Post A: Indonesia and the motorcycle

Local context plays a hugely important role in how a design is shaped for the simple reason that as soon as it is released into the world at large, the designer loses the ability to influence it in the finite and controlled manner that he or she has heretofore been accustomed to. Traditionally a products release is seen as its final developmental stage. Months, sometimes years of work have lead to this moment, and it arrives with such finality that many fail to glimpse past it.

As an example of this continuing product design journey, we can examine the pervasive and vivacious part that the motorcycle plays in Indonesian culture. Due to a rapid increase in purchasing power of the average Indonesian within the last 20 years, motorcycle use is experiencing a boom. Currently some 77 million individual motorcycles are registered to drive on Indonesian roads, up from approximately 40 million in 2008. Such a rapid technological take up is seemingly unprecedented in a developing nation such as Indonesia, as it does not seem economically feasible. However, when examined more closely, the issue reveals itself to be more complicated.

Because the broken public transport system is not an option for most people, motor scooters and motorcycles play an important part in the day to day life of Jakarta’s urban population. (Honda Motors USA 2012)

Increased motorcycle use has been attributed to a gross failing in the public transport system, a political and economic issue. As Indonesia is rapidly propelled from its agrarian labour economy into an urbanised industrial economy, the nexus of its populous becomes a pressing issue. Citizen travelling to work from rural areas are forced to find their own way as the government’s public transport infrastructure fails them, in turn put more strain on the roads connecting economic and urban centres.

Examining on a more microcosmic scale, many factors become apparent that indicate how the actual design of motorcycles has facilitated their uptake and pervasiveness on such a large scale. First and foremost, motorcycles (particularly the most common ones, under 250cc) are accessible as a technology. Coming from farming implements and predominantly petrol based mechanical equipment, the motorcycle’s 4 stroke engine is easily serviced and maintained. Researchers noted even in the 1930’s, that the “Natives in Java, as elsewhere in the East, have seized on the opportunity given them by the petrol-engine to set up in business on a small scale with taxis and motor-buses.” (Davidson 2007). Building on this, the increasingly popular practice of repurposing 2 and 4 stroke engines into boats and other vehicles has proven the versatility of the technology and ensured its place as a staple artefact in the day to day life of the Indonesian population.

It is clear from this example that the motorcycle has, in the context of Indonesian culture and society, been heavily shaped and altered beyond its original intent. This organic evolution has facilitated its adaptation and growth in popularity, and in turn continued it on the next step of its design journey, affecting both the original design, and the end users who integrated it into their day to day lives.


Living in Indonesia 2015, Motorcycles, Jakarta, viewed 28 April 2015 <>

Millsap S 2013, Video: How Do You Get Around Jakarta?, 17 November, Article and Video, viewed 26 April 2015, <>

Davidson J, Henley D 2007, The Revival of Tradition in Indonesian Politics: The Deployment of Adat from Colonialism to Indigenism, Routledge Contemporary South East Asia Series, 12 Mar 2007, pp. 98-99.

One thought on “Post A: Indonesia and the motorcycle

  1. Really interesting to see how those with less available resources are so easily able to adapt, and retro fit existing technology to suit their needs. I Think this shows how rich the culture of ingenuity and inventiveness still is within this part of the world.

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