Bends in Bali: Motorcycling the Island


by Mick Turnball of Indo Bike Adventures.

Man’s best friend. The trusty dog.

Forget that!! On a spiritually strong Hindu island where the very common dog is known as the reincarnation of the devil, road kill or road rash is the common equation when man meets K9 on the roads in Bali! This has been the sad and sorry tale (excuse the pun) of many inexperienced bike riders trying to learn to ride in Bali. But if you like bends, switchbacks and blind corners, even Manx-style jumps, then the trip I’ll describe here will put a smile on your face.

A favorite trip of mine is a simple zigzag across the island spending as many miles in the mountains as possible. The following is a classic example of the many trips I’ve done around this amazing place. Living in Bali and having a lot of mates who work in the airline industry I’m frequented by many freeloaders. A bottle of vodka (stoli, of course) is my normal payment in return for a place to stay and blast around this island of the gods.

A quick rush down to Seminyak to pick up the bikes and we are on the way. Little is Big in Asia and when it comes to bikes, the 200cc (but stupidity named) “Honda Tiger 2000” is king of the roads. But in true Honda style it works well for what it’s designed for. Heading out of the main tourist haunts of Kuta, Legian and Seminyak there are several options to go west, but the best being through Canggu, towards the tourist Mecca and impressive Temple of Tanah Lot. Situated on top of a small rock island located in the ocean it’s worth a stop for the postcard photo you have always wanted to take! If you fail there is no shortage of kids trying to sell you the real thing? Not to mention the weird tasting “kue putu” (number one cake) that is worth a try!

Back on the road, unfortunately there is no escape in any direction of the main thoroughfare from all the trucks and buses that head longitudinally across this equator hugging nation. For about 20 Kms we head west, dodging oncoming, mad, sleep deprived truck and bus drivers, being totally aware that the unwritten rule is safer than law. Truck bigger than bus, bus gives way. Bus bigger than mini bus, mini bus gives way. So on the pecking order, a motorcycle is only two or three steps above the devil. I’m still trying to work out if a pushbike has the right of way over a pedestrian or if they are on an equal sitting.

The slight inland trip once again brings us down to the coast to the surf beach of Balian. Nice views here, but save your film for what’s ahead. Separated by two rivers, my mate has a great patch of several acres beachfront property there. Fresh smoked salmon and cheese is his style, but he also has a pallet for vodka. We resist the good Russian stuff and take a walk to the beach for a swim. Yes, those mushrooms are what you think.

On the road again we head along the coastline, following a constant line of warungs (small restaurants). This area has black sand beaches with rocky volcanic outcrops that get battered by the Indian Ocean. Another 20 km’s and we get the favored Japanese surf break of Medewi, known for its gentle swell and a choice of two breaks, from one point.

From here is where the real fun begins with what seems to be an endless road that has more curves than a Russian whore. The road winds its way north on the way to the central highland town of Papuan. Most of the year this road is worth traveling just for the smell alone. Roadside plantations of cocoa and especially the drying cloves laid on the nature strip, drying naturally in the sun. Saffron, vanilla and other spices are also grown in the this area.

Of course, tiered rice paddies and small traditional villages are worth stopping to have a look at, but the best rice paddies are still to come. Being one of the least used roads by trucks in Bali, it’s actually in quite good condition. However, it’s very narrow and most corners are littered with loose sand. Approximately halfway up the mountain, a worthy stop for a break is at Bunut Bolong. It’s a large tree which the road goes straight through the base of. From here you can look back to the south coast or cross the road to a deep rainforest valley. Next, we pass along the ridge. However, the corners don’t stop. First and second gears are getting a work out, big time.

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Finally, at the town of Papuan, you can stop at the waterfall, or since you have a sweat up, continue down the mountain toward the north coast. Turning left and dropping altitude rapidly you get to enjoy not wringing the neck out of the bike, but wonder how to stop it. With your balls continually getting a reminder of the steel tank that they are using for brakes, it’s time to enjoy the recently laid tarmac. My bike being an Aprilia RS125, the corners are a dream come true. Light and nimble with decent brakes, it’s goodbye Tiger 2000 as I wanna have fun.

