How to (safely) drive a scooter in Bali?

Alexis
Modified on December 29, 2023

Renting a scooter in Bali is easy, but riding it safely is another matter. Traffic rules, safety tips, here is what you must know to stay alive.

Scooter rental in Bali: where to find them?

Renting a scooter to ride in Bali is quite simple. Numerous rental places are available in almost every corner of the island.

Whether you're in Canggu, Seminyak, Sanur, or Ubud, you won't have any trouble finding a scooter for rent on the Island of the Gods. Just follow the signs that say "motorbike for rent."

Your hotel, guesthouse, or other accommodation owner can probably help you find your scooter. Almost all locals know someone in their circle who rents scooters in Bali.

On average, you'll be asked around 700-800K (45€) per month for rental, or around 70K per day (4€) for basic scooters.

rent a motorcycle in bali

What types of scooters are available for rent in Bali?

This question might seem odd but is, in reality, crucial for what follows.

Most scooters for rent in Bali are 125cc or 150cc. There are hardly any scooters available for rent under 110cc.

If you've ridden 50cc scooters in your home country, the experience might be a bit different. A 125cc scooter remains relatively powerful and dangerous in beginners' hands. Many have been surprised during their first ride and ended up in a tricky situation!

What license is required for motorcycle rental and riding in Bali?

Some travel bloggers and nomads may tell notorious nonsense or encourage illegal acts that could cause you problems. In reality, the situation regarding licenses to ride a scooter in Bali is quite simple.

Two scenarios are available to you. All other situations are illegal and expose you to problems if you encounter issues while riding your scooter (accident, police check, etc.).

Note that most renters don't care at all about your driver's license: they are neither police nor insurers.

Not having the right license is therefore your problem, and the responsibilities in case of trouble are also all yours, naturally.

An international license authorising you to ride a scooter

If you have a driver's license allowing you to ride a motorcycle or scooter of at least 125cc, then you can obtain an international license and use it in Bali.

The type of licence can vary a lot from country to country. In some countries, an international driving licence allow them to also drive 125cc motorcycles. For other countries, a car licence is a car licence and a motorcycle licence is a motorcycle licence.

You simply need to have an international driving licence that clearly allows you to drive two wheelers.

A local (Indonesian) driving license called SIM C

The local driving license is the other key to legally driving in Bali. It's called SIM C and allows you to drive 2-wheelers up to 250cc.

This license is available to all Indonesian residents, meaning:

Official and unofficial traffic rules for riding a motorbike in Bali

Now that you know the legal conditions for scooter rental and riding in Bali, here are the official and unofficial traffic rules to follow if you want to return home in one piece.

Balinese driving has many myths that clearly put foreigners (and consequently the users around them) in danger. The most common is that you can do anything on the roads, revealing a profound misunderstanding of the local driving style and exposing you to unnecessary dangers.

Let's say it clearly, no, you cannot do everything when riding a scooter in Bali.

We drive on the left, except when we drive on the right

In Bali, we drive on the left. So, you merge to the left, overtake on the right, enter a roundabout from the left, and cross the road to turn right. If you are from Australia or the UK, this shouldn't be an issue.

The direction of traffic is generally respected, except when it's not. But those driving against the traffic generally do it very cautiously, very slowly, and in areas where it's not dangerous and/or tolerated.

As scooters don't take up much space, it's quite easy to stay on the right and ride against the traffic without it being a huge danger. But seeing people on scooters going against the traffic on your first day of scooter rental in Bali, especially on main roads, always has an impact when you're not used to it.

Driving a bike in Bali follows similar rules to skiing

This rule is the most important in all scooter (and car) driving in Bali: you are ONLY responsible for what happens in front of you.

Several consequences to this, which are often misunderstood by foreigners renting scooters and driving in Bali for the first time:

  • You must always be able to stop in time
  • If you hit someone from the back, you are at fault, whatever the situation
  • You always look ahead, very little in the mirrors
  • The people in front of you are not responsible "seeing you coming"
  • Scooters and cars change lanes or turn without looking behind, it's not their problem

In short, these rules are more like those observed skiing than those we have in our western traffic code.

The safety principles, however, are exactly the same: be very careful when overtaking, keep your distance, and anticipate what the person in front is going to do. You should expect NOTHING from the vehicle(s) in front of you.

Once you understand this basic principle, scooter rental in Bali is already much, much safer!

Go with the flow is a true mantra when riding a scooter in Bali

The other advice often given to beginner riders, and which is good advice, is to go with the flow. A Balinese will surely tell you, "just go with the flow."

The roads in Bali can be congested at certain hours. You quickly get the feeling of being in a peloton of the Tour de France with two scooters on your left and another on your right.

Imagine that you are a fish in a shoal of fishes, follow the movement, and anticipate the moments when you will turn to gradually get closer to your goal.

It's not much more complicated than that. Problems often arise when you don't follow the flow or when you try to drive according to your rules and not the local unofficial rules.

Courtesy is mandatory on all Balinese roads

Courtesy, smiles, and good spirits that prevail in Bali are not limited to the good moments of life. It's actually a sign of politeness more than anything else.

