To scooter or not to scooter: Nusa Lembongan

Whilst in Bali I wanted to head to Nusa Lembongan so that I could visit the mangrove forests and go snorkelling with Manta Rays. But before we arrived on The island we had heard that the only practical way to get around is by scooter. Everyone uses them – kids, old people, teenager backpackers and every local person.

We made some enquiries at the place we were staying and he asked if we had ever ridden one before. Neither of us had and he flatly refused to rent them to us, despite my protests of being able to drive a car and a quad bike.

All that evening I was in a bitter mood: ‘Everyone else has them! And now he’s stopping us from seeing the island! It’s so selfish of him! I mean how hard can it be?! I’ve seen young kids riding them!’

The next day we managed to procure a pair of scooters from a shop in Mushroom Bay and I impatiently said ‘yes, yes, I’m a good driver’ to the woman who rented them to us.

It costs around 70,000 rupiah (~£4.50) to rent a scooter for a day and they are all in various states of disrepair. ‘What’s this’ I said, pointing to a loose hose that had come away from the front wheel. ‘No problem. Just speed’ she said, tapping the speedometer and resecuring it with some old tape.

Bali bikes are always in various states of disrepair

Mounting my steed it became apparent that they aren’t as easy to ride as they look. Above a certain speed (maybe 10mph) the steering feels unnatural to me. When I make a left turn the bike shoots right and I nearly run into an oncoming car! So we very slowly make our way along the awful, potholed roads back to our hotel, where there is a large area of empty land in front of Devil’s Tear for me to practice riding on.

Dodging the hundreds of Chinese day trippers, it became clear that the brakes weren’t brilliant and the lights didn’t work properly. Regardless, I was just starting to gain confidence on the scooter when it suddenly spluttered and died. An Indonesian guy tried to help me but after whacking and kicking it a few times, he diagnoses it as ‘bad engine’ and walks off.

The hire place didn’t give us a contact number in case of something like this happening and the phone number sticker on Carwyn’s bike was unrecognised. So Carwyn went back to the shop on his scooter to try and get me a new bike. Whilst waiting I was secretly hoping that they wouldn’t have any more bikes because in truth I was still quite nervous about riding it.

After an age, Carwyn turns up with a woman who pops the seat and looks in the fuel tank. ‘No fuel’ she says. I tap the fuel gauge which reads as half full. ‘No work’ she smiles. So she heads off on her scooter and returns with an old drink bottle full of petrol and splashing it everywhere tops me up.

Hiding my nerves I tell carwyn that I’m ready to go. He leads the way and I drive behind with a rigid body at a glacial pace. Somehow we make it down the huge hill at Jungubatu and to the mangroves. Between bouts of wondering how painful it will be to fall off I was starting to enjoy the wind in my hair and the freedom the bikes gave us.

Fiddler crabs in the mangrove forest

Later we made our way back from the mangrove towards yellow bridge. The roads were much quieter and I was definitely enjoying it now. Then I fell off.

I turned the handlebars to the right, the bike promptly shot to the left into the mangrove bushes and I skidded across the road. Sitting there nursing my leg, much like the bashed knee scene from Family Guy, I see Carwyn disappear round the corner and I feel quite alone.

My slow riding meant that I escaped with very minor injuries

Thankfully I was still riding incredibly slowly and there was no other traffic on the road, otherwise I fear it could have been much worse. I managed to escape with a cut knee, scraped leg, a bashed ankle and a realisation that my Asian motorcycling days were pretty much over. Crapping myself the whole way back, we returned the scooters to the shop and gave up on our plan of making it over to Ceningan island.

It seemed that the guy from the hotel was right in his decision to not rent scooters to inexperienced riders. As for whether you should rent a scooter on Lembongan, I’ll leave that decision to you! All I’ll say is be careful if you’ve never ridden one before and try to choose a bike with a full compliment of brakes and lights.

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