Indonesia on a two month Harley ride

From H.O.G. Townsville August 1996 Newsletter


Well if I thought it was going to be easy to travel the world on a Harley, I was wrong. But if it was easy everyone would be doing it.

Thanks to everyone for the send off at Hughenden last Feb. and particularly the Viles's who further escorted me to their town the Isa and showed great hospitality. The trip to Darwin was smooth sailing. After lowering the windshield, draining the tank and disconnecting the battery the bike accompanied me on the plane to Bali. Sitting just under the first class section whilst I was relegated to the tail end. No chance of collecting it the same day, a Sunday, but there it was all bubble wrapped awaiting me to relieve it of the attention being displayed by the locals. Customs officers awaiting increases in their wealth were sorely disappointed in the carnet and a letter from their boss allowing entry for the bike, and three hours later I was motoring at high speed 40 km/ph around Bali.

As luck would have it I found cheap accommodation at a losmen (read backpackers) and the owner had three Harleys (two Wla's and a 92 ultra). He showed me the local Harley pub which had a 94 Heritage on the floor. This is a country without a dealer and where motor bikes over 250 cc capacity are illegal to be ridden on the roads and yet Bali has about 80 HD's. The general reason given for not allowing large bikes is that the police only ride small Hondas. The ingenuity of money to the fore and last year the local Harley owners bought two Road Kings for the police and two Road Kings for the Military Police and so now they have a special registration for club members to ride whenever they wish wherever they wish on the Island of Bali. Elsewhere in Indonesia it is still Illegal.

Day two and I am touring at the enormous speed of 40 km/hr again and within the first 40 km I have been pulled over twice by policemen sighting, no front number plate, no local registration, and to their surprise no bribe from me either. Being concerned that this would be the norm throughout Indonesia, I decided that these would be the last two policemen I would see for the whole of my trip. Despite almost running one down later to avoid seeing him I managed not to see another policeman waving a red flag trying to stop me. Basically they were after a look at the bike or for a bribe. The greatest asset, the Australian flag and travelling with the headlight on. Only official vehicles have headlights on and flags so by the time they realized I was not official I had passed, occasionally I even received a salute from the policemen.

The worry still, was I legally allowed to ride in Indonesia. The answer after 7000 km and eight weeks is, I don't know, I wasn't game to ask. The locals can't, they need to be in a club to ride a bike over 250 cc and be on a club event, and then they need to have a police escort.

After a week of settling into new driving techniques I launched myself at the island of Java, about the size of Victoria with 120 million people all using the road at once, as a footpath, push bike track, horse drawn wagon road, motorbike lane, three wheeler car track, bus and truck road, crammed into two lanes, one each way. I soon learned that Einstein had nothing to teach these people about the laws of motion and relativity. Four or five mobile human vehicles overtaking at the one time in one direction being approached by a similar number coming from the opposite direction both using the entire road and yet miraculously judging that there would be sufficient room for them to squeeze through just in time without breaking or adversely deviating from their path. Sufficient room yes, I soon learnt that judging mirror heights was a necessity as frequently oncoming vehicles and ones I was overtaking would pass with mirrors in the same vertical airspace. The Indonesians are actually excellent drivers when you realize the need to drive the way they do, if they drove like us the traffic would not move.

To get away from the traffic I took a nice quiet ride through an active volcano. Mt. Bromo is a 20 km crater in the mountains of Java with an active volcano to one side of the crater. Just the thing for adventure a ride through 5 km of volcanic ash, locally called the sea of sand, down one side into the sea and up the other side. This was once of only twice that I managed to get the bike bogged on the trip. The volcanic ash being more treacherous than sand and harder to judge its depth, with no road, but there was always someone there to help.

Java to Sumatra by ferry, just a ride on ride off car ferry/barge, sea crossing for two hours, total cost for bike and rider $1.00, hang the expense. Here the road opened up and it was only now that I realized that this was the first time I had been into top gear since arriving in Indonesia. It was also here that I realized that roads disappeared on corners without warning and usually when you were in top gear. The roads were generally pretty bad but potholes were easier to dodge than vehicles unless you were following a truck trying to overtake, cant see ahead and next thing your down a mine shaft.

Northern Sumatra holds the most hospitable group of riders in the world. Never met them before, just two fax's across the sea and they invite me on a ride into town from 200 km out. Ten riders of mixed breed super bikes including three Harleys came for the weekend to escort me to town. Lunch, dinner, floor show, 5 star accommodation and a police escort for the 200 km ride to town all part of the treatment. Siren blaring with all vehicles moving over to let us pass, through town and red lights at 80 km/hr. Out to dinner that evening and the next three all courtesy of the members until I left by boat for Malaysia. This was incredible hospitality unimaginable without being there.

Well that's it for this article.


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Story and photos copyright Peter and Kay Forwood, 1996-
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