Buying a motorbike in Bali

July 25, 2009

I bought a motorbike today. Well, I’ve taken possession of  it, but I can’t actually ride it yet, because … no wait, let me describe how the sociology of motorbike ownership works here first.

In Bali, the actual purchase itself  is as easy as buying a T-shirt. But the lead up to the transaction is tricky. There is a whole gender/status thing swirling around that colours one’s choice of steed. For the last month I have been riding a rented Mio – one of the smaller automatic scooters in Bali. It’s small, somewhat underpowered and makes me feel like an elephant on a unicycle – but it’s practical, cheap to run and comparatively nimble. No one seems to care what you ride as a rental, but as soon as you mention that you are going to actually buy one, attitudes change.

Me: I’m going to buy a Mio.
Friend: For your pembantu?
Me: No, no – for me.
Friend: (pauses for a beat) Why do you want a girl’s bike?
Me: Er, umm, well it’s, you know, it’s cheap and easy to ride and er, umm …
Friend: Yeah right, it’s a girl’s bike …

So I think for a while, and decide I will not be intimidated by gender-profiling types who are obviously trying to rev me up. My money, right? My choice of bike, right? Off I go to the Yamaha dealer, where I see an array of bikes of varying degrees of coolness. Some of these look hot. A salesman coalesces out of thin air.

Salesman: Yes?
Me: I want to buy a bike.
Salesman: (gravitating towards a manually geared behemoth that surely would need a crane to pick it up if it fell over) This one is very …
Me: No, no, I want an automatic.
Salesman: For your pembantu?
Me: (cringing) Ah, well she might ride it occasionally …
Salesman: You mean it’s for you? Why do you want a girl’s bike … ?

I leave. Time for some introspeksi diri. So what’s another 2 million? I’ll get a real bike – a man’s bike. I need the extra size and power anyway, don’t I? I ride off to a different dealer, but more self-consciously now, because I’m on a rented Mio, which of course, is a girl’s bike …

Me (at the Honda dealer): I want to buy a bike …
Saleswoman: Certainly – now, this Tiger here is on specia …
Me: No, no, I want an automatic …
Saleswoman: Ahh, you want a girl’s bike?
Me: (with some asperity) No, it’s for me. I was going to get a Mio, but …
Saleswoman: For your pembantu?
Me: (mentally reciting a calming mantra) No. I want a bike for me. I want one that’s bigger than a Mio. And I want one that is automatic. Because. I. Can’t. Ride. A. Manual. Bike.

The mantra doesn’t seem to work, because I find myself gritting my teeth.
Saleswoman: (considers me for a moment, and obviously decides I’m gay) Ahh. This Vario would be perfect for you.
Me: ?? Perfect? It’s pink!
Saleswoman: Oh. I thought …
Me: I want that red one.
Saleswoman: But the red ones go faster …
Me: Very funny Kadek, but that’s actually the reason why I want a red one …

With the sociological preliminaries over and my position on the pecking order of bike riders now firmly established (apparently on the second-last rung …) we finally get to the transaction, which takes five minutes:

Me: I’ll take that one.
Saleswoman: You have KITAS?
Me: Yes.
Saleswoman: You pay now?
Me: Yes.

And it’s over. I have a brand-new bike! They delivered it within the hour. But of course I can’t ride it, because the registration plates will take two weeks to be processed, and I can’t go waving red rags at the Patroli by riding around on something with no plates and no registration papers. And the Blue Book or Black Book or whatever it is that proves my ownership takes three to six months to arrive … 

So I go and brag to my friend anyway:
Me: Hey, I just bought a bike.
Friend: What did you get?
Me: A Vario.
Friend: (suspiciously) You didn’t get a pink one, did you?
Me: No, a red one.
Friend: Oh. Pity. You know the red ones always get stolen first? Didn’t the dealer warn you?
Me: (mentally replaying saleswoman’s comment “But the red ones always go faster …”) Ahh, well, sort of … I thought she meant … never mind.
Friend: But you still bought an automatic. Why did you buy a girl’s bike?

