I had never learnt to drive a car in the UK, let alone ridden a motorcycle. Moving to Indonesia, however, to a place with limited public transport, this was clearly going to be the best way to get around. I learnt in one session with a friend, and four years on I’m still alive. This are my personal rules for survival when riding a motorbike in Asia.
The motorbike is a popular form of transport in many parts of Asia.
1) Learn Quickly
Riding a motorbike is not difficult. Most of the challenge comes from other road users or the road itself. Find somewhere flat and uncrowded and spend an hour or so getting used to controlling the bike.
2) Wear a Helmet
It’s easy for us to forget about safety when we’re travelling or on holiday, particularly somewhere without enforced laws on helmet use. This may seem like a boring rule, but despite being fun, riding a motorcycle is not the safest way to get around. Do you really want a head injury, especially if you are somewhere without ambulances, let alone high quality medical care?
Helmets can be fun too.
3) Know your Bike’s Limits
My experience of riding a motorbike in Asia has been one of weaving in and out of traffic, avoiding pedestrians and rickshaws piled high with goods, as other people weave around me. When you’re entering the opposite lane to overtake a big, slow truck you need to know how fast your bike will accelerate so you can clear the truck before the traffic in the opposite lane reaches you.
Love your bike – give it a good clean.
4) Go with the Flow
Before I learnt to ride a motorbike, a friend gave me a very useful piece of advice. She said that whereas elsewhere we might drive in a relatively straight line, just turning at corners, in Indonesia you should smoothly follow the flow of the traffic. Actually she demonstrated what she meant by swaying her body from side to side; it’s hard to convey in writing. Basically, relax and go with the flow.
5) You’re Never the Craziest Driver
No matter how fast or how crazily you’re driving, remember there is always someone driving faster and more crazily than you. When I’ve been in a hurry to get somewhere I have driven very fast, in areas where the speed limit is generally ignored. Every time, there is someone weaving in and out of traffic, over- and undertaking, much faster and more crazily than me.
Or you might just get stuck in the traffic, as Asia’s cities become more congested.
And a couple things I learnt the hard way:
1) Automatic scooter-style motorbikes do not go up steep hills with two heavy people on them. Don’t try it or you’ll end up walking like I did.
2) You will at some point become one of those people carrying ridiculous amounts of people, objects or even furniture on your bike. Moving house by motorbike is not as unusual as it sounds.