Bicycles demonstrate Indonesia's new spending power
- 20 November 2011
- From the section Business
It's just past dawn on a Monday morning and the streets of Jakarta are still and quiet.
It is a vast contrast to what this city of 12 million is like during the day, when the roads are packed with cars and motorcycles buzz around the streets.
Only the sounds of the call to prayer, wafting through the suburbs and slums of the capital of the world's most populous Muslim nation, breaks the silence.
In Jakarta, there's no time to breathe. The stresses of work and life are felt deeply by some in the country's middle classes.
But some have found novel ways to unwind.
Adrianka, a digital imaging artist who runs his own successful business in Jakarta, is one such person.
A couple of times a week, the 27-year-old and his friends hit the back streets of Jakarta to relax - by going mountain biking.
He works in the advertising industry and is always rushing to meet deadlines. It's an expensive sport - but he thinks its worth it.
"The first I was shopping for bicycles, I thought even spending $500 was too much," he says as he takes a break from the rigorous morning bike ride. "But then I tried my friends bicycles that cost more - and they felt very comfortable."
"So I kept buying more expensive bikes - because the more they cost, the better they are. When my parents heard how much my bicycles cost they said I was crazy. But my work is very demanding - so I need this hobby to let off some steam."
Foreign bicycles were rarely seen in Jakarta's shops just over a decade ago.
But now the latest models from Europe and the US are becoming increasingly common.
Most of the bicycles on these roads are relatively inexpensive - but some Indonesians willingly pay up to $5,000 for one.
Jimmy Lie started a series of upmarket stores selling branded