So that’s it. Despite the subtle bagging, I’m the proud owner of a new bike, and I don’t care what people say. I make my own choices and will remain completely unmoved by the implication that in two weeks (grrr) I will be riding a twist-and-go girl’s bike that just happens to be of a colour preferred by motorcycle thieves. I am untouched by such petty profiling; I do exactly what I want. Pah! to the naysayers!

But next week, I think I might learn to ride a manual bike. Hmm … maybe I’ll even upgrade to a tough, macho Tiger …



  1. Peer pressure sure can be tough for a curmudgeon.

    I say go with the stereotype and buy the biggest, ugliest, manliest Tiger you can afford. 🙂

    • I would, but my inner wimp is surfacing and I’m afraid that the Tiger will be manlier than I am …

  2. I just came across your blog. I’m enjoying reading your impressions and experiences as you settle in. The bike adventure is great. I recently bought a Vixion after 20 years of having bebeks. My wife encouraged me to buy a bigger bike this time so who knows what her hidden agenda is. The problem with the big bikes is transporting groceries and other things. While I love my bigger bike, I miss the extra carrying space that the “girl” bikes have.

    • It’s that inevitable upgrade path isn’t? Going to a bigger bike is seductive, but might be like going from XP to Vista … maybe panniers, or a sidecar is the way to go … 😉

  3. “Elephant on a unicycle”. lol.

  4. 🙂 very funny. I’m indonesian and i never been to bali. So i wonder why the gender thing like that is so important in bali?
    as i recall, people in other cities i’ve visited don’t concerned much of it; Girls bike or man bike, you have a whole freedom to choose without people need to ask why.

    • … most of the comments have come mainly from Australian expats who enjoy that sort of gentle ribbing. But various locals who have a similar sense of humour have also joked about my ‘girl’s bike’ – but tidak apa apa 😉

  5. Hey Vyt loving how your elearning blogs have become about the expat lifestyle in Bali!


    • The “Curmudgeon” eLearning blog is a different url. Mind you, I haven’t updated that since last year. Terribly slack, I know …

  6. Hi Vyt, read your article in the Bali Times before coming to your blog. Very nice writing…
    Now my question, as I’m settling in too in Bali right now and I definitely need a “man’s bike” 🙂 I was wondering which seller had the Tiger on special offer you mentioned? Hope you can help, will “pay” you back with a cold Bintang… 😉

  7. There was a factory cashback special deal on offer from Honda a few weeks back, but it was sort of built into the price. Think the Tiger was about 20 juta, but didn’t pay much attention seeing it was girlie bike I was after . 😉 The Honda dealer I bought from was in Jl. Iman Bonjol, about 100 metres back towards Kuta from the T-junction of Jl. Nakula. Good luck!

  8. Hi, Vyt! I’ve just been to the mentioned Honda dealer but unfortunately they could not remember of any special offer on the Tiger in the last weeks. The price is 25 million and no discount 😦
    Do you still remember which salesperson you spoke to?
    You can answer me in PM if you want to exchange phone numbers in order to pay my debt (a cold Bintang…).


    • They had a sheet of paper at the front counter listing all the specials/sale prices – some sort of Honda promotion I think. Maybe it’s finished?

  9. Hey there, I seem to be about two years late for this conversation, so I understand if you don’t get back to me, but; being this is the most informative Blog I have come across….

    i am interested in buying a scooter for a Bali Local whom I befriended out there. I am in the process of doing a fundraiser to get him a Honda Scoopy, two helmets (so he could rent it out for a little extra cash) and enough extra to take care of all the paperwork, registration, plates, etc…

    He works in Ubud and doesn’t make enough to be able to make up ANY monetary discrepancies between his current situation and full ownership.I am also afraid tha, because of his status, his boss might try and pull some kind of shady side-deal on him so I really want to make sure that the bike is FULLY registered to him and cannot taken from him. If he eventually decides he wants to sell it that that will be his business, and he can do as he likes.

    Do you, by chance, know what it might cost and take (besides the bike and helmets) for a Balinese citizen to register a scooter to himself? For example does he need a valid ID, a mailing address, etc?

