Bali to Jakarta by bicycle: 2 weeks of sweat, rice and beautiful lush green landscapes

It had been just over 4 months since Kenny and I had moved to Jakarta so we decided it was time to explore our surroundings a bit. We talked about some cool volcano hiking or diving trips (there so much outdoorsy stuff to do in Indonesia!) but in the end we decided to get on a plane to Bali and cycle back to Jakarta from there.

We wanted to explore Java in an authentic way and get completely immersed into the culture and cycle touring is a great way to do that. Plus, we had been on a cycle trip together in the US back in 2012 and both loved it. So the decision was made and we got our one way plane tickets to Bali (aside from buying bikes and touring gear that was pretty much the extent of our trip planning 😉 ). But seriously though, people are often put off from going on cycling trips because they think there is going to be a huge amount of planning involved. All this trip took in terms of planning was literally buying a plane ticket, buying bikes and some basic touring gear and downloading a few maps on Googlemap. Easy.

We ended up cycling about 1350km over 2 weeks. 2 weeks filled with a lot of sweat, more sweat, rice bowls, beautiful lush green landscapes, super hot temperatures, a few tropical rain showers, a lot of scooters and so many smiles (Indonesian people are really the happiest and smiliest people I have ever come across).

Throughout our trip we became quite good at making the best use of our limited Indonesian vocabulary, at dodging mopeds and potholes, at eating rice for breakfast, lunch and dinner, at using squat toilets and at posing for pictures (Indonesians seem to love taking pictures of sweaty cyclists!). What we actually came to realise is that the locals had probably not seen many foreigners on bikes before. People who cycle here usually don’t do it by choice; they cycle because they can’t afford buying a moped. So a lot of locals were curious about what we were up to. And despite our rather basic Indonesian language skills we shared a few pretty special moments and conversations. Indonesians really are so friendly and welcoming to visitors (even if they probably thought we were a bit crazy!).

So, in case you are feeling tempted, here is a bit more practical info on our trip:

Bali to Jakarta Cycling Route

When we cycled out of the airport in Denpasar we didn’t have too much of a plan in terms of route. All we had agreed on is that we were going to head west and that we had 2 weeks to make it back to Jakarta. So we just took it a day at a time and made up the route on the go based on places we wanted to cycle through and towns were we could find accommodation. And thanks to Googlemap and our (not so) great (but slowly improving) Indonesian skills we actually managed to get all the way back to Jakarta without getting lost too many times. Kenny’s navigating skills have definitely improved since our US West coast cycle trip. 😉

Here is an overview of the route we ended up taking:

cycling bali

  • Day 1: Denpasar (Bali) to Pekutatan (Bali)
  • Day 2: Pekutatan (Bali) to Ketapang (Java), via Gilimanuk ferry
  • Day 3: Ketapang to Pasir Putih
  • Day 4: Pasir Putih to Probolinggo
  • Day 5: Probolinggo to Malang
  • Day 6: Malang to Tulungagung
  • Day 7: Tulungagung to Ponorogo
  • Day 8: Ponorogo to Solo
  • Day 9: Solo to Yogyakarta
  • Day 10: Yogyakarta to Kebumen
  • Day 11: Kebumen to Purwokerto
  • Day 12: Purwokerto to Tegal
  • Day 13: Tegal to Cirebon
  • Day 14: Cirebon to Subang
  • Day 15: Subang to Jakarta

We were limited on time for this trip. But if we had had an extra week, these are some of the route changes I would have made (just in case you are thinking about doing a cycle trip in this area and have more time):

  • Spend more time exploring Bali – apparently some of the more mountainous areas in the North of the island are stunning
  • Take the route via Bromo to get from Probolinggo to Malang (I tried very hard with lots of different techniques to convince Kenny to take that route on Day 6 but he wasn’t up for the 2000m climb…….need to work on my negotiation skills)
  • After getting to Subang, cycle to Bandung, then Bogor and then into the most westerly part of Java (would add 3-4 days)

Our Gear

We bought bikes in Jakarta and brought them on the plane with us to Bali. Once we got to the airport in Denpasar we re-assembled everything in the arrival lobby and then cycled off.

