We plan cycle trips in Indonesia with adventure cyclists in mind, riders who want the physical challenge of tropical mountains, travellers who are looking for cultural adventure in a traditional Asian society off the beaten track, riders who view the unpredictability of travel in a developing country as something to be expected, accepted, enjoyed, and with appropriate effort, understood.

Colin didn't "select" Sulawesi with those criteria in mind. Beginning 1996 they just evolved over many trips - alone, with his son, with groups - to remote parts of the island. Developing cycle routes in Flores, in strong contrast with Sulawesi, has an easy to follow logic, east to west, or vice versa.
We try to develop circular routes (to avoid having to carry bike boxes) with distances 70-100 km per day (most riders are comfortable with these distances) that finish at spots where we can swim. Nothing like a dip at the end of a hard cycle day.

In planning a trip we look for mountains, beaches, lakes, waterfalls and culturally interesting places. We try to avoid busy crowded roads. We also try to minimize time on the flat because it's in the flat areas where the more dense populations occur, with obvious traffic implications. Fortunately population density in Sulawesi and Flores is much lower than in most of the rest of South East Asia. Nonetheless getting routes in Sulawesi that meet all the criteria is tricky because the geography of the island with its many 'dead end peninsulas' means that you've got to fly - rather than cycle - back to the trip start point. The patchy non-uniform patterns of human settlement and economic development make it awkward to plan routes that have standard daily distances, with the result that on most of the trips there's a wide variety of daily cycle distances. The highly irregular geology of the island goes a long way to assure that no one day's ride is the same as another. Most of this, if not all, applies to Flores also.

The geographic lack of uniformity in Sulawesi is matched by ethnic, linguistic and socio-cultural diversity. The major ethnic groups on Sulawesi are the Buginese, the Makassarese, the Minahasans and the Toraja for example, have their own cuisines, architecture, languages, traditions and customs. And although the Dutch had a presence in Sulawesi for several centuries it was limited mostly to Makassar and Manado. For most of the rest of the island, the Dutch influence was short and superficial, religion in Toraja, Central and North Sulawesi being a notable exception. Multi -ethnicity is a feature of Flores also and the influence that the Dutch had on the island is even less than in Sulawesi, though the Portuguese, who had a presence in Larantuka on the eastern tip of the island, have influenced Catholic ritual.
Once we've got a route that more or less meets the criteria we then look for accommodation, 60-100 km apart, depending upon the terrain. On many of the routes suitable accommodation is hard to find, because the best cycling is in the less populated and least commercial parts of the island, yet the best accommodation is usually available in these built up areas. Once the accommodation is in place we then look for suitable warungs (street-side cafes), and again, the choices are often limited because the routes are usually a long way from population centres, built up areas and miles from tourist hangouts. We don't carry western food in the support vehicles, rather we follow the principle 'eat what the locals eat', coffee and tea being exceptions.

The cycle day
We like to start early, 7 am thereabouts, and have lunch at the finish point or a couple of hours pedal from it, arriving at the destination around 3 pm, give or take an hour or two, thus allowing time for a siesta. The reality doesn't always turn out this way, but usually only for 1-2 days on any one trip. We try to have dinner at 7 pm. After a day's cycling and swimming, most people flake by 8.30 pm or so.

During the actual cycling we try to keep the group 'more or less' together to promote opportunities for mixing, particularly between the speed-heads and the more relaxed riders. We encourage riders to stay between the two support vehicles, though if riders really want to push on ahead, we accommodate that too.

Rest stops
We try to stop at pondoks (common in Sulawesi less so in Flores) - apparently temporary but in fact permanent roadside bamboo and thatch shelters. These simple structures are for locals to rest in, to escape the heat or rain or just to catch up on local gossip. If we can't find a pondok we'll usually opt for a warung (street-side coffee shop) or a spot where there's a good view or lots of shade. Stops are multi-purpose. Apart from providing relief to weary sitting bones and having a cuppa, you can stretch, enjoy the camaraderie of other riders and bonhomie with the locals who usually want to know everything about us. After all, with our shiny gear and lycra, we look like creatures from outer space. Often there's a fun exchange of language learning.

There's always enough flexibility in the planned ride to permit spontaneous stops to explore things that might catch your attention. Where we stop to talk to locals, the crew becomes the interpreters, group members become 'interviewers' with the locals becoming 'interviewees'. The rest of the group 'listens in' to 'the interview'. Once you become familiar and skilled with this process it gives you access to aspects of local life that otherwise would remain a mystery. In past trips groups have dropped in on village meetings, police stations, Balinese funerary rites, Muslim circumcision ceremonies, weddings, seaweed farmers, rice farmers, martial arts classes, community health clinics and schools. Distance or time between rest stops is a function of terrain, group cycle strength, availability of suitable stop spots, need for rest, need for refreshments, the ambient scenery, etc.

