As was part of my mission to acclimate to my new home as quickly as possible, I learned to ride a motorbike my second week in Bali. Naturally, I was nervous about my first lesson, though it wasn’t the actual riding that scared me so much as the conditions in which I was forced to learn. It is what I like to call “an area of consequence” also known as “the road.”
My friend and housemate, Jacinta, who had been living and driving here for 8 months already, promised to teach me how to ride in the quiet streets of Nyuh Kuning then take me on a spin in Ubud to practice what I hoped would be a new found skill. We began at 3:00 and by 3:30 we were off for a drive in Ubud.
And by off, I mean I was jerking up the road trying to maintain a constant speed on the bike and avoid whiplash. It occurred to me as that perhaps my friend Eka, who leant me the her bike for practice, didn’t fully realize the favor she was offering, as there was a distinct possibility it was not going to return in its original glory.
This suspicion was validated for me on my first turn, which I took too widely and ended up off the road into the dirt. I didn’t crash, but my bike did require an impromptu stop and some repositioning back onto the asphalt.
The inherent struggle I faced in learning to ride a motorbike was twofold. First, coming from the U.S., I consider the “right” side of the road to be the opposite of what the Balinese drive on. Thus, my first task was to get used to driving, for all intents and purposes, backwards.
Secondly, there seems to be no rules for driving here. People turn on and off roads without warning and often do not look before doing so. At any given moment, a truck could pass by on the right with barely inches to spare as you try like hell not to brush elbows with someone walking in the road on your left (no sidewalks).
In addition, the roads here are narrow with an abundance of sharp turns and steep hills and contain a plethora of animals like dogs and chickens that tarry in the street and don’t seem to pay much mind to oncoming traffic. Like my fellow drivers, the animals assume that it is up to me to dodge them.
Aside from these obstacles, Jacinta was an excellent teacher, and I only got better after my initial “crash.” As we traveled along the windy road through Penestanaan past art galleries and warungs and through rice paddies, I was further delighted by the scenery and encouraged by my growing confidence and skill.
However, my hopes of being the next pro biker were all but dissolved as, on my right, a girl about half my age and size came whizzing past at twice my speed and with exponentially more grace.
Darn, I thought, I was so close.
Then again, I was riding, which was more than I could say just one-hour prior, and despite being less skilled than a thirteen year-old, I was proud of my accomplishments and ready to take on any new challenges that came my way.
By Devin Bramhall