Surfers to Bali, beware of renting scooters, motorbikes (and HIV/AIDS while I am at it)

Nobody comes to Bali to die. Most return home having had fun. But not those who end up in the morgue.

The other week, stopped at red light at the Sanur McDonald’s intersection, I saw a kid coming from the other way, just flooring his scooter, trying to beat that time gap between his red and when our side started moving. He was coming from way back at full throttle, and most of us saw him and stopped on our green while the corner policeman blew his whistle with vigor. But another guy coming up sedately from behind me didn’t see the red-light runner and cruised out to the intersection…and his death. I saw it all in slices of slow-motion…the kid hitting the back of the other guy’s scooter at 60 kilometers per hour at least, sending the guy whirling off his motorbike in a 360-degree spread-eagled spin. His helmet went flying with the torque. He bounced when he hit the asphalt and then did not move. The kid went down for the count, too.

According to recent statistics, traffic fatalities are the third leading cause of death in Bali, and most of them are motorbike accidents. According to the traffic police, 287 people died in traffic accidents in the first half of 2011, excluding victims who died later in the hospital (and I’ve seen some gruesome scenes at the Sanglah emergency room—like an orderly pumping a pair of hand-bellows into the mouth of an unconscious traffic accident victim, the hand bellows being the emergency room’s artificial respiration system as the mechanical version was broken). Most of these were motorbike accidents, and most of the victims were between 16 and 30 years old.

That’s the age group of many visiting surfers, too. And traffic accidents don’t differentiate between who’s a local and who is not, as was sadly demonstrated by the death this past week of a international school student. If anything, riding a scooter is much more dangerous for foreigners who don’t understand how traffic works here—which is basically every driver for him or herself. I see surfers on scooters on the bypass all the time, wobbling around, clearly not used to the clutchless throttle & acceleration not to mention the traffic. I don’t know why a visitor who’s had little experience riding a motorbike would figure Bali is a good place to learn. Might as well pick up Russian roulette as a hobby. Beg, borrow or steal enough money to hire a car, preferably with a driver.

While I’m at it, latest statistics also say that Bali has the 2nd highest incidence of HIV/AIDS in the country. Dancing at the local House of the Rising Sun in your new blue jeans is another popular activity of young visiting surfers, who often go to or depart the premises on scooters after imbibing a few. It’s like doubling the up the bullets in the revolver’s cylinder. In fact, the surfing bit is probably the safest activity of a young surfer’s holiday here.

Surfers have been renting motorbikes since they were first coming to Bali, and dying in accidents, too. One of the constant grim task of consular officials and agents here in Bali is handling these deaths. Scooters were relatively late to the motorbike scene—for a long time they were clutch-gear motorbikes, Honda 90s and trail bikes for the most part, without the racks. You drove to the surf with your board slung over your shoulder—local shops sold cheap board socks made out of flour sacks. I remember one guy, the wind blew out the nose of his surfboard slung around his neck, a truck coming other way caught the nose of the board, and twisted that guy’s head right off his neck.

With that gruesome note: rent a car!

(Or, if you must rent a scooter, have medevac insurance, wear a GOOD helmet and keep your senses–and yr sixth sense too–on high alert at all times, because no matter how safe YOU are driving, the other guy is most likely not.)

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9 Responses to Surfers to Bali, beware of renting scooters, motorbikes (and HIV/AIDS while I am at it)

  1. Anonymous says:

    Totally agree with everything you have said
    i am 62 yrs off age and frequent Bali regularly…and find the scooter saga a bit of a challenge and quite enjoy it…keep your wits about you and you can have fun

  2. Agreed. 110% attention to the road is my rule for riding here, and expect the most unbelievable moves by fellow motorists- expect and be prepared. The wrecks, injuries and deaths I see or hear about are heartbreaking and I am scared for the riders (local and tourist) whom fly carelessly through slower traffic/intersections- I don’t want to see people maimed… Using 110% attention is work at first, then becomes second nature, and I still love riding beautiful Bali. Using sense and caution allow me to keep doing this.

  3. Anonymous says:

    my rule always go as fast as the traffic not slower or faster

    • Chris says:

      Not necessarily a great rule Anonymous. Always travel at a speed where you can anticipate and negotiate, or respond to the conditions around you. Who knows, the people travelling around you might be a pack of halfwits we also refer to as ‘statistics’

  4. Rule number one in the traffic in Bali “Always expect the unexpected”…..I always tell my friends, expect the dumbest and craziest shit to happen in front of you anytime on the road here…people here drive brainless…

  5. Paul Durkin says:

    I have spent 8 out of the last 12 months living in Bali and enjoy riding a scooter. Cheap, convenient to park, quicker and much more versatile through heavy traffic than is a car. BUT, I have seen a few very bad scooter accidents – all but one were foreigners…either inexperienced riders, drunk, or reckless riding or all of the aforementioned! One in particular…I was heading for an early surf down Eat St, Seminyak as two Aussies on a scooter were riding relatively SLOWLY towards me – they wereclearly coming home from a big night out as they were wobbly and loud-mouthed but in jovial spirits. Suddenly, their front wheel slipped in the loose gravel on the bitumen and both fell off. The driver landed on his head and his skull simply burst open with his brains spilling across the road – RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME!!! I mean these guys were barely travelling at 10 klms per hour!!! Dead in a heartbeat!!! Tragic for the poor guy and his family to say the least…but the indelible impression it has left on me reminds me of how fragile our lives really are. Don’t take your life for granted. Only hire a scooter if you are confident and experienced and if you do, ALWAYS ride with extreme anticipation of a potential accident being ahead of you. ALSO – don’t try to be cool & ride without a well-fitted and secured helmet on your head (not hooked over the handlebars). Skulls can split open like eggshells when hitting hard objects – even at slow speeds on backstreets! Whilst the medical facilities have improved drastically in Bali, your chances of encountering excellent medical assistance when you most need it in Bali are poor.

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