Bali, like most other south-east Asian beach destinations, is best seen by bike. The cool breeze and the green surroundings make me pick a motorbike over a car any day. So if you choose to rent a bike, here’s the lowdown, as on May 2014. There are other articles/forums out there with information, but I found the information either out of date or too distributed.
Note: Exchange rate of $1 = 11,500 Rupaiah
1. Price: The base price you could get for a motorbike is about 40,000 rupiah. You can expect them to start haggling from 70,000 rupiah, but eventually come down to about 50,000. I have read online that you could rent geared bikes for cheaper, but all bikes in Kuta are automatic now, so it is almost impossible to get a geared motorbike. If you rent it for more days (say a week or more), then you could get a reduced rate of 40,000 rupiah. Compare this with the price of a car, 150,000 rupiah and the car won’t really seem very expensive. It is more a matter of riding style than of price.
2. Insurance: Different vendors have different “insurance policies”. Insurance, be forewarned, is as informal as it gets on this island. Let alone a document, there is barely a verbal description of the insurance. Some vendors mean excess (you pay $250 if the bike is stolen or broken into pieces), while some only cover theft. Either way, you need to pay up if there are any dents or scratches. So take pictures of the bike before you get a handover so that you are both agreed on the pre-existing condition of the bike. Also, I have heard that some vendors try and rip you off by charging a bomb for minor scratches, so be firm and bargain if you do put some scratches on it.
3. Route: Do you have a pre-planned route, or are you going to wing it the entire trip? Either way, if you plan to cross any hills then make sure you have a good bike. I rented a 100cc and, in hindsight, it wasn’t the smartest thing to do. The bike really struggled climbing some hills and the front brake gave way on the way down. Also, it was difficult to accelerate although a good top speed (60kmph) could be maintained once it was achieved. So if you want to cross the hill regions towards the east or the north, I would suggest you get a better bike. It also depends on the weight it needs to carry. With about 15kgs of luggage and my wife riding pillion, my bike really struggled at times, and she had to get off and walk about a kilometre in different stretches. Yet, 95% of the time it served me well. Always remember to finalize the bike before negotiating a price. Because if you negotiate before finalizing the model, then your vendor is going to give you an older/screwed up bike.
4. Check everything: Make sure the lock is working fine. Even if you have a verbal agreement on theft insurance, better be safe than sorry. Check that the helmets aren’t rusty and are easy to click. This could be painful in places like Legian and Ubud where you hop from one place to another just a few metres away. As you can probably tell, this was the case with me. Most importantly, the ignition should be working fine. Agree upon the amount of petrol that he is giving you, so you can return the same amount back to him.
5. Petrol: Petrol is really cheap on the island (6,500 rupiah/litre), but the problem is its availability. Gas stations are few and far between, and if you are driving around the island, then you would definitely have a few situations where you think you are going to run out of petrol. Random people sell petrol on the streets, in bottles of Absolut Vodka. I am not sure how reliable this petrol is (could be mixed with kerosene which is cheaper), but it seemed like the thing to do. You can buy Absolut Petrol for about 8,000 rupiah although they might ask 10,000 rupiah for it (depends on how deep you are). But I tried as much as possible to fill up at gas stations to avoid a smoky carburettor in this green island.
6. License: You are required to have an international license to drive in Bali. You could either bring it from your home country, or get it here (Sanghyang St) for about 350,000 rupaiah (including bribe amount). Or you could choose to ignore it and drive around and pay up when you are caught. I landed in Bali on a Friday and the police station was closed on Saturday and Sunday. I couldn’t wait until Monday morning, so I started driving without a license. Now I am on the last leg of my trip, having already driven around 400km with 100km more to go, and I haven’t been pulled over a single time. To be precise, I was pulled over to pay tolls, but never got asked my license and registration (which my vendor did not give me anyway).
7. Planning your time: On a typical rented bike you can maintain an average speed of 40kmph. In Indonesia, like in most other Asian countries, the motorbikes tend to squeeze through the holes while the cars are waiting in traffic. In places like Legian and Ubud this cuts down travel time by almost 90% (another reason why I got a bike instead of a car). But traffic or no traffic, when you are doing trips between cities, plan with 40kmph while you are traveling. If you are hitting mountains (like the route between Ubud and Singaraja or the route between Kintamani and Amed) then that stretch could drop to 20-30kmph. Don’t let Google Maps or anyone else tell you otherwise.
8. Finding your way: Road signs are good but not everywhere. So you need to rely on other means to find your way. You could get a map from the first hotel you stay at and use that to guide you (even petrol stations are marked in the map). Or you could drive around and ask fellow bikers without stopping. Or you could get a data sim card (about 120,000 rupiah) which gives you 3.5GB of data (EDGE speed) and use that to navigate. We did a mix of all three depending on the context. So we would use the physical map for broad directions, turn on Google Maps at intersections (which are very few in number), and ask along the way to reconfirm. The good news is that most of the cities/towns/villages in Bali are built along a single street. So all you need to do is to figure out how to get from Town A to Town B. Once you get to Town B, you can drive along the street and look for a sign for your hotel/restaurant/dive center or ask someone. Everyone knows every single establishment in his/her town. 9. When to head out: I have driven early morning (7am-11am), afternoon (1pm-3pm), evening (330-430pm) and mid-morning (930am-130pm). I found early mornings the most enjoyable rides. If you plan to stop at some spots along the way (eg. Tanah Lot or Pura Besakih) then make sure you check their opening timings if you plan to leave early.
Hope you find this information useful. Bali is thoroughly enjoyable for divers, snorkelers, party people as well as chillers-out. I hope you have a great time there!
If you notice any updates on the prices/road conditions/anything else, do let me know so I can update the post. Cheers and happy travels!