Learning To Ride A Scooter In Bali: One Mistake You Should Not Make

Learning to ride a scooter is a ton of fun. Not only is it a quick and easy way to get around, but you get to see – and feel – every bit of the landscape you’re cruising through. Unlike cars, you can access areas that would otherwise be difficult to reach (such as long stretches of beaches in Bali!).

One problem: when you break down and/or run into technical issues (which happens when renting scooters in this part of the world), you can get stuck and may have to hoof it to find a solution to your problem. That’s what happened to me on my second-day riding.

Street in Bali covered with scooters (mopeds) and a taxi
See All The Scooters? This Is Mellow!

Safety note: Much of SE Asia can be a treacherous place to learn to ride a scooter, and Bali is definitely up there as one of the more dangerous places to start. There are lanes, yes, but bikes and cars veer in and out of them at will and pass on both the left and the right.

I don’t recommend learning to ride here unless you are confident that you can do so safely and take the time to learn in safe places. If you do decide to, my best advice is to be cautious, take your time, and practice in alleys and less busy streets, but do not be timid.

Sounds like strange advice, but riding here is like second nature to most people and they will anticipate what you’re going to do, so being timid and failing to go when you need to can be a painful mistake.

The owner of our first hostel told us he had three guests who had never ridden before wreck the week before we arrived. Also, it should go without saying but always wear a helmet and never drive after drinking. As Alli’s dad likes to say, “get a helmet worth as much as your head”.

Listening to locals play guitar while watching sunset over the beach in Bali
Enjoying the Sunset

I decided I wanted to take a solo cruise down the beach to watch the sunset. After about 20 minutes of riding from our villa, I pulled over to sit and stare at the purple skies with some locals and listen to the guitar music they were playing. Once it started to get dark, I decided it was time to head back as I didn’t want Alli to worry about me too much 😉 We usually let each other know roughly how long we’ll be gone when we’re apart in a new place, especially since we don’t have international SIM cards yet. This time I’d said I would be gone around 30 minutes.

The end of sunset at the beach in Bali
Time To Head Home After Sunset

When I got back to my bike I was immediately slapped in the face with my rookie mistake.

I had decided to play it safe and close the shutter lock on the ignition (so no one would steal the bike), but failed to realize that the mechanism was broken on my bike until I tried to head home to Alli. The magnets on the back of the key that you use to open the lock were all missing.

Long story short, I wasn’t going anywhere on that bike until I found another key to open it with. That said, I did attempt fruitlessly for twenty minutes or so to get it open before giving up and resorting to plan B: running the 3 mile stretch of beach back to our villa. Ironically, I’d been talking about how I wanted to go on a long beach run since we arrived, I just thought it was going to be on my terms!

Now I am an avid runner, but let me just say running in 80-degree heat, with 80% humidity, on sand, and with a small daypack is a whole different beast than running back home in the states. The first mile, totally chill. The second mile I looked like Niagara Falls was cascading down from my face.

By the time I got back, it had been 1.5 hours since I had left and – as expected – Alli was a tad bit worried (understandable as I had said I was only going be gone for roughly a half hour). She’d figured I’d run out of gas and had to walk to get some (not too far off from the truth, well at least the leaving the bike behind part).

Happy to be back at our villa, I hopped in the pool to cool off and look less like I’d run through a monsoon. After drying off and gathering all the scooter keys I could find (we were staying with a big crew, so we had 4 scooters), I grabbed my daypack and it felt lighter than expected. Opened it up… wallet was gone.

Searched the villa… wallet nowhere to be found :/

Queue another round of frustration (thankfully Indonesia is a mostly cash-based area so I only had one credit card and $30 inside). It had either fallen out while I was fiddling with the bike… or while I was running home on the beach. Time to stay positive.

I hopped on the back of my friend’s bike and we raced to see if we could rescue mine (and find my wallet!).

Thankfully, it was dark in the area I had parked my bike and I found the wallet lying in the gutter where it had fallen during my frenzy to unlock the bike (always zip up your bags folks – lesson learned!). My bud and I gave each other a triumphant high five and made a bit of a scene with our excited shouts of relief, which attracted the attention of a police officer.… We explained the situation and he graciously offered to help us unlock the bike (although we think he just wanted to see us on our way). After a few failed attempts he was able to jimmy the lock open and we were on our way back home with a good story to tell.

TJ getting his scooter working again after locking the shutter
Time To Head Home!

Lessons learned:

  1. Always check out all components of your bike (and keys) before taking off on an adventure. Thankfully I didn’t strand myself somewhere too remote.
  2. Always zip up your bag, especially when it contains your wallet. But, if you do lose something don’t sweat it too much just retrace your steps, stay positive, and good things will come your way.
  3. Stay hydrated, you never know when you’re going to have to take long run back home.
  4. Don’t be afraid to ask for some local assistance. Although I am sure we would have gotten the lock open eventually, that cop made much quicker work of it than we would have. And remember don’t forget to smile, smiling and staying positive can get you a long way (like managing to make a flight with 2 minutes to spare)!
Riding a scooter at night in Bali
Riding At Night (Did Not Take This While Driving!)

Have you ever had any scooter mishaps? Maybe you’ve lost something and miraculously found it. We’d love to hear your story, so don’t be shy, share them in the comments.

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