The Roulette of Driving a Motorbike in Ubud, Bali

At first glance, driving in Ubud looks like a game of roulette. In the casino game, numbers spin in one direction while the ball travels in the opposite direction. This analogy is translated literally to driving in Ubud. Cars going in one direction while motorbikes spin around, pass or travel in the opposite direction. It looks like chaos to the new bystander.

Cars & Motorbikes crowd the roads.

Cars & Motorbikes crowd the roads.

Motorbike or Car?

We debated whether we should rent a car or a motor scooter. A car would be more comfortable and protective than a motor bike for our family of four. We weighed the costs of renting a car (around $250/month) versus a motorbike ($50/month). We considered how often we would use the car, primarily to drive out of town, where there is more traffic and faster speeds. We decided to hire a motor scooter as a test for a month just so Mr. King could dash out for quick errands or shopping.

We spun the roulette wheel and what we discovered is that the motor scooter is a more efficient way of traveling around Ubud, even for a small family.

Just how do we fit 4 of us on 1 bike?

When in Bali, do it Balienese style: G in front, Mr. King driving, Miss I behind him and I hold up the rear. The scene is a passing illusion of a 4 year old driving his family around. It works and is pretty comfortable.

This is how all 4 of us fit on one motor scooter.

This is how all 4 of us fit on one motor scooter.

Advantages of a Motorbike vs Car in Bali

  • More ‘road’ options & faster – The roads are narrow and there is a lot of traffic on them. Often times, cars get stuck in it, while motorbikes can zoom past on the side. There are also paths that are wide enough only for motorbikes, like the path by the Sacred Monkey Forest. Overall, we scoot passed most traffic via side roads that are wide enough only for motor scooters. A few weeks ago we went to eat at Sari Organic and this is how wide the path was. Just enough for a motorbike.

    Impossible with a car. Easy with a motorbike.

    Impossible with a car. Easy with a motorbike.

  • Cheap fill ups – Filling up a motor scooter usually costs $1.40 per fill up. Our monthly gas bill is roughly around $4 US.
$4 for a month's worth of gas...nice!

$4 for a month’s worth of gas…nice!

  • It’s much more fun than a car – There is a reason that people love to ride motorcycles. The wind, the feel of the road, the closeness of everything. We get that sensation when riding on a motor scooter.
  • Easy in – Easy out – Loading and unloading children is soooo much faster with a motorbike. Plop them on the seat and off you go!

Disadvantages to the Motorbike

  • Lower protection– The obvious disadvantage is a lower protective barrier. The only protection you have, besides being a quick, defensive driver, is clothing and helmets. Helmets are easy to find and most drivers around Bali wear them. Helmets are relatively inexpensive; the children’s helmets cost $7-15 US, while Mr. King’s fancy, transformer-like helmet with built in sunglasses and airflow vents was $50.
  • You’ll always have messy helmet hair.

    There is plenty of selection when shopping for helmets in Bali.

    There is plenty of selection when shopping for helmets in Bali.

  • It’s dirty – Without the protection of car windows, the road dust lands right on you. All our helmets have a full face mask, but we still feel a bit gritty if we’ve taken a longer drive on our scooter.
  • Uncomfortable for longer journeys – Our max time on a motorbike is about 30-45 minutes, which gets us around Ubud just fine. For longer journeys to the beach or to other parts of Bali, we hire a car and driver for the day ($25-40). Normally, we only hire a driver once every 2 weeks, so it’s still a savings over renting a car and leaving it unused most of the time. Plus, the driver usually knows how to get anywhere in Bali.

How to navigate in Bali

Car drivers can rely on their smart phones and GPS, but when on a motorbike, it’s usually not a good idea. I’m blessed with a husband that has an internal GPS system in his head. He simple feels his way to places and he’s usually right. For others, it can be tricky. Signs are sporadic to non-existent. Roads are tiny and hidden in a lot of cases. Balinese people are nice and will always offer to help and point you in a direction, it’s up to you to decide if it’s the right one.

