Ode to the Ojek

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An okej turns around in the market street.

In much of south east Asia, the humble motorbike is the number one choice of transport. It’s a reliable, flexible, and most importantly cheap. Individuals, families, cargo, and even food stalls are loaded on the bike, zipping around traffic, through markets, and up mountain roads to wherever people need to go.

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Ojek riders in Jakarta. Lots of riders wear face masks for easier breathing.

In Indonesia we got our first taste of the tide of motorbikes. The term for them there is “ojek”, though a friend we made joked that many people call them mosquitoes. During heavy traffic they can truly be a swarm, encircling slower cars and parting only for trucks and pedestrians as needed.

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Ojeks swarm around a car during rush hour.

Everyone rides ojeks. In a country that is incredibly divided economically, ojeks seem to be the one unifying factor. Young and old, rich and poor, everyone uses ojeks. Of course, the more wealthy residents tend to drive cars and only use ojeks when they absolutely need to, while a vast majority of the remaining population uses them as primary transport.

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A family waits at a light.

There are plenty of ojek-taxi services that work basically like Uber, but with motorbikes. Gojek is one of the most popular and visible services. It’s got a clever name and a very visible green-jacket uniform. These guys are great but a bit scary because they’re likely to check their phone while driving.

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One of many Gojek drivers.

And since crossing the street is a cooperative game between ojeks and pedestrians, that’s not a great situation. You step into the river of motorbikes and cars, then while staring at the incoming traffic move through any visible gaps in the stream. Vehicles farther away will tend to move around you, so it’s only the immediately nearby ones you have to worry about.

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Crossing the street involves patiently waiting in the middle of it.

Along with traffic, ojeks produce a lot of air pollution. Maybe less per vehicle than cars and trucks, but ojeks outnumber everything else on the road three to one.

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As the light turns green, all the ojeks start revving.

Despite their issues, they’re highly modifiable and incredibly useful. This one has been turned into a food-ojek trike.

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Cleverly using the seat for cooking!

On our hike up Bromo we saw another form of traveling food-cart, this time strapped on the back of the bike. Everything he needs to sell food for the night is tucked and tied to the stall.

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On the road to Bromo. The balance involved here is amazing.

And another one on the other side of Bromo. This is a very popular method of getting the food stall around.

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On the road from Cemoro Lawang. This is so much steeper than it looks.

In the countryside people use ojeks to transport produce.

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Balancing harvest baskets.

In the very deep countryside. This is in the plateau of Bromo.

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Carrying harvested grass on the back of an ojek.
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Driving through the ashen wastes of Bromo.

I think there’s an minimum age to drive an ojek, but really people start as early as they can or need to. These kids were super excited to get their picture taken.

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Three young riders on the road to Bromo.

Helmets seem to be a toss up. The majority of riders seemed to wear them, even going so far as Gojek drivers carrying an extra helmet, or passengers carrying their own. In the cities it was fairly rare to see a helmetless rider, but out in the country it was much more common. The pace there is also much more sedate and the traffic is much sparser.

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Black and white photos are cool. So is that guy’s bike.

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