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The Far Side of the World: Motorbikes in Indonesia

Published on March 6, 2018 under Blog
The Far Side of the World: Motorbikes in Indonesia

The Far Side of the World: Motorbikes in Indonesia

Photos by Rob Brooks & Shayne Russell

My wife and I enjoyed a 12-day trip to Indonesia this past year. I’ve made the trip several times in recent years with a non-profit I help manage, 127 Legacy Foundation, and have always been fascinated with the culture of motorcycles over there. Some interesting observations from our trip abroad: The largest displacement engine I’ve ever found in Indonesia was 250cc. It’s an interesting contrast to the US, where, aside from scooters, a 250 is about the smallest you’ll find.

The rider 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.

We spent a few days around Tokyo, Japan prior to continuing on to Jakarta. I was startled to find very few motorcycles, including scooters, in Japan, whether in the city or country. Ironic, that the nation with four of the top producing brands in the world (Honda, Yamaha, Suzuki, Kawasaki), and yet so few of their own citizens actually ride.

Jakarta 3


During a traffic jam in Jakarta, looking back through the tunnel was astounding. There appeared to be hundreds rolling our way – one large, moving mass of “man and machine.”

The traffic was stopped in front of our hotel, but that did not prevent riders from throttling through and around, in a constant stream.


A teen riding 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 the passengers.

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 cities 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.

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 Jakarta, so streets are easier to navigate with two wheels or four. I’d feel more comfortable riding out here!

As with much of Asia and the Pacific Rim, motorbikes in Indonesia are a necessary element of life. As the 4th most populous nation on the planet, the Indonesian archipelago of islands is among the world’s greatest purchasers of motorcycles and scooters. As a rider myself, it’s just another reason I enjoy traveling to the far side of the world. Many kindred spirits abroad!