The things you’ll see

Motorbikes are the primary delivery vehicle in Bali and whether you’re driving in a car or on a motorbike, there is no shortage of incredible feats of motorbike delivery. Here’s a sampling:

Fully loaded with rice, a bucket of something and 2 people. Go, motorbike go!

Fully loaded with rice, a bucket of something and 2 people. Go, motorbike go!

Around our house, there is no access with cars. Our path is only wide enough for walkers and motorbikes, so all construction materials are transported manually or via motorbike.

Cement bricks going to construct a new villa.

Cement bricks going to construct a new villa.

Why used huge trucks to deliver furniture when a simple motorbike does the trick?

Someone is getting two new beds!

Someone is getting two new beds!

Unofficial Rules & Tips for Motorbikes in Bali

There is a method to the madness and there are a few rules, mostly unspoken and understood by those who have rode a motorbike for a while.

  • When passing, a courtesy honk is nice.
  • Passing is allowed on either side.
  • Motorbikes can go down one-way streets the wrong way.
  • Always wear your helmet
  • If there is a center line on the road, it doesn’t mean much. You can go over it.
  • When driving on walking paths, pedestrians will usually yield to you, but plan to yield to them.
  • When parking your motorbike, you can move other bikes out of your way to make space. Just lift and scoot them over.
  • Do as the locals do and try to avoid tourists on motorbikes – they are the most dangerous and inexperienced.
The path to our home.

The path to our home.

Ready to play?

Riding around on a scooter in Bali is an adventure, but I wouldn’t call it dangerous. A little bit of precaution and skill goes a long way. Luckily, we have yet to see any road rage here in Bali. If you ever get a chance to visit Bali, try driving a motorbike at least for a day to get the ‘wind in your hair’ experience. Odds are better than in roulette that you will enjoy it.

Happy Scootin’ in Bali!

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9 Responses to “The Roulette of Driving a Motorbike in Ubud, Bali”

  1. Living Outside of the Box September 27, 2012 at 5:34 am #

    That’s awesome! I can’t believe the gas/fill-up price…wahoo! And the photo with the beds?! OH my goodness…that is just toooooo awesome!!

    • S King September 27, 2012 at 9:15 am #

      We’ve seen lots of different delivery methods here, but the beds just took the cake! Incredible that the guy was just holding on to the trailer. Can you imagine that happening back in the states? You’d be arrested for public endangerment!

  2. Erin September 27, 2012 at 8:51 am #

    The gas is subsidised by the government. They tried to retract it one day, but there was an uproar! So good isn’t it? We loved driving in Bali, always an adventure!

    • S King September 27, 2012 at 9:02 am #

      It helps that the scooter only holds 3 liters of gas.

  3. Emily September 27, 2012 at 9:55 am #

    Great choice to rent the motorbike instead of a car. And good thing that your family is no larger in number or size so that they four of you can all fit on one! I really hate motorbikes here in Belize since they ride on the beach (and aren’t supposed to), but in Ubud they definitely look like the way to go!

  4. Lisa November 6, 2012 at 10:07 am #

    Love the pics of the deliveries being made by motorbike – I never would have imagined that beds or building supplies could be delivered that way!

  5. Cosmic Smudge November 6, 2012 at 4:05 pm #

    Haha. The picture of the guy towing the cart is a classic.

  6. Damian July 24, 2013 at 1:22 am #

    Recently and going again to Bali. With hesitation at first I said to myself I wasn’t going to ride a bike in Bali. Well after being mucked around by taxi drivers, it was not so much the money that their asking from you, but the time. Especially when only have two weeks and you want chill out, and don’t want a tour around some residential streets, and look you look at phone GPS and realize your travelled several times in circles, well it was time to consider a bike. After reading your blog and you had your family at the peril of Bali traffic, we’ll I give it ago, and all I can say is awesome, as an experience rider in Australia it was certainly different negotiating traffic which was a challenge at first, but stand back and watch at first, and easy does it at first. The only issues that I found, was tourists that actually never ridden a motor cycle properly and didn’t have licence, as on the number of occasions I stopped to assist, and this seemed to be the case. By the end my fortnight, I was with ease travelling from Ubud to Buleleng even as far as Teluk Lumpur on a 125cc Thank you for the confidence.


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