Nobody likes being stuck in traffic, almost getting hit, or dealing with someone in front who doesn't use their turn signals.

However, it's essential to stay calm in any situation. Smiling can take you far in Bali, and it's contagious. So, go along with everyone else and take things positively, even when everything seems to go wrong.

Road rages in Bali are very rare and usually involve serious accidents. Everyone overlooks small incivilities and recklessness without consequences, and you'll have to do the same.

Main dangers of riding a scooter in Bali

scooter accident bali

The roads in Bali are dangerous, no matter what you're told. They are particularly hasardous for those who venture after a few days of scooter rental without the experience of driving "locally."

Each road has its own dangers depending on its location, traffic, or the speed at which you can travel on it.

However, here are the main dangers that cause the most accidents.

Other scooters and cars merging in front of you without looking

Merging is a sport, sometimes borderline suicidal, in driving in Bali. When people merge to the left, whether on a scooter or in a car, few pay careful attention.

Some glance quickly, see you, but still merge a few meters from you, hoping for the best that you will stop. Whether you're 300m or 20m away doesn't matter. Whether you're going 20km/h or 90km/h doesn't matter either.

Remember those skiing rules we talked about earlier? Here it is, you have to stop. And if someone attempts a suicidal merge 20m in front of you while you're going full speed, it's your problem, and you'll be responsible for the accident if the braking doesn't work.

If you've never driven in Bali, it's very simple: assume that someone waiting on the left lane (or arriving there) will merge. Because that's probably what will happen.

Avoid being too close to the left curb to avoid being taken by surprise. Honking to let them know you're passing can also work, but not always. It's better to assume they will merge rather than thinking your horn will deter them.

Hospitals are full of horn-blaring scooter maniacs who failed to deter an optimistic merge.

Huge differences in speed between vehicles

The huge differences in speed between users of Balinese roads don't apply everywhere. In congested areas, it's very homogeneous, of course.

But on major Bali toll roads, all speeds can be found in the same place, leading to extremely dangerous situations.

Typically, overloaded trucks travelling from North to South Bali or to Java can sometimes go at 20km/h when cars and scooters approach or overtake them at almost 100km/h.

On these roads, sudden braking can be violent, and even with proper safety distances at a reasonable speed, the danger remains significant, especially if you've recently started driving a scooter in Bali.

Safety distances are almost never respected in Bali

Safety distances when driving a scooter or a car in Bali are almost like a dream.

Main roads are particularly dangerous in this regard. It's not uncommon to see lines of 5 or 10 cars driving at 70km/h less than 20cm from each other. Of course, when they brake, crash.

Scooters do the same. I remember an emergency stop on the Sanur bypass where we braked in time (thanks to the distance), but all the scooters behind us ended up on the ground and/or in ditches because they didn't have time to brake.

All accidents I've seen live were due to insufficient safety distances.

Dogs, cats, cows, and other humans crossing day and night

You would be surprised at the number of accidents that happen due to animals in Bali.

Cats are probably the worst in this matter and always cross in a completely erratic manner. Surely related to their world domination project.

Dogs are generally more used to it and pay attention, especially those living on the edges of major roads. But the number of dead dogs on the roads reminds everyone that not all dogs always pay attention. Hitting a dog on a scooter guarantees a good accident.

We talk less about cows, but they can also pose some problems, especially at night. A cow is big. If you hit it on a scooter at full speed, you'll probably be hurt more than the cow.

Humans who cross assuming you'll stop, or worse, without looking, are also among the dangers if you want to stay alive on your scooter in Bali.

Foreigners driving under the influence in Bali

Drunk driving is not really controlled in Bali, and some people completely abuse it. The danger is very significant in certain cities like Canggu, where many foreigners rent scooters and drink at the same time. Unsurprisingly, it's not a good idea, and a large part ends up in the hospital on day or another. Karma is a bitch in this regard.

Most foreigners who die on scooters accidents in Bali were under the influence. Not drinking while riding is imperative. Not crossing paths with those who do drink is also highly desirable.

If you drive in Canggu at night, assume that people are drunk and will do anything; it's safer.

Reckless drivers are quite numerous in Bali (and very reckless)

All countries and cities have their reckless drivers. Let's face it, despite the written and unofficial rules, they are quite numerous in Bali. Still, the level of madness can sometimes be shocking, going against all basic survival logic.

Even if you do everything right, you can still come across a psychopath and have an accident. Bali is the Island of the Gods, and Indonesia is very religious. Many simply believe that their god(s) protect(s) them on the road. When you see the anarchy of some roads and the amount of risk-taking compared to the number of accidents (ultimately quite low), you're indeed entitled to wonder.

What you should know in case of motorcycle accident in Bali

Driving a scooter in Bali is clearly a plunge into Indonesian culture. But before you venture into renting a scooter in Bali, it's better to know the risks in case of an accident.

Scooter accidents are very common in Bali

Let's not sugarcoat it, scooter accidents are very common in Bali. Ask any locals: most have had at least one if not several in their lives.

