I don’t have to convince you that cycling is good for your health and the environment, others have explained it better here, here, and here. Instead, i’m here to share practical tips in how to still find joy in riding the worst cities. Being number one on castrol’s list of cities with the worst traffic in the world, I wouldn’t blame you if commuting Jakarta by bicycle doesn’t immediately appeal. Add to that the pollution, the reckless drivers, and the unpredictable weather, surely you’d be crazy to opt for a bike. But I’m here to make the case for two-wheeled adventures.
I personally have been commuting the city for a little over 7 years, and while there are many other local cyclists who are more avid out there, i feel that said experience warrants passing on some street wisdom. Here’s why commuting by bike should be your go to choice for navigating the Big Durian, first of all, contrary to the common belief, riding in Jakarta is actually safer than you might think. With the average speed of traffic being very low, it means the average risk of you getting totalled is also low, additionally with congestion being the norm, most driver here have a very high patience threshold, and therefore are more lenient in giving way to cyclists. What about bike lanes i hear you ask? Don’t get your hopes up, it’s nonexistent, and never will exist, don’t wait until other people spoonfeed facility to you, you can go out and ride, now.
The following 14 tips will ensure your commute to work, school or wherever, sucks less! Let us begin:
1. Always do bike check before heading off
check your tire pressure, drivetrain (re-grease if you must), and most importantly check your brakes.
2. Pick a good time to ride
I know, the streets are congested almost all the time, but based on my experience, I find that there are a couple of time span throughout the day that the street sucks much less, and i'm not talking about after midnight, the best time to commute in the morning would be anytime before 7.30am, during which the streets are considerably less dense and much quieter, plus you get the added bonus of the nice breezy weather in the morning, so be an early riser and get off your lazy ass. As for the Commute back home, the city between 4.30pm to 8.30pm is a living hell, try leaving after 8.30pm if you can. Those who works on a strict 9-5 basis may not have such luck, I would suggest you wait around until the traffic calm down, otherwise, toughen the F up, and plow through!
3. Prepare alternative route
Google maps is your friend here, plan your route ahead of leaving. Remember, the shortest route may not always the best one to take. Try opting for the not so obvious ones, as they tend to have less congestion
4. Opt for small alleyways (jalan tikus)
If you do the previous step, you’ll soon find there are many small alleys you can take instead of the big main road, the beauty about bikes, is that they take up very little space, and thus basically fit any street. small alleys has the advantage of being a lot less polluted than it’s main road counterpart.
5. Have a face mask handy
I hesitated when recommending this point. On the one hand, face masks impair your breathing, and thus the comfort of your riding, but on the other, long exposure to fumes leaves you with the lungs of a 40-a-day smoker. My suggestion is tohave it handy for when you have no other option but to go through a congested main road, but to ride without when you can. I use the simple earloop ones, while they won’t protect you from all particles under the sun, they should keep out the worst of them.
6. Safety gear is a must
It goes without saying that helmet, foot retention, brakes, and bike lights (front and rear) are imperative in ensuring you get from point A to point B in one piece.
7. Respect other driver
Don’t do things that you don’t want others do to you. Don’t be an asshole, don’t ruin it for other riders, the reputation of every cyclist ever, lies upon your shoulder, yes, you.
8. Wet wipes/small towel and change of clothes
If you can wash your face at your destination, bring a facial soap, otherwise wet wipes should be enough to wipe them road grimes off your face. Sweat and carbon fumes combined, equals smell, and trying to mask it with perfume would be futile, change your clothes!
9. Music Helps, but stay safe
This is another point where I hesitated before suggesting, yes listening to music while riding is very distracting and can potentially be very dangerous, but on the other hand, It can amplify the joy of riding. So I say this, you can listen to music, but with a caveat, keep volume to a minimum, and if you’re listening on earphones, plug only one side of it, while your other ear pays careful attention to your surroundings. Alternatively you can also use one of those bluetooth speakers that gets attached to your bag/clothing, it’s a good way to be able to listen to music while still be aware of your surrounding, pedestrians and passer-by might label you a douche, but who cares right? you only live once.
10. Have a spare tire and patch kit handy
No matter how careful you are in avoiding potholes, shit happens, be prepared. Have a spare tube, emergency patch kit, tire levers, and hand pump at the ready. Be self reliant, there will be times when you can’t rely on uber.
11. Stay away from Bajaj and Metro Mini
These are the worst of the bunch. Not only most of them they drive recklessly, the fumes coming out of their exhaust pipes are the carcinogenic kind. stay far away at all cost.
12. Avoid sandals/slippers
I’m not judging your fashion sense, but whatever your opinion about sandals is, they’re dangerous to ride with, period.
13. Stay left (slowest lane)
I get it, you’re fast, you want to be like that messenger guy in that movie premium rush, weaving in and out of the traffic, but the goal of this article is to help you stay alive. So I insist, stay left. I don’t want blood on my hands.
14. Only bring what you need
Whenever possible, leave the heavy stuff such as laptop at your office. Don’t bring excessive stuff that will only weigh you down and make your ride a lot less enjoyable, it’s only cool to haul massive amount of stuff if you’re a messenger, and you’re not. Lastly and most importantly, enjoy your ride, we believe that even in the worst of places, the joy of riding still outweigh whatever drawback the environment throws at you. If you have any additional tips, feel free to share them in the comments below!