Before I settled in Ubud, I could count the times I’ve ridden a bicycle with my two hands. I was never an outdoor person growing up, so I had no reason to ever want to ride a bicycle other than when my boyfriend gifted me one, after which I forced myself to finally learn how to ride. I was already 19.
Three years later, I find myself doing a fellowship with Kopernik and living with a local family in the outskirts of Ubud, where it seems like everyone’s life depends and revolves around one mode of transportation: the motorbike. Even elementary school kids casually ride them through the village’s main street. Beside them, I would feebly ride my boss’s bicycle to and from work, feeling embarrassed, deficient, and afraid for my life.
Two things motivated me to learn how to ride an automatic scooter: safety and mobility. I was convinced I’d be much safer riding in the streets if I had the speed to avoid cars and the drivers’ insane habits. I was also tired of only being able to commute down and up the one same street my house is on because the other streets had a steep incline that I would never dare tackle on a pushbike.
So I started learning on my second-hand scooter. Initially by small chunks of forward, then stop. Forward, then stop. Then graduating to some ovals in an empty field and eventually to figure eights. My local family witnessed every stage of the learning curve, and must have felt pity for me while watching because they then performed a blessing ritual on my scooter before I took it out into the main street. For my safety, they said. I was very grateful for their concern and compassion.
I am now proud to say that I am a relaxed rider. After enough time had passed, riding became very enjoyable. What I’ve always loved about walking is that you get to use more of your senses to navigate; riding a motorbike is similar because you are more exposed to the environment around you, but the experience is much more thrilling than taking one footstep forward. I can’t count how many times I’ve tried a new restaurant here simply because it smelled wonderful every time I pass by on a motorbike.
I am also proud to say that I found the house I currently live in by simply riding down small residential streets and stopping at every sign I see that say “House For Rent” until I found the one. So as you can see, life here really does depend on your motorbike.
To date, I’ve done life with a car in Southern California, life on foot in New York City, and now life on a motorbike in Bali. Each one has its pros and cons, but I advise anyone who plans to visit Bali, especially Ubud, to take up scooter riding after arriving. Here’s why:
- Many of the best gems in this area are located on streets inaccessible by cars
- Your ability to maneuver around cars on a motorbike will help tremendously in beating traffic
- Lack of parking spaces for cars throughout the island
- Save time because one-way streets don’t exist for motorbikes; every street is a two-way street for riders!
- You notice more shops and restaurants, which help with navigating here because everyone gives directions by landmarks (ie. major hotels, shops, and/or restaurants) and not by actual addresses
- After it rains, you will never take driving a car for granted ever again
Now that I’ve crossed “ride a scooter” off my things-to-learn list, I can work on checking off “drive stick shift” and a new one on the list: “ride a manual transmission motorcycle”. Wish me luck!