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Jogja Bikes Once More

Melati Kaye

Friday, 9 pm, Jalan Sudirman, Yogyakarta, Central Java—a crew of kids on fixed gear bikes pull down the main drag. Among them is a girl sporting a chilbab (Indonesian for headscarf), skinny jeans and a bright yellow bike emblazoned with the Playboy Bunny.

Bandana clad teenagers test out new tricks to the bemusement of a homeless family settling in for the night. And along the sidewalk, between the warungs (streetside eateries), bikes splay out by the hundreds. Tall bikes, 1950’s era Dutch makes, and low ride cruisers with neon green fur-lined seats. Their owners sit alongside participating in the time honored Javanese tradition of nongkrong (or bullshitting time away).

Yogyakarta has the title of Indonesia’s art and culture city. At one time, back in the 1950’s, bicycle central was another popularly used moniker. But that title disappeared in the 1980’s and 1990’s as a generation of Central Javanese rose to middle class status and turned to motorbikes and private cars. Last year, Indonesia ranked as the world’s third largest market for scooters. And Yogyakarta’s streets—packed with cars and trucks—reflect the national motorized boom.

Recently though, Yogyakarta’s once vibrant bicycle culture has been on the rebound. Fixed gears have become all the rage, and generated much of the enthusiasm for a resurgence.