The world of two wheels across the Pacific
My wife and I made a 15-day trip to Indonesia a few years back, for a foundation we do some work with. I’ve made the trip several times with 127 Legacy Foundation, an organization that aids and sponsors orphanages, women’s shelters and medical clinics across the equatorial island nation, and I’m always fascinated with the culture of motorcycles over there. Some interesting observations on the Indonesian world of two wheels:
The largest displacement motorbike I’ve ever found in Indonesia was 250cc. It’s an interesting contrast to the U.S. where, aside from scooters, a 250 is about the smallest you’ll find.
The rider almost always wears a helmet, yet often passengers do not. Even multiple family members, including small children, will be helmetless, while the “wrist” will wear one.
Here’s a series of photos snapped across a couple of trips to Indonesia, with comments and thoughts.
During a traffic jam in the capital of Jakarta on Java, looking back through the tunnel was astounding. There appeared to be hundreds rolling our way – one large, moving mass of “man and machine.” Photo by Shayne Russell
The traffic was stopped in front of our hotel, but that did not prevent the riders from throttling on through and around, in a constant stream.
A child going home from school with a parent, outside the city of Kupang, Timor. Amazing how often I saw multiple riders with no helmets or other protective gear for their passengers. Photo by Shayne Russell
Often the only means of transportation for entire families, children are squeezed onto seats between parents and older siblings, often up to 4-5 on a bike and helmetless, as evidenced here.
These three-wheeled motortrikes are common throughout the capital city as delivery vehicles on the surface streets.
Small-bore motorcycles and scooters clog the already packed streets of downtown Jakarta, Indonesia by the thousands, flowing through traffic by lane-splitting, curb-jumping, and red-light running. I once witnessed a sharply dressed police officer standing on a pedestal in the middle of a congested intersection, blowing his whistle and seemingly directing traffic with his white gloved hands. No one was heeding his direction.
Even out in the city of Kupang, near the far eastern end of the Indonesian island chain on Timor, scooters and small motorcycles are a way of life. Traffic is not as bad as in the capital, so streets are easier to navigate with two wheels or four. I would feel more comfortable riding out here!
Taken from a transit bus we were on, the riders on these diminutive mounts were fearless in traffic. Photo by Shayne Russell
Several small motorbikes parked outside an orphanage on the western Indonesian island of Sumatra, in the city of Pekanbaru. They teach the boys how to repair them, so they can have a means of earning a living upon graduating out at the age of 18.
The shop behind the orphanage, where the kids practice their skills at motorcycle repair and maintenance.
A friend in a suburb of Jakarta had this small Yamaha single-thumper, and let me ride it around some back streets for a bit. I didn’t possess an international driver’s license (hence no incriminating photo), so I didn’t ride long or far. Fun little bike, and perfect city traffic tool.
I did sneak a brief ride on this little Honda while out in Pekanbaru, with incriminating photo, although I never hit the main roads on it. Stayed on the unpaved or roughly paved back streets around the orphanage. Photo by Shayne Russell
McDonalds delivers in many parts of the city, via scooters like these. The riders are beyond fearless, bordering on desperate bravado.
Interesting note: We spent a few days in Japan around Tokyo prior to continuing on to Jakarta, and out to the countryside surrounding Mt. Fuji. I was startled to find very few motorcycles or even scooters in Japan, in the city or country. Ironic that the nation with four of the top producing brands in the world (Honda, Yamaha, Suzuki, Kawasaki), and so few of their own citizens seem to actually ride, at least in our limited observation.
Have you traveled to the Far East and experienced their moto culture? Share your thoughts in the comments below!
*For more on the work our foundation conducts in Indonesia, check it out here: