Indonesia Expat
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Cycling in Indonesia – Gears for Fears

cycling Indonesia

The ongoing bicycling renaissance has been enjoying a sharp uptick of late as locked down populations across the world attempt to assuage their gnawing cabin fever through a little head-clearing pedalling.

This is, in turn, is leading to shortages of bikes and bike components across the global supply chain, not to mention lengthy waits as overworked bike shop mechanics struggle to keep up with punters who want their bikes serviced. (Helpful hint, there are plenty of YouTube bike maintenance tutorials if you wish to have a try yourself, most things aren’t that hard).

Things aren’t too bad in Indonesia, however, as there are plenty of cheap hole-in-the-wall bike shops that will give your bike a quick service, while parts and components still seem to be readily available through most of the country’s online shopping apps, at least partly because the world’s largest manufacturer of bike components, Shimano, has a factory just over the water in Malaysia.

But anyway, I’d like to spend a few words today promoting the considerable pleasures of pedalling. Hopefully, this can be achieved without riling people up too much, as cyclists so often seem to cop it from both sides i.e. reviled in equal measure by both motorists and pedestrians alike. I would therefore like to encourage responsible cycling at the outset and should stress that I (usually) practice what I preach. I don’t jump red lights or ride on the pavements (the latter accomplishment being made all the easier by Indonesia’s chronic lack of infrastructure for perambulating pedestrians).

For me, cycling breaks down into two distinct areas. Firstly, cycling around Jakarta as a form of exercise and secondly, cycle touring in exotic climes, which involves checking my wheels in at airports before flying and cycling out of the relevant terminal at the other end for a week or two fun and games.

In terms of the first of these two approaches to bicycling, Jakarta’s brave, vanguard Bike2Work scheme finally seems to be bearing fruit off the back of the global pandemic, having butted its collective helmeted heads against an intransigent wall of public indifference for many years. Indeed, I’ve noticed a distinct increase in the number of pedallers puffing around Jakarta streets of late.

If you fancy a go then be aware that Jakarta’s official bicycle lanes are a bit of a joke and extend for a combined total of around 300 m, however, this shouldn’t stop you from braving the city’s roads. Pre-pandemic, I regularly cycled to the office every day before, crucially, having a quick shower and a change of clothes and heading upstairs to my desk. If your office has such facilities, then you should definitely give it a go. Indeed, the five extra minutes spent showering will no doubt be more than offset by the time you save on your morning commute as you head straight to the front of the queue at every set of red lights. Indeed, cycling is an eminently practical urban commuting option, until they finally invent teleportation, which, if TransJakarta (the busway people) get their hands on such a system would no doubt see people re-materializing at their destinations with their heads on backwards and the like.

Like so many, however, for the last 18 months or so I’ve been working from home, although I’ve still managed to enjoy a good hour-long burn on my wheels every morning, as much to keep me sane as anything else. If you wish to have a go cycling around Jakarta, my advice would be to wear bright clothing and get plenty of flashing lights, which are very cheap these days and all have USB charging. You should also wear a helmet of course. I’d also recommend a pollution mask, preferably with an EU standard EN149 filter which can be changed regularly and which are also very cheap.

Clearly, Jakarta has a terrible problem with air pollution, although smug drivers should be aware that a number of studies have revealed that concentrations of polluted urban air are often actually higher inside the enclosed confines of a car’s interior than they are outside of it. So, you can stick that up to your exhaust pipes.

Iris Murdoch once said, “the bicycle is the most civilised conveyance known to man, other forms of transport grow daily more nightmarish. Only the bicycle remains pure in heart.” Pure in heart indeed, although in a shirt and trousers things can get awfully clammy in this climate, so remember that change of clothes.

The other side of cycling that has given me a lot of pleasure over the last decade or so is leisure touring. I’ve pedalled my way around many beautiful spots across Indonesia and Southeast Asia and would recommend it highly, as the region’s climate, scenery and ease of finding cheap accommodation, water and food make the logistics very easy, although you should make sure your legs are up to the task as there are always plenty of hills to tackle.

While surfing, diving, parasailing, bungee jumping, quad-bloody-biking and the like are all popular pastimes in this part of the world and all have an ostensibly more exotic and sexy cachet, cycle touring can bring as much joy as these more Instagram friendly activities. This is also in part due to the fact that, in contrast with Jakarta and much of the island of Java, cyclists can enjoy blissfully empty roads as they wind their way through the beautifully bucolic landscapes of the rest of Indonesia, navigating via Google Maps, of course (I’d be quite simply lost without it!)

If you fancy a try, then a bike suitable for touring plus a luggage rack and panniers can all be obtained reasonably cheaply. Then you can get your local bike shop to box it up for you in a cardboard box or simply do it yourself (it’s quite easy) before you head off to the airport and the adventure beyond. Be aware, however, that your airline may charge you a few extra dollars these days for checking a bike in.

More recently, however, I’ve taken to touring on a folding bike that I’ve set up to be touring friendly, which is eminently doable these days. This makes airports, taxis and trains a breeze, while the bike itself is almost as comfortable as my full-sized machine, as I have equipped it with a comfortable saddle and handlebars and a wide range of 20 gears to get me up those hills. Also, I sit in the same riding position as on my large bike and have plenty of legs and arm extension room, while the 22-inch wheels are more suitable for distance riding than the 16-inch wheels of those fashionably pricey Bromptons, which are good in their own environment but that I wouldn’t recommend for touring on.

Hope to see some of you out there once we reach herd immunity. About 2045 then.

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