Jakarta On a Borrowed Bike

I Love My Cute Face
I Love My Cute Face

JAKARTA, Indonesia — There’s nothing quite like biking with a face full of diesel bus exhaust.

I’ve read somewhere that Jakarta’s pollution makes living there like smoking a pack of cigarettes a day, but no word on how biking factors into that equation — especially when riding through unfamiliar city streets where drivers appear to follow no discernable rules.

As far as I could tell, motorists yield to either the smaller vehicle or the most fearless soul, although which rule applies at any given moment remains a mystery.

Josh, who had urged me to travel with a folding bicycle wherever I planned to go so as to better see the sights, actually did practice what he preached. With his kids, Xenia and Nicolas, perched on the back of his surfboard-like Xtracycle bike trailer, my old friend weaved in and out of traffic as if guided by some magical power — perhaps The Force — and I could hardly imagine trusting anyone more as a biking companion or as a local guide.

While it wasn’t quite pedaling across Africa, our bike journey through the capital of the fourth-largest country covered approximately 40 kilometers of swarming motorcycles and two-stroke mopeds, three-wheeled tuk-tuks (auto rickshaws) and mini buses lacking any semblance of emission controls, free-for-all traffic circles (roundabouts) and other cyclists — sometimes going the wrong way on streets that already seem backward to me. (They drive on the left.) Yet the entire time, I felt mostly safe. It helps that drivers approach everything in front of them with the opposite of road rage.

The videos I shot with a camera clamped to the handlebars of my loaner rig make the ride appear more harrowing than it really was. (Due to a pokey Internet connection, I’ll post them later.)

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