• Bali biking by Steve Thomas (Steve Thomas)Source: Steve Thomas
So close to home, yet so far away in every possible sense, Bali has some surprisingly superb riding to offer, writes Steve Thomas.
Steve Thomas

Cycling Central
9 Oct 2017 - 10:21 AM  UPDATED 9 Oct 2017 - 10:25 AM

It’s a tense time for Bali with the volcanic eruption threat of Mount Agung looming large and probably imminent.

Over the years Bali has experienced its fair share of troubles, not to mention its party island reputation; all hard to shake, all deeply impacting tourism and impressions of the island. 

But this is a real shame as the lush and imposing island is a true gem, both culturally and visually, and of course, there's magnificent riding on offer too.

Over the past couple of years I’ve spent some solo and guided time riding in depth on the trails and roads of this deeply green and mountainous island.

Most of the prime mountain biking is found around the towering volcanoes of Batur and Agung in the central and north east of the island, that lie just over a one and a half hour drive from the main coastal resorts, and about an hour due north of the town of Ubud.

This high, central region is also where the newly built Bali Bike Park is located. By global standards it’s relatively small, and the overall drop on the runs is just below 200 metres, but every one of the routes is packed full of trail excellence, and the world's best riders are attracted to its slopes.

It’s all good fun, but for me it was the natural stuff I wanted to ride, most of which is graded as enduro and of various difficulty levels.

Having ridden many all-mountain trails around the world I was expecting something more manicured, maybe even with hand carved berms thrown in every now and then. This was not to be – thankfully. Our first ride out was on a trail they call the “Central Bali Enduro”, a 30 kilometre jungle rumble from close to Mount Batur down some 1,500 metres to the deserted eastern coast.

There are no trail markers here, which is why a guide is essential, at least at first. I rode here in the back end of the rainy season, starting off in a moody mist and all around, a vibrant green. The trails were glazed in the morning dew, overgrown and often blind. At times I cursed my short sleeves and scratched arms, but it did slow the riding down enough to take in the fabulous surroundings.

Over the next few days we got to cover a whole lot of ground, extremely varied ground too. Riding the apocalyptic looking grey sands and lava fields of Batur was surreal. Long and very heavy climbs sweetened by sketchy sand descents characterised the riding, along with a whole lot of pushing up and down.

My last off-road ride on the island was my personal favourite - a morning descent from the spectacular rice terraces of Jatiluwith. The ride's backdrop was of three cone shaped volcanoes. The morning air was crystal clear and the sun lightly toasted everything around. It was truly picture perfect, almost so perfect that it looked more like an old painted film set than the real thing.

Long and winding half-paved trails peppered with steep wakeup climbs made the whole experience like a pimped fairground fantasy ride, one that I’d happily buy front seat tickets for all week long.

Bali on the drops 

I’ve made a couple of road-based trips here recently, and have found some pretty, and some very tough riding.

Sure enough the deep south is extremely busy, and the traffic can be hair raising at times (although it is actually quite safe), but as you get north of Ubud the traffic slowly but surely fades away.

Ubud makes for a great road riding base. Head vaguely north from here and you will find many narrow and winding roads through the rice fields and jungles, most of which ultimately end up (after a very long climb) at the crater of Batur.

You can stitch together some great circular rides here, as there are so many small roads to go at, and in a comparatively compact area. Just be sure to gear down for some long and steep climbing.

Trail finding - off road

Finding the real off road gems is near impossible; you may find trailheads, but the chances are they will stop abruptly at a nearby smallholding, and even if you do find the trails we rode you will need to sort logistics and transport to make it all work.

The best option is to at least hook up for a couple of rides with the Bali Bike Park/Chill House crew, and then take things from there. Click here for details. 

When to go

You can of course ride here any time, and the conditions vary dramatically throughout the year. March to September is the driest, while the rainy season runs from October to February. The rainy season is also when Bali is at its prettiest, but the trails may be out of bounds at times. 

June to August is hot and dry, with a lot of dust on the trails. The best all-round riding period is March to May and September to October.