We packed the minimum to keep the weight of our panniers down but we decided to take some camping gear (a light weight tent + sleeping mats + sleeping bags) just in case we got lost in the middle of nowhere and couldn’t find anywhere to stay. But we never ended up using any of it. If you are planning on cycling in Java, don’t bother with camping gear because there are plenty of super cheap accommodation options along the way.

Our gear list:bike touring packing list

Food and Accommodation in Bali and Java

We carried some emergency Clif Bars (my absolute favourite energy bar; especially the chocolate chip flavoured ones) and an emergency 1.5L water bottle all the way from Bali to Jakarta but never used it. We still have it in the flat actually. Finding food and water was never an issue. In small villages there were street food vendors, fruit & veg markets and small “warungs” (restaurants) and in bigger towns there were plenty of restaurants and mini-markets and petrol stations for water and snacks.

This trip was also a great opportunity to experience some of the local Indonesian foods. My personal favourite: “Bubur”. It’s rice porridge topped with spring onions, peanuts and sweet soy sauce – delicious! And the perfect pre-cycle breakfast. I also loved how food often comes wrapped in coconut leaves. We did try Durian (the big spiky fruit you can see in the picture below). According to locals it’s the “King of Fruit” and they all rave on about its taste. But I have to admit, I’m not a fan 😉

In terms of accommodation, we didn’t book anything in advance and finding places to stay was never an issue. And the great thing about Java is that you can stay in some pretty amazing hotels for very little money. Plus, most hotels have the most amazing breakfast buffets 😉

Other Tips

  • Learn a some basic Indonesian words before you leave: Most locals outside the tourist spots don’t speak any English. It’s so nice to be able to exchange, even just some basic conversations, with people you meet along the way so knowing at least a few Indonesian words is super helpful.
  • Be prepared for everyone taking pictures of you: Over these two weeks we realised how much Indonesians love taking pictures of “Bules” (foreigners). It wasn’t uncommon that people would drive past us, shout “Hello Mister, hello mister” and then ask us to pull over so that they could take a selfie with our sweaty faces in it. And whenever we stopped for food or water there would usually be a dozen of people staring at us wondering what we were up to and asking to take pictures of us. So we learned to just be patient and smile 😉
  • Dealing with the traffic: We cycled on some busy roads but most sections were on quite country lanes. And even on the busier sections I never felt unsafe because of the traffic. People don’t drive aggressively or super fast here, it’s just that there are areas with a lot of cars. Plus, because there are so many mopeds here, cars are used to having to look out for “2-wheelers”.
  • Suncream: Make sure you bring suncream. The sun is super strong and its almost impossible to find suncream in Indonesia outside from touristy places because locals don’t use it.
  • Good bike shops in Jakarta: RodalinkBuild A BikeACE Hardware stores have quite a lot of cheap bike accessories like inner tubes, locks etc. and BMTBOnline (it’s an online bike shop in Jakarta, we bought pretty much all our gear there apart from the bikes).

I really hope this has inspired you to explore Java, Bali and other parts of Indonesia by bicycle. And if you are planning a trip and have any more questions, just get in touch, I would love to help!

4 thoughts

  1. So glad to read this. I visited Yogyajarkarta and Bali in 1998 during a time of significant unrest. I had planned to go overland by bus (wasn’t a bike tour) and boat to Bali. My new Yogya friends, who had shared their area with me so beautifully, skirting demonstrations, became horrified when they learned this and advised that I must fly, it was not safe to go overland at that time. To return with a lightly loaded touring bike seems a delight, albeit a sweaty one.

    1. Hi Karla! Thank you for your comment. I have heard about this time of unrest, it must have been a difficult period. We felt so safe during our whole trip, it’s hard to imagine that less than 20 years ago things must have been very different. You should come back!

  2. What a great read Josephine! My regret is I’ve only just managed to read it now. Sounds like you guys had a fantastic trip and also settling in to life in Indonesia!

  3. Hello guys!
    Thank you so much for all the amazing tips. We are on the road for 9 months and we are going to cycle in Indonesia next month. We will start in Denpasar as well. We would like to check your route. Did you like it? There is anything you do it differently?
    We are planning our route, so it is always good to listen to another point of view.
    We wish you all the best.
    Mariana and Felippe

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