    • Seeing that motorbike purchases are so common here, the process is fast and efficient. As a local, all he needs is the money for the bike and reg, and proof of identity such as a KTP. On purchase, he will be quoted an on-the-road price (including registration), and once that is paid, delivery to his home (sans plates)may well be on the same day.

      However, the plates generally don’t arrive at the dealer’s for at least 2 weeks while local registration authorities get their act together. Most locals ‘borrow’ a set of plates from another bike during this time to keep their new bike at least looking legal, but this can have obvious drawbacks if picked up on a police checkpoint. The Blue Book/Black Book – a thin booklet containing all reg and owner’s details – does not arrive for a few months. Once he gets that, he should keep it in a safe place. It is basically proof of ownership, and he cannot sell the bike without it. Conversely, anyone who gets their hands on the book illegally also ‘owns’ the bike, so care is needed.

      Demand is so heavy for bikes that ‘deals’ are rare (at least for bules!). Any ‘specials’ are usually in the form of more attractive terms for credit, which won’t apply in this case. At least at Honda dealers, a purchaser will get a tool kit, light jacket, and one helmet as part of the package. He might be able to con a second helmet as a sweetener, depending on the dealer. If not, Honda sell their helmets for about 300,000. Department stores and local shops sell them for about 150,000 depending on quality.

      His first few services at the Honda dealer will be free IF he does them within the mileage and time limits specified in the Owner’s Manual. Even when he has to pay for service, it’s only about 30,000 to 50,000.

      Technically, he can not legally rent out a privately registered bike. Not only will he possibly get into trouble if he rents it to say, a foreigner without a licence who is stopped by the police, but it could get expensive if it is damaged in an accident while a renter is riding it. Insurance in Bali is also very problematic – most owners carry their own liability. Nevertheless, many locals rent out their bikes anyway.

      Finally, he will have to remember to renew the bike’s reg papers each year – about 150,000. No reminders are sent – the onus is on the owner to renew. Needless to say, many bikes are riding around unregistered here …

      Regarding the ‘shady’ boss – all he has to do is to say that his bule friend bought the bike (which bules can do if they hold a KITAS) and has lent it to him. That should stop any attempts by third parties to ‘borrow’, use, or otherwise misuse your friend’s bike. Be aware though, that the shady deals here more often come from the recipients of gift bikes. Stories abound of ‘gift bikes’ bought by foreigners being gratefully received by locals – and sold as soon as the ownership papers arrive. Or mysteriously ‘stolen’ … As always in Bali, be very careful and remember that cultural values are very different here – particularly when it comes to obtaining high-value gifts. But I’m sure you know all that already 😉

      Anyway, good luck and hope this helps.

  10. That helps immensely, thank-you,

    the only thing I am not sure of is the difference in cultural values when it comes to obtaining high-value gifts… If you would please forgive my ignorance, would that mean that things that are given are not prized because there is smaller value in something that has not been earned. Or, for example, is it a viewpoint that its just another kaya bule just passing something off so it holds less value due to pride? I basically I wanted to do something for him that would, in one fell swoop allow him to take a girl out for a ride and be the hip young kid I see in him, and also greatly increase his monthly salary if he decided he wanted to rent it out here & there. But I would be kinda honestly pissed if he just turned around and sold it, but I guess I would just have to give that one up to the gods…

    • I am not devaluing your gift. My comment is more do do with the prevalent attitude that we (bules) are blessed with incalculable wealth compared to many of the locals. My feeling is that when we befriend locals, we are in a very small way accepted into the outer levels of their complex family and community social dynamic. And this involves certain obligations such as an expectation to share the wealth. And if and when we do, it also seems that our Western attachment to intrinsic value of objects becomes out of place.
      I would venture to suggest that if there was a family medical crisis, your friend would unhesitatingly sell the bike to fund an operation. And then unhesitatingly hint that another bike would be nice … 😉 Not all locals are like that, but a surprising number are.
      A friend who often visits Bali and is very supportive of a local village has been donating considerable amounts of money for years to a mature-age woman in the village who has had an endless stream of ‘bad luck incidents’, ‘medical problems’, children ‘about to be kicked out of uni for non-payment of fees’ and general chronic poverty. On his last trip here, he discovered that she actually owns 3 cars, several motorbikes, two houses and 3 rental villas. And yet when confronted with the discrepancy between her story and reality, she is completely unrepentant and sees her attitude as completely normal. That’s the cultural difference I’m talking about.
      You sound like a generous and compassionate soul, and if you want to make such a gift, that is wonderful. But it needs to be a gift that is given without any attachment to Western outcomes – such as worrying that it will be kept safe, looked after and generally treasured as we would. If you can do that – wonderful!

