Rio Helmi rants (again) and makes his debut as a cartoonist (maybe just once).

The furthest I ever ride without a helmet these days is about 100 meters, and that’s at about 10 km an hour. For longer rides, it’s ATGATT (all the gear, all the time). Yes it’s Bali, and yes it’s hot sometimes. But if I totalled the amount of stitches I’ve had on my body, pieces of gravel plucked out of my flesh, and square inches of skin that have been grated off various limbs over the last three or so decades, the numbers are convincing enough to make me want to do this. That’s my personal decision, but it does happen to happily coincide with the law – at least the helmet bit.

And while we’re on the topic of road safety, I used to think the Balinese were the most random drivers and riders in the world. I put it down to the lack of visible, logical law enforcement (even if the rules are there) and experience, the lack of any social reprimand and so forth. Reflecting back on my days of driving and riding in more advanced Western countries, I would loudly lament the lack of responsibility. Seriously, 11 year old kids riding their scooters to school?

And then a strange thing happened. People from those advanced countries where legal and social controls not only reduce fatal accidents but ensure a reasonable flow of traffic started flooding into Ubud. With no trouble or questions asked, they would acquire scooters. Watching them ride, it has become evident that the vast majority maybe knows how ride a bicycle but most definitely has not learned to ride a motorized two wheel vehicle in any normal manner. Let’s not even talk about licenses. So it simply becomes monkey see monkey do. Or perhaps monkey see, monkey do even more.

At any given time on the Ubud main road you see expats whizzing along on their scooters, with skimpy leather vests protecting one or two ribs, and lacy Greek style sandals (or more commonly a pair of Brazilian rubber flip-flops) protecting half a square inch or so of their feet. Their helmets are busy protecting their indicators, which really is ok because there is every indication that their brain is in storage somewhere else.

And having learned their basic road craft from Balinese road acrobats and zoned-out housewives puttering back from the market going the wrong way down Jalan Ubud Raya, they apply all the skills acquired playing video games in airport lounges on the way to Bali to uber-emulate the local high school kids playing chicken with each other.

For example there is the ‘left-lane-sneak-attack’. Basically you zoom up on the inside of a bike that is positioning itself to overtake (overseas readers, we drive on the left here), and then suddenly cut in to the right and push the other bike out of the way to take over the ‘pole’ position. The obvious advantages of this is that you force the other rider to brake suddenly and sharply, which in turn produces chaos behind. The other advantage is that you get to swerve out without properly checking the oncoming traffic. This is a lot of fun, and has obvious aerobic benefits to the heart, especially when it turns out the reason the previous rider hadn’t overtaken yet is an oncoming ten ton, six wheeled truck.

Seeing inept, grown-up expats performing these and other death-defying manoeuvres next to oblivious Balinese teenagers texting while riding is enough to give an old fogey nightmares. To paraphrase long-term Ubud resident Cat Wheeler, it’s like living without adult supervision.