As I’ve said before, bikes are a big part of life in Aceh. Although they are there, I rarely even notice the cars on the road anymore because it’s all about the bikes.
There are 3 different types of bikes here that I’ve noticed. There’s the regular motor bike that most people ride, like the one that my colleague A owns. Most of these are scooter-type bikes where the foot-rest for the driver is in front. Usually when riders are carrying younger children who are able to stand on their own, the kids stand on this footrest in front of the driver. So I often see a man riding a bike with his young son or daughter standing between his legs, their arms casually resting on the handle bars.
There is also the bike with a cart-type attachment at the side. The cart usually has a metal frame with a wood plank base. I’ve only seen these types of bikes ridden by men; I’ve never seen a woman riding one. I get the impression that this type of bike is ridden by men who do manual labour or who need to transport things regularly. This is what our roofer rides. He brought the ceiling repair supplies by bike this way. I’ve also seen children sitting in these side carts as their dads ride down the street.
Finally, there’s the becak (pronounced ‘beh-chack’). This is also a bike with a side attachment but this one is covered and has seats to carry passengers. These are the taxis of the Acehnese bike and are quite numerous on the road.
Road safety seems pretty good in Banda Aceh; while there is the occasional accident, they seem to occur infrequently and result in relatively minor injuries. At first when I just started moving around in traffic in Banda Aceh, I wondered why there weren’t more accidents. After all, stop lights seem to be perceived more as suggestions than rules – at a red light, the cars stop (for the most part) but the bikes just keep on going, a little more cautiously but they still go. It is also not unusual to see a bike going the wrong way down a dual carriage way. For example, one morning A took me to the foreign exchange place and we accidentally passed it. Instead of continuing up the road to the next break in the island that was in the middle of the road and doing a U-turn then going back to the next break and U-turning again, we simply turned the bike around on the same side of the road and went back 2 blocks, riding the wrong way up the road until we got there.
Still, I think the relative infrequency of accidents is due to the skill of the bike riders, as well as the cautiousness of car drivers. They know to look out for bikes suddenly appearing out of nowhere.
I would say that the majority of bike riders wear helmets, although everyone certainly doesn’t. A and I do when we go out on the bike. Here, the helmet can be a fashion statement, as well as a safety tool. I’ve seen Hello, Kitty helmets, ladybug helmets and Superman toddler helmets (adorable!).
My observation of evening rush hour in Banda Aceh is that it goes from about 6:15 to 6:45 pm, when everyone is rushing home for mahgrib. The streets stay pretty empty for the next hour before people start coming back out for dinner and other engagements. I don’t know if there is a morning rush hour because we are out and about on the road until about 9 am, and that’s only if we need to be.
A bike is definitely the way to go in Banda Aceh to get from place to place quickly. For this reason, I decided to go ahead and learn to ride one. My secondary reason was that I wanted to show the townsfolk that there’s nothing Black people can’t do. So A’s Acehnese friend decided to teach me.
We set off for my first lesson in Blang Padang Park one Wednesday morning in March. The park was mostly empty so it was the perfect place for a lesson. A’s friend showed me the basics (it’s an automatic bike, so is the simplest type of bike to ride) – how to start the bike, accelerate, brake and turn. After a few minutes of translated introductory instructions and explanations, I was ready.
I fell off the bike within 2 minutes. Scraped a good portion of skin off my left elbow, dug out a little piece of my left palm, lightly scraped my left knee, dug a little bit of skin off the top of my left foot and hurt up my mountain toe (the left one). I got up like a trooper, used some tissue from my bag to wipe off most of the blood and got right back on the bike for the next hour. I think adrenaline caused me not to feel too much pain at the time but later on…hoo boy, later on!
So far, I haven’t had another lesson because of different circumstances, the main one being because A has been busy using the bike to run around in the mornings dealing with our imigrasi issues. To be truthful, a few other things have caused my interest in being Banda Aceh’s latest bike rider to wane. But we’ll see how things shape up over the next few weeks and I may give it another go. For now, I’m not so ready for the road, not on my own!