Ah, nostalgia. Cruising on my MZ 250 through the landscapes of northern England, the Peak District of Derbyshire, the Yorkshire moors and the lakes of Cumbria: freezing my butt and fingers off in spite of my fleece-lined boots, Belstaff waterproofs and three layers of thermal underwear so that I'd walk robotically into convenient transport caffs for warming grease-laden carbohydrates.
In my early days here I had a Suzuki 250cc, but no thermal underwear, so I could motor southwards along the byways to the cool of the surrounding mountains. Around that time, the Jakarta administration introduced a bylaw requiring all motorcyclists in the city to drive with dipped headlights on in the daytime hours. A sensible rule, which I'd faithfully followed back in the UK as it enabled drivers to take note of your presence.
Here, however, having been pulled over umpteen times by roadside cops and told to switch my lights off, presumably because no lawmaker had informed the law enforcers, and the latter had more clout and emptier wallets than the bureaucrats, I decided to follow the street rules.
Anyway, I soon gave my vintage bike away having seen the Harley-Davidson mechanic I'd entrusted its servicing to attempting to prize off the cylinder head with a sledge-hammer and cold chisel.
This past week, City Hall has launched a campaign to enforce the 20 year old bylaw. Check this hyperspace in 2029 to find out how successful the bureaucrats have been.
Another regulation of interest to motorcyclists introduced this week concerns crash helmets, not the wearing of them, but their quality. Locally made ones can be bought from the back of a lorry for as little as Rp.25,000 ($2.10). Anyone with a brain in their skull would know that the skull would have minimal protection, but, hey, they are cheap and wearing a helmet is the law and, inshallah, we'll be ok. Won't we?
The government is set to mandate the Indonesian National Standard (SNI) on motor cycle helmets sold in the domestic market, said Minister of Industry Fahmi Idris on Thursday after visiting a helmet factory in Cikarang, West Java.
"Starting March 25, all helmets, be they locally produced or imported, must comply with the SNI."
I haven't got any details of the SNI, such as construction, materials and "assessments", but Indonesian Helmet Association (AIHI) chairman John Manaf said six of AIHI's seven members were ready to have their products tested.
"Our products actually have complied with standards established by Europe. They are safe as long as they are correctly fastened while in use."
I'm prepared to accept that at last some sense is beginning to prevail. From now on, helmets on sale will have to be embossed with the SNI logo, and this should have some, albeit a little, impact on the fatality statistics.
There is, of course, much more that needs to be done. The government's programme fast tracking of infrastructure developments, thanks to the current economic recession, will hopefully see better roads with fewer potholes. Alas there are few signs of better public transport provision which would obviate the demand for private conveyances.
However, again mainly thanks to the recession, total motorcycle sales are expected to be down 20-28% this year.
Astra Honda Motor, a unit of Indonesia's largest automotive distributor PT Astra International Tbk, expects total motorcycle sales of between 4.5-5 million units in 2009, down from a record high of 6.215 million in 2008.
Of course, there is more that needs to be done to protect motorcyclists (and the pedestrians they may hit.)
Firstly, as noted above, better standard helmets should be ok - as long as they are correctly fastened while in use.
Then there is the need to install some discipline, or commonsense, into the newbie Hells Cherubs on their 90cc machines.
There may be a Highway Code for Motorcyclists somewhere in the Department of Transport archives, but as I am unable to locate a copy I am including the version published in Culture Shock-Jakarta ~ an unashamed plug. I hope it is revised soon - the Code, that is, and not the book.
1. This means of transport is convenient for the whole family. Your 3-year old can sit on your lap and your wife can ride side-saddle behind you whilst breastfeeding your newborn.
2. Any motorcycle, especially a cheap Chinese 90cc one, is versatile enough for commercial use. You, or your pillion passenger, can comfortably carry 50 live chickens and/or 3 televisions and/or plate glass for your shop window and/or 100kg of used plastic bottles. If you don’t have a pillion passenger, place the load on the back seat, drape it over the rear wheel and tie it securely to the exhaust pipe with colourful plastic twine.
3. Wear your crash helmet on top of your head; otherwise you cannot smoke a clove cigarette (kretek) or use your handphone.
4. If you see someone leaving a bus or car stopped by the curb, do try to squeeze through the gap. It will save you a lot of time. In fact, any gap in the traffic is yours for the taking.
5. When available, use the sidewalks.
6. Carry an umbrella in case it rains.
7. Special rules apply during the rainy season. ---a. Use your umbrella to keep your kretek and/or handphone dry. ---b. Drive as usual along the white lines with no lights on. ---c. Park anywhere on the road under a footbridge. If you cause a traffic jam, do not worry. At least those car drivers who cannot squeeze through the one remaining lane are dry.