Bali By Bike Day 1
We packed the panniers and saddled up at around 9am. At this point all we had seen of Bali was the horrendous sprawl and cultural wasteland of Kuta, and the lovely though very upscale Ubud. I was eager to climb into the mountains and see the countryside and climb we did.
We originally thought about taking some backroads from Ubud to Gianyar, but our map just showed a maze of roads with poor labeling and we decided that it would be best not to start our first day of the tour getting horribly lost only a few km from our starting point. We were on the main road from Ubud through Gianyar all the way to Semarapura (aka Klungtung). I was a little concerned with what the main road may be like. Worst case scenarios of tour bus after tour bus running me into the rice paddies ran through my head, but the traffic was not that bad.
Traffic in Bali definitely takes some getting used to. The important thing to realize (as with so many other things while traveling) is to be predictable and do what the locals do. When on a bike this means stay as far left as possible (they drive on the left side) and don’t make any sudden moves.
Those of you who have ridden with me before know that I am an outspoken proponent of taking the lane. Under the law in California if there is not enough room for a car to pass safely then a cyclist is supposed to ride in or near the center of the lane. By traveling in the open road you are more visible to passing cars and you make it apparent that space does not allow them to pass without crossing the center line. This means that they must wait for an opportunity to pass safely rather than squeeze by at high speed. In my years of cycling in the Bay Area no other tool has kept me safer than taking the lane. So many American drivers are unaware of the size of their car and by taking the lane I almost invariably am given more room by passing vehicles.
Luckily I didn’t have to take the lane in Bali. That’s not to say the road was wide enough because it most certainly wasn’t. While I don’t trust many American drivers I found myself easily able to trust the Balinese road warriors for two reasons. First of all is the prevalence of motorcycle traffic. On the road motos and bicycles behave in a similar fashion. Generally slower members of traffic, they occupy about the same amount of space on the road and need to be passed with caution. I know that drivers here see a slow moto or a bicycle and rather then immediately getting agitated or frustrated they wait until it is safe to cross the center line and do so carefully. Nobody wants to take out the family of five riding on a single moto. The second reason I feel safer with the close conditions in Bali is that the overall speed of traffic is much, much slower. We spent the first half of today on a main road and traffic was still going along at no more than 35 mph at the very maximum. Slower speeds mean that closer quarters are safer and trust me at times we had some very tight spaces.
We arrived in Semarapura at 10:10, only a little over an hour for the first 20 km. There is apparently a nice palace in Semarapura but we wanted to ride on and get to our destination. After a quick stop at the ATM and a cell phone recharge we took a break for a snack and then set off around 10:50 taking the road towards Amlapura, crossing the river and turning onto the clearly marked Sideman Road.
This is when the fun and the pain began. Off the main road we quickly found ourselves in a wonderland of rice paddies and villages. Every postcard you have ever seen of Bali seemed to roll by on Sideman Road. We were greeted by a near constant barrage of “Hello!” and countless smiles and stares from the locals. Whenever we were thirsty we stopped and grabbed some water at a local stall and slowly twisted our way up the lush river valleys, sneaking views up to Mt. Gunung Agung, Bali’s highest point, and down to the ocean below. My jaw wouldn’t un-drop and I realized that I have never been anywhere as beautiful as Bali. The greenery and dramatic landscape is unlike anything I have experienced. Needless to say I was having a blast—almost enough not to notice the growing pain in my legs and the fact that I was barely moving in my lowest gear.
It has been nearly three months since I was on a bike save for that one day in Bangkok and at least 5 months since I rode anything further than my 2.5 mile commute to work. Compounding that was the fact that I was riding an Indonesian equivalent of a WalMart bike and my gears were slipping like crazy. I finally got some sort of rhythm, learning how to shift without dropping my chain, but the long uphill stretches were killing me. After a while I would reach a certain point and my legs would freak, demanding that I dismount immediately. As I stepped off the bike my knees would nearly buckle, but after a chug of water and a few minutes recharging from the views I was back in the saddle. I had been carrying the panniers since Ubud but after the buckling incident Kyle offered to switch with me. Without the extra weight on the bike I was able to make a lot quicker progress but all in all the ride was very challenging for me.
In the end we climbed 450 meters over 20 km. This included some ups and downs but nothing was too steep to trudge up. For an in-shape and experienced cyclist this would have been a fun workout. Unfortunately at the moment I am neither, though I did manage to have a lot of fun. Twenty km and nearly four hours (yikes!) later we crested at the Redang/Amlapura Road and took a left.
Here is a picture of the elevation profile for this leg of the trip. The downhill portion is Ubud to Semarapura.
Not more than 2 km down the road we reached Pura Pasar Agung and the somewhat eccentric Puri Agung Inn. Rooms here run 200,000Rp to 250,000Rp ($22-$28) with the nicer ones offering a beautiful view. This is a little expensive for our budget but we weren’t about to go riding around looking for a bargain. We had seen a handful of other guesthouses mostly around Sideman but Puri Agung looked like the only place in town. We opted for the viewless room #4 and settled in for a beer and tasty lunch.
Kyle spent the afternoon working on the bikes. The gears needed an adjustment on my bike and the panniers were rubbing pretty badly on the tires (see the damage in the picture below). These panniers are not really meant for touring, but given that we had them we were going to make the best of them. If they only survived this trip then so be it. Kyle found some cardboard at a store down the road and padded the rack so the tires would rub against that instead. He also made some adjustments to the rack on his bike so it would fit without the back of his foot hitting. With the bikes tuned up and the panniers protected I can’t wait to see what else this beautiful island has to offer. One day down, 5 more to go.
Here is a map of the route we took from Ubud to Pura Pasar Agung.
View Bali by Bike day 1: Ubud to Pura Pasar Agung in a larger map
If you use a GPS you can download a GPX file of our ride here. (right click – save target as)