcover, and you can get a quote for a policy here: https://fastcover.com.au/ref?id=Wafaraway

Safe driving, everyone!