  11. Hey Vyt!
    Great blog here. As a nomadic expat, I am always looking for valuable content on living in other countries. I have been living in Panama for over a year and, in April, will be heading to Bali with my fiance for another year or so.

    Oh yeah, I am an avid motorbike enthusiast. A couple questions:

    Can someone with a tourist visa just walk into a dealer and buy a bike and get it registered? You don’t need a work visa or something?

    When you say girls/guys bikes, is that to say that girls bikes a ‘scooters’ and guys bikes are actual ‘motorbikes’?

    What’s the deal with buying old beat up used bikes off locals?

    Thanks again for all the info! Be well,


    • You can’t buy a bike here unless you are an Indonesian citizen, or you have a residency permit such as a KITAS. There are ways around it, such as buying the thing in the name of a local, but the registration/ownership papers (the ‘blue book’ or ‘black book’) will be in their name. You risk losing the bike any time the registered owner decides that he wants it for himself – because it is in fact legally his, regardless of who paid for it. Same deal for old, beat up bikes. You can’t own one.

      Girls/guys bikes – well, that’s a bit tongue in cheek. Most locals buy/ride what they can afford without worrying about categorising what they ride. For those who care about bike ‘status’, the hierarchy, from low to high, seems to be:

      Small step-through automatic (eg Mio) > Larger step-through automatic (eg Vario) > Small and medium capacity manuals (big variety) > Larger capacity manuals (eg Honda Tiger et al) > Monster Harleys and similar cruisers.

      There are a number of maxi-scooters around as well.

      Anything over 250cc is technically illegal here, but as many of the police belong to Harley-style rider clubs, a certain amount latitude is permitted, despite Harleys being monumentally unsuited to Bali’s crowded streets.

      In short, the choice is basically automatic motorised office chair (girl’s bike), or manual crotch rocket (boy’s bike) 😉 but really, no-one here actually cares.

  12. Can someone with a tourist visa just walk into a dealer and buy a bike and get it registered? You don’t need a work visa or something?


    • Yes and no. If you have a tourist visa, you may find a dealer who will sell you a bike, but you won’t be able to get it registered in your name (the STNK), or obtain the all-important “Blue Book (BPKB)” which denotes ownership.

      For that, you need to have a KITAS. Or at least you did, until a recent change in the law that apparently now disallows KITAS-holders from buying a vehicle. I’m sure that creative people will find a way around this new regulation too. It is also possible that the ‘new’ law does not actually now prohibit KITAS-holders from buying bikes, although some dealers are claiming this is so.

      Of course, you can ask a local friend to ‘lend’ you his name for the purpose of registration and ownership, but legally, the bike will be officially theirs regardless of whatever personal arrangements you make to the contrary.

  13. Hi there,
    really cool to read post. I’m in the same position at the moment wanting to buy a motorbike in Bali. Your report is very well writen and has the right amount of humor. It was very joyfull to read.
    Thank you!

    • Thanks. Be aware that having a KITAS no longer entitles you to buy a motorbike or car in your own name. The rules changed this year.

      Now if you want to buy a bike, you must do so in the name of a Bali KTP holder whose ID is registered in the same area as the bike’s vendor. These nominees will, in most cases, charge a fee for this service. And under the law, the BPKB (ownership document) is in THEIR name, not yours, which means you have to be 100% confident in the nominee’s bona fides to avoid losing your bike.

      My bike is in my own name (purchased before the rule change). Fortunately, if I need to buy another, I do have someone I trust totally to be a nominee, but not all people are so lucky 😉

  14. same with me, i just need a Honda scoopy, and my friends said same thing, ha ha ha ha

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