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Common Tread

A ride in Indonesia comes to a premature end

Aug 31, 2016

The bike landed on top of me, pinning my foot to the rocky earth below. The foot peg broke my toe. My poor attempt to brace my fall sprained my wrist. The sound of snapping plastic echoed through the rainforest.

I was tired, extremely lost, and far from the marked road. The GPS put my blue dot in a vast space marked only as “green” and somewhere in East Java. I sat there, in the dirt, my durable little bike still running.

How did I end up facedown in Indonesia with a lightweight sport bike on top of me? I blame it on my inexplicable interest in Asian riding sub-cultures and curiosity about workhorse motorcycles.

Indonesians are absolutely bonkers about motorcycles. Sales in 2015 surpassed 6.4 million units. That’s 12 times U.S. sales. Yamaha Indonesia alone sold 1.6 million units, due in part to their decision to enter the sport bike market in 2007 with the V-Ixion. The 150 cc fuel-injected bike filled a sweet spot in the local market, capable, but still affordable. (Motorcycles above 250 cc in Indonesia are subject to a 50 percent luxury sales tax.)

V-ixion club
V-Ixion clubs are popular in Indonesia. Yamaha photo.

Yamaha V-ixion
Indonesians love their motorcycles and they also love racing. Among other versions, the Yamaha V-Ixion is available in this livery based on the Movistar Yamaha MotoGP race bikes. Yamaha photo.
Since its launch, the V-Ixion has found a massive and devout audience and more than 200 local V-Ixion clubs have been formed. The country is swarming with V-Ixions. So, naturally, I wanted to go ride one. I bought a ridiculously expensive plane ticket and off I went.

At almost 16 hours, the direct flight between Chicago and Doha, Qatar, is one of the longest flights in the world. I was nearing insanity when I landed — only to jump on another nine-hour flight to Jakarta. I had a day off to recover enough from jet lag to be ready to ride, and then took the train east to Malang, where I was tossed the keys to a V-Ixion and told “good luck.”

My only concrete plan for the day was to get some cinematic photos of the bike at the foot of Mount Bromo, a massive active volcano. I geared up and headed east. Thick, chaotic city traffic gave way to thrilling mountain roads, seven feet wide, with no barriers and drastic fall offs. Taking a turn too wide would end in certain, dramatic death.

Fortunately, the V-Ixion was extremely easy to ride. Here’s my quick review: It’s tiny, its clutch is light, it has brakes. For a little bike forced to lug a big American around, it did well, but was otherwise unremarkable.

gas stop
This is the Indonesian version of a full-service gas stop. Photo by Chris Force.

trail in East Java
The pavement ended long ago. The trail just gets rougher and rockier. Photo by Chris Force.
The road had begun smooth, but was turning patchy. Sporadic asphalt eventually disappeared altogether. I was now riding on a dirt path strewn with massive rocks. I was in a thick leather jacket in 90-degree heat and asking myself why I hadn’t pulled the trigger on proper hot weather gear. I was melting. I had missed a critical turn and had traveled over an hour off the map, and in the wrong direction. I also realized, too late, that in addition to being uncomfortable, I was out of my element, riding a tiny, unfamiliar street bike on rocky, rutted dirt with little off-road experience.

small town in Indonesia
Somewhere in the East Java rainforest. Photo by Chris Force.
And then I crashed.

I’m not sure what happened, but I low-sided going down a steep, rocky hill. I felt no pain, only a rush of adrenaline and the need to get my shit together. I was in a remote area with no cell service. I brushed myself off, tucked my tail between my legs, and back-tracked. I found the main road and managed to enjoy my ride back to town before the pain began to set in. When I pulled into my hotel, I couldn’t bend my wrist or foot. I had made it exactly one day of riding in Indonesia.

After a while, it was clear the “walk-it-off” remedy wasn’t working. My foot was swollen and turning a bizarre color. I hobbled into a hospital lobby, eyed the chaos, and hobbled right on out. A bit of medical tape was going to have to do the trick.

The rest of my time would be spent on the sidelines, watching thousands of customized V-Ixions race by me. Instead of late nights spent racing around town with the local riding clubs, learning the indigenous moto-culture, I was parked on a bar stool, sipping the mediocre local beer.

Want to know more about two-wheeled culture in Indonesia? Well, you might need to pack your own bags. I suggest a perforated jacket, sturdy boots and a good map.