Just before we hit the North coast I wait for the Honda’s to arrive. Approximately 150 km’s travelled, but is a big day in the saddle when you take into account how many corners that have been successfully taken.

Another 10 km’s going east we make it to Lovina. Made famous as part of the hippie trail, it has a full range of accommodations and restaurants. Prices vary from less than US$5, up to around US$200 for the luxurious Damai Villas. Not one to be anti-social we take up a room at Damai, but knowing that I’ll be enjoying the room free of charge thanks to my mate being the GM there. My mates are stoked to be in such luxury.

After a quick drink by the pool, it’s time for a full body massage (the rub comes as part of the price. The tug is extra!). Stress relieved, we have a massive feast of five courses of local and French food. Plenty of wine and vodka as well. Later, we head back into town for a big night a Ziggy’s bar.

Next morning, a large serve of bacon and eggs, English-style, and we are ready for another day’s adventure. From Lovina there are several options for that day’s ride. However, there is a clear winner when it comes to roads made for bikes. It’s a short trip east, passing through the former Balinese capital city of Singaraja. Although there is not a lot to be seen in Singaraja, the old Dutch colonial buildings stand proud in the downtown area that is a main market for north Bali.

A few clicks past Singaraja we turn right at Kubutambahan. Also being blessed with freshly laid bitumen, this road is a bit wider than the one we did the previous day and a bit more flowing. Even the good old Tiger 2000 can get the tires warm on this road. I’ve done this road with a helmet mounted camera fitted, recording an hour’s ride to the top that makes even the sane laugh. I reckon I could sell that tape to anyone that rides bikes. Diesel slicks are a major worry in all of Indonesia, and this road is no exception. While not used by large trucks, many smaller trucks use this road to head south, sometimes leaving a nice trail of diesel on every corner. My mate found out the hard way last year. Showing his motocross heritage by riding the sucker all the way to the ground, he saved the fairings completely by using his forearm as a training wheel. The bike slide across the tarmac, pivoting on his arm and the rear brake lever. It certainly saved a lot of cash in repairs. I prefer to ride with my eyes open and stay upright!

This strip of tar is a favorite of mine and can be done with a pillion on the back. The road I mentioned from yesterday is simply too tight and windy to be enjoyed two up. At the top we arrive at the next major tourist Mecca, the township of Kintamani. It has become famous for the breathtaking views of the massive crater and lake of Batur Volcano. Batur is easily climbed but takes some time. Another day, I say every time! Besides I never want to stay up there, as the accommodation isn’t as good as where we plan to be later in the day.

Nowadays, most of the best views are obstructed with buffet-style warungs that offer edible food in return for a view. I prefer to skip this area and head further east around the massive crater to a quiet little place that has nice pine trees to sit under and enjoy the view. Don’t think it has a name, but it’s away from the hoards of tourists, bused there by the thousands. Generally we can find a small cart (kaki lima) food trolley sometimes referred to by Aussie tourists as “salmonella carts”, that offer fresh tropical fruits and sweets along with the usual array of fried foods.

A quick squirt half way down the mountain towards Bangli, we come across the best rice paddy views in Bali. From Bangli to Ubud there are about 10 km’s of valley crossings. Each one having a river at the base of a tropical rainforest valley. Kids and sometimes whole families swim and bathe in the water. The cool mist from the canopy of trees above is a welcome relief from the heat.

Before too long we wind our way into the cultural and overpriced center of Bali, Ubud. Everyone is an artist in Ubud, but very few are talented. The place has a lot to offer the western tourist. Great places to eat. It’s close to picture perfect rice paddies, it’s not as hot as the coastal regions, and of course, five star boutique villas and hotels.

Depending on what time we leave Lovina in the morning, we can either have a late lunch here or dinner. Never ride in the dark, so a room would be advisable for the night. Plenty of places to stay. Night life is different from the anything goes style of Kuta, but still worth the effort to go out.

Getting back to Kuta is a boring one hour ride, with reasonably heavy traffic. All in all, in two days we covered 300+ km’s but each and every time there are a million laughs and a lesson learned!

Just remember: Beware of the four legged Devils.

This piece was submitted by Mick Turnball of Indo Bike Adventures.