At the trip start and finish points, which are usually in major population centres such as Makassar, the accommodation is 'international'. Accommodation along the way is mostly in simple family run guesthouses called 'wismas'. The other guests at these wismas tend to be commercial travellers. Our routes other foreigners are rarely seen. These wismas are usually clean, have AC and sit down toilets. Many of them have hot water. Towels and soap are supplied. Security has never been a problem.

If there's a choice, we always choose the 'best available'. On the Toraja trips we spend some of the nights in traditional boat shaped houses.

We fully understand that plenty of nutritious food for heavy duty cycling is a must. We always stick to the local cuisine, which means nasi goreng (fried rice) or nasi kuning (rice cooked in coconut milk) for breakfast or in those parts where tourists pass through, banana pancakes or bread. For lunch and dinner steamed rice, grilled fish or chicken and stir fried or fresh salad vegetables plus a chicken, fish or broth. It's tasty with the chilies being served separately as a sambal made from fried garlic, onions and tomatoes. Dessert is fruit-in-season. It's a simple, wholesome low fat, non-dairy dietary regime.

A note on fish is required. Indonesians in general and eastern Indonesians in particular prepare their fish differently to Westerners, the most obvious difference being that while Westerners usually fillet their fish Sulawesian and Flores, after having cleaned and scaled the fish, cook it with the skin, head and tail all intact, these parts plus many of the bones all being eaten.

While we're cycling the support crew are always on the lookout for fresh fruits and kue kampung or village cakes, which are usually made from sticky rice flour, palm sugar and coconut flesh or cream. We carry our own fresh water on the support vehicles and at the rest stops you can fill your bidons and enjoy cups of hot tea and coffee or a cool drink also from the cool box. On some days we'll buy vegetables from morning markets for cooking further down the track.

Support vehicles
Roughly speaking, we have one van for every 6 riders. At the start of each day riders put their heavy luggage in these vans. One of the vans carries water tanks, snacks, cycle repair gear and the cycle mechanic. At the end of the day the drivers take our bikes, wash them (if necessary) and the mechanic lightly services the bikes and conducts any necessary repairs.

The People
The people in Sulawesi and Flores are friendly, hospitable, respectful and very tolerant towards overseas visitors, especially cyclists. In some places we may be police escorted through town, a real hoot. On some Sundays we'll join with local cyclists on their regular Sunday ride. Sulawesi and Flores drivers are far more tolerant, respectful and patient towards cyclists than their counterparts in Australia.

Indonesian Language
In the early stages, bahasa Indonesia is easy to learn because it's not tonal like some mainland Asian languages are and a few key words can take you a long way. As well, Indonesians are incredibly receptive towards foreigners who have a go. Colin's experience is that you take one step towards them and they take 10 towards you.

During the trip at rest stops we'll actively teach you the basic elements of the Indonesian language such as counting, basic courtesies and greetings. We'll make opportunities for you to interact with the locals wherever we might find ourselves so that you can practice the language that you've just learned.

Group size
In order to run the trip we need at least 6 riders and generally not more than 10 riders. These small numbers help the building of supportive and harmonious relationships and make learning Indonesian language easier than with a large group.

Health and fitness
These trips are not for faint-hearted armchair couch potatoes. They are for cycle prepared healthy individuals who don't mind a bit of roughing it. Anyone interested should check with their family doctor as to what inoculations are required as they vary from time to time and from country to country. And you should be prepared to commit yourself to a training program (cycling 3x a week at least in the weeks before the trip) that, ideally, should start 3 months prior to the trip.

Rider Demographice 2009-2018

No. Trip Total %
1 Central Sulawesi 34 18
2 Flores 29 15
3 North Sulawesi 22 12
4 Toraja 42 22
5 Trans Sulawesi 10 5
6 Bali 6 3
7 South South Sulawesi 17 9
8 South Sulawesi 28 15
TOTALS 188 100

Country Total %
Australia 143 76
Canada 2 1
Czech 2 1
Germany 3 2
NZ 7 4
Portugal 8 4
Netherland 1 1
Singapore 1 1
Swiss 2 1
UK 3 2
USA 16 9
TOTALS 188 100

Age Male Female Total %
30 - 39 3 8 11 6.21
40 - 49 16 7 23 12.99
50 - 59 28 19 47 25.42
60 - 69 58 32 90 45.76
70 > 16 1 17 9.60
TOTALS 121 67 188 100
GENDER % 64% 36%  

No. of Trips Riders
5 X 1
4 X 3
3 X 8
2 X 17
1 X 113

© Cycle Indonesia 2016.