Indonesia probably isn’t the place you would imagine for your next bikepacking trip. Neither was mine, but since we were going there anyway, I thought it would be a nice addition to the list of countries I’ve cycled in.
If you love climbing, don’t mind the scorching heat and humidity, and are fond banana pancakes for breakfast, this might be your next destination for a cycling holiday. But be aware, the climbing isn’t something like you’ve seen in the French Alps or the Dolomites; it’s different. Some climbs take you gradually up a volcano for almost 40km, others are “just” 8km short but with average gradients of 12% and parts between 22% and 24% they will make you want to quit. Especially the sun and the heat can add an extra dimension to it, so I tried leaving very early in the morning (like 6am) when the heat is still bearable, and traffic is calmer. Bali, the go-to destination for most of those Instagram photos of a swinging-chair picture on a beach – can be extremely busy even during off-season.
The south of the island is definitely crowded, even in off-season, but when you venture further to the North of the Island (Lovina, Permuteran, …) things get more quiet. After a short 4-day bikepacking trip on the island, I was even struggling with a sore throat from the exhausts of the motorcycles in the highly-populated South, so the North-coast and East-coast is where you want to be on a bike. On the long stretch of road between Lovina and Amed, you won’t find many tourists and you’ll have most of the road to yourself. The coastline from Amed to Candidasa is even less crowded since the road is winding up and down like a roller-coaster for a few hours on the bike until you reach Padangbai, the harbor to go to the Gili Islands. Gili Trawangan used to be a hidden gem in Indonesia but from what we’ve heard, it unfortunately became like Disneyland for the Instagram generation.
From Padangbai to Sidemen, you can follow the normal road via Gianjar which winds up gradually to the village between the rice fields, or you can adventure on the back road. The back road starts half-way between Padangbai and Candidasa and is probably one of the steepest climbs I’ve discovered so far. The temperature of 32° celcius, the sun, and the avocado milkshake I had in Padangbai didn’t help either. Imagine a badly-paved road of 3m wide going up from sea level to 1000m in an 8km stretch. I had to remind myself: “you like climbing, right?” the whole length up the climb. When reaching the top, I was exhausted, and began a 20km descent to a hotel in Sideman.
Other parts of Bali can also be nice for cycling, for example around Sanur or the Ubud-region, but again, try to avoid traffic by riding early in the morning. You won’t see many locals riding their roadbikes on the island, but if you spot them early in the morning, they can help you out with hidden roads and nice views to discover.
- Vince -