Friday, May 08, 2009

Two-Wheeled Warriors or Two Bit Wankers?

Last Monday I awoke to find that several missed calls and text messages had broken the Zen like calm of the screensaver on my usually undisturbed mobile phone. Closer investigation revealed that my housemate had been in an accident.

He had apparently stepped out of a Pondok Indah bar last Sunday night after a typically sporty afternoon sitting on his posterior cramming his face with carbohydrates and ethyl alcohol. Whilst he attempted to cross the road a Valentino Rossi wannabe doing about 780 km per hour in 36th gear (with no lights on incidentally) had mowed him down. He then stopped briefly, turned around, saw a paleface slumped at the side of the road squirting claret from his forehead like some kind of satanic sprinkler system and sped off into the night.

I caught up with my chum a few hours and seven stitches later and he was pretty banged up. He certainly won't be hiking up any rugged volcanoes in the near future, not that he was planning to any way of course. In fact, I was just musing to myself that sitting in bed for a few days being waited on hand and foot may suit my companion down to the ground when our first visitor arrived at the house bearing a novel variation on the traditional convalescent gift of grapes (several bottles of beer and packets of cigarettes in fact).

Seeing my friends so stricken brought back unpleasant memories of my own motorcycle accident of three years ago. On that occasion, I ploughed into a Bajaj which had been trying to execute a rather unorthodox U-turn and had spun through the air, eventually breaking four bones. Needless to say that my Born to Be Wild days were over at that point.

The common motif here is motorcycles of course. Not only are there too many of the things on Jakarta's streets but they are also largely ridden by people with a minimal awareness of road safety. Bikes, piloted by riders wearing ludicrous plastic baseball hats, swarm around cars and up onto the pavements sounding like squadrons of mosquitoes the size of 747's. Cars will flash motorcyclists to let them know that they've left their lights on during the day but seem unwilling to flash them at night to let them know that they have left their lights off; go figure. In fact, it seems that at least 20% of Jakarta's bikes ride around at night without lights. There are also the swine who ride up the wrong side of the street to contend with of course.

Jakarta's hospitals are full of the results of biking accidents. Riders who have crashed through railings at 90 km per hour and emerged like a portion of French fries, riders who have had promising careers in the hospitality industry curtailed after skidding for several hundred meters on their eyebrows. What to do though? Have prole will travel.

I, for my part, may have sold my trusty Tiger but is barreling down the busway lane on my bicycle to any practical degree safer than hang gliding off the top of Monas in a heavy thunderstorm? People have mused long and hard about possible solutions to the city's transport woes but I've come to the conclusion that there aren't any. All that we can do is wait the 50 years that it will take global warming to turn swampy Jakarta into a tropical and rather muddy Venice and hit the waters in our sampans. Mind you, unlike many Indonesians, I can actually swim.

In the meantime, I'd implore the city's bikers to adhere to my five-point safe biking plan:

1. The orange flashy lights on the side of your machines can actually be controlled from the handlebars and can be used to indicate that you are about to turn.

2. Text messaging with the left hand whilst operating the throttle with the right may indeed represent a fantastic symbiosis of human being with technology, however, you could find yourself pushing this man/ machine fusion one stage further when your brain is worked into the tread of a passing bus tyre.

3. A clearance of more than five angstroms is preferable when passing other cars or pedestrians.

4. When buses stop, people like to get either onto or off them.

5. Time spent overtaking buses and cars by pulling out into the oncoming lane should not exceed 50% of the total riding time.

That’s my constructive advice and I hope that my suggestions will be translated into Indonesian and pinned to every set of traffic lights in the very near future. Hopefully my friend will have soon recovered enough to once again enjoy his Sunday afternoons. Perhaps bike manufacturers may also wish to consider fitting some kind of speed limiters to their products. Pottering around Jakarta at the sort of pace that could see you getting burned off at the lights by Stephen Hawking is surely to be encouraged.

Be safe all of you two wheeled warriors, and if you can't be safe, at least look contrite when an irate pedestrian flips you the bird.