Six things to know before driving a scooter in Bali (updated with five more things!)

Updated on 26 September, 2017.
We drove a lot over the last few weeks, taking multiple trips into cities (and cussing a lot) and multiple multi-hour trips to destinations. After that additional experience, I've added a few points that I felt I'd left out before.


This is funny because no road in Bali is one-way. 
No matter how much you think it is.

Driving a scooter in a foreign land can be scary. Maybe you have never driven on the left? Maybe you’ve never even driven a scooter? Well, for that, I would recommend finding an open lot and practicing a bit. Finished with that? Well, let’s get on the road!

But first... remember how I went on and on about how we weren’t going to rent a scooter?

(I feel like this is obvious now, but...) We rented a scooter.

Waiting in line for petrol.

I know, I know, that makes us hypocrites. But, if you read the last one, it does say “at least not in Denpasar and Ubud” and that still stands. Technicality, you say? Well, yeah.

What? You'd rather we walk naked everywhere? 
Is that what you want?? 
Although, I bet it'd get our Instagram views up...

So what changed?

First and foremost, we got to Lovina. Once we were here, where the traffic is orders of magnitude less crazy, we started to think maybe we could.

Then we discovered that we would need to go to Singaraja three times to extend our visas so we could stay another month in Bali. We could take a taxi, and after bartering each time might get those prices down to 50,000 rupiah round-trip each time.

We also had started talking about taking a taxi to go and see some waterfalls (cause it is what you do!) and assumed that would have cost maybe 100,000 rupiah each time. Plus, we’d either have to pay a taxi to wait while we explored the waterfall or have the difficulty of hiring a new one while we are way out there.

This is a waterwall. And yes, that is a thing I just named.
We saw this waterwall because of our scooter.

And then we actually took the time and figured out how much it costs to rent a scooter.

38USD.

And that is for fourteen days of having it. That is about 2.70USD a day. Wow.

Okay, so maybe we were a bit hasty in proclaiming Bali a “no scoot zone.”

After having driven a few times to Singaraja and to a waterfall, I now have six observations about driving a scooter in Bali:


  1. Honk all the time. Update: There are actually two different types of honking. The short little "boop" is used to announce where you are ("I'm here, I'm here"), but the longer "beeeeep" is used to indicate "look here now and maybe do something quickly because something bad might happen."
  2. Everyone knows who you are (a westerner) and gives you a wide berth (understandably). Update: I messed up in an intersection in Singaraja and failed to take a right turn when I should have. Everyone at the intersection saw me do it, saw who I was, and paused to let me do what I should have done in the first place. They all were probably thinking, "stupid tourist" but I didn't die, so that's good!
  3. If you do see an accident, you do not drive by it and hope that it is someone else’s problem. You help set up a roadblock that stops all traffic so that the accident can be moved off the road, preventing further potential injury.
  4. Petrol at the pump is 15-20% cheaper than the petrol you can by out of plastic bottles at every tiny shop. But, buying it from the tiny shops helps support small businesses, so there is that.
  5. Always carry some cash in case you get pulled over or go through a police roadblock, for not having an international driver’s license (aka need to bribe a cop -- but you didn't hear it from me). But not too much cash. I carry two wallets, one with 50,000 rupiah and my driver’s license and another with my actual day's money. My ScotteVest helps hide money with secret pockets for this sort of circumstance. 
  6. If you are scared, go slow and stay to the left. On any given road there are scooters carrying five people, scooters driven by octogenarians, scooters weighed down by 200 kilos of bottled water and scooters driven by people who just like to cruise. My point is that someone is going slowly because they have to, and it is okay to just set up pace behind them for awhile. 
  7. And wear a freaking helmet! I know, this is the seventh observation and I said I’d give only six, but this doesn’t count; it is just common sense. Since being in Bali, I have seen four people fall off their scooter. None seriously injured, thankfully, but you know what you can do if you just fall off a scooter? Crack your stupid head open. And that’s why you wear a helmet.

This photo is titled, "Wear a stupid helmet." 
Actually, it isn't called that. But it should be!

Update: These are a few additional things you should know we've come up with after more experience driving a scooter in Bali:

  1.  Rent one scooter if you can. This rule only makes sense if you are more than one person (granted). This applies to any country, but two people driving together on different scooters presents a hazard to other drivers. No one knows that they are linked in anyway by looking, and the actions of one will be influenced by the actions of the other in what appears to others as an unpredictable way. It is always better to double up on one scooter.
  2. If anything unexpected happens, slow down!!! That is the default reaction everyone in Bali has to stuff getting 'odd' and it is a good one. And by 'odd' I am referring to anything from "rooster in the road" to "tall truck hitting tree." Just let off the gas.
  3. If you are keeping up with young boys on motorcycles, you are going too fast. I know, that is an weird thing to say. You are supposed to be 17 before driving in Indonesia, but it is not uncommon to see children as young as 9 driving a scooter (sometimes with their parent on the back playing on their smartphone). And keeping up with every stereotype, boys and young men drive by far the fastest and most aggressively. It is okay to let them pass you; they play a dangerous game.
  4. People everywhere drive badly. Just like at home, people in Bali drive with their turn signals on, take turns way too widely, and forget to check their blindspots (remember to honk!). Being defensive while driving is good everywhere.
  5. If you get a scooter, get one for the right reasons. It is dangerous, difficult, stressful, and not that much cheaper than just hiring a car. We have many years experience driving scooters in major cities (albeit American ones) and we felt (multiple times) we had bit off more than we could chew. If you've never driven one and your only motivation is that it sounds "fun," then maybe heed the wise words of Ice Cube and "check yourself before you wreck yourself." (Man! How often does a quote work as perfectly as that!!!)


Cool!
Those are just a few of the things I have noticed about driving in the not-so-crazy city of Kalibukbuk and the surrounding areas (Lovina) in Bali. If you have driven a scooter here, or in any other part of the world and want to tell us about what you noticed, please tell us in the comment section below!

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