What you need to keep in mind is that since many roads are congested, many scooter accidents occur at low speeds in Bali. So in some areas, quite a few accidents are not fatal compared to the frequency of accidents.

However, on major roads where speed is higher and many vehicles of all types intersect (trucks, cars, scooters), fatal accidents are much more frequent.

Even at a relatively low speed (<30km/h), a scooter accident can have very serious consequences or be fatal. It's better to keep that in mind.

An ambulance to take you to the hospital is neither automatic nor free

In case of a scooter accident in Bali, the situation may be very confusing, especially if you're a foreigner.

There are no emergency services like firefighters or an ambulance to take you to the hospital in a systematic way.

It is possible that you will be placed in a private ambulance, which you will need to pay for. It is also very likely that you will be placed in a taxi. Generally, the person taking the injured party ends up paying for their hospital expenses, so don't hope too much that the person who hit you will take you there or even stop.

The only guarantee you have when having a scooter accident in Bali is that the situation will be complicated, especially if you are not speaking Indonesian or used to the way things are done here, and it's better if your case is not serious or urgent. 

Having people on the spot to contact in case of an emergency is also a good idea.

A foreigner involved in a scooter accident in Bali is very often wrong

An important point before driving a scooter in Bali is that a foreigner involved in an accident will probably be considered at fault.

By default, a foreigner is considered more financially comfortable and, frankly, more ignorant of local driving. So, it's quite easy to make them take the blame and make them pay in case of an accident, even when it's not really their fault.

But this principle of the weak against the strong also applies to the vehicle, even among locals. For example, a car is always considered at fault compared to a scooter.

My tips for renting a scooter in Bali and driving it safely

Are you still motivated to drive a scooter in Bali? Here are some tips before you start.

Follow what locals do

drive motorbike bali

In Rome, do as the Romans do. In Bali, do as the Balinese do.

If everyone is doing something that seems like absolute ridiculous to you, it means that it's OK to do it.

If you are the only one doing something and people look at you strangely, it's probably because you have violated something.

One of the best things you can do to understand how to drive a scooter in Bali is to ride behind a local or an expat for a few days before renting your own scooter. I strongly advise against renting a scooter in Bali before experiencing passenger driving locally.

This way, you take (almost) no risk, and you can learn without being too fixed on driving. It also allows you to incidentally locate places. If you don't know any locals, take a motorbike taxi on Gojek.

Refrain from driving long distances at the beginning

Driving a scooter in Bali is very tiring at first. And driving a scooter in Bali when you're tired multiplies the risks of accidents.

If you're driving a scooter in Bali for the first time, stick to your surroundings and don't venture onto the main roads until you have gained some experience

Falling off by yourself at 30km/h on the way to the beach is a shame and can ruin your vacation. Falling off at 70km/h and going under a truck because you wanted to cross Bali by scooter is a different story

Always wear a helmet when you're on a scooter in Bali

The asphalt is no less hard in Bali than anywhere else. Wearing a helmet on a scooter in Bali is a must, everywhere. And the helmet needs to be on your head, not at the back on your scooter to look cool.

Hair in the wind on a scooter in Bali is very romantic, but it's also very stupid. In the asphalt vs skull match, the asphalt always wins

Anyway, this is one of the few things that the police systematically check in Bali. If you venture out on a scooter without a helmet on a medium road or a main road, you will be stopped without a doubt. For your own good, by the way.

NEVER drive a scooter in Bali without good insurance

The risks of accidents when driving a scooter in Bali are very real. Especially during the first few months when you haven't gained the necessary experience to understand everything, and when you get a little confidence on your bike.

Many people find themselves in dramatic situations in Bali following accidents on a scooter without insurance. I have lost count of the GoFundMe campaigns, life-or-death situations where they are waiting for a transfer from a grandmother to start the surgery... in short, not very enviable situations.

Travel or expatriate insurance is not a luxury in Bali. No care, even in an emergency, will be given to you until the hospital is 100% sure it will receive the funds.

The fact that your life depends on it does not change the situation.

A good insurance, whether it's for travel if you're only in Bali temporarily or for expatriates if you plan to settle, is ABSOLUTELY ESSENTIAL as soon as you get on a scooter in Bali.

This is not drama. Everyone who has lived in Bali for a while know people who have had serious accidents. Some have been repatriated just in time thanks to their insurance, others have been treated on the spot in time and survived, and others have died while the family tried to raise funds.

The cost of insurance is simply peanuts compared to the cost of hospitalisation.

Conclusion

Renting a scooter in Bali is an experience in itself and could be a fun journey on the Island of the Gods. It's true that driving a scooter in Bali is an integral part of Balinese and even Indonesian local life.

However, driving a scooter in Bali should not be done recklessly. The rules, even unwritten ones, must be respected like anywhere else if you want to drive as safely as possible.

The dangers of driving a scooter in Bali remain significant and should encourage absolute caution, especially if you are a foreigner. 

Learning to drive a scooter like a local, knowing the risks, and always being covered by good insurance are absolute imperatives if you don't want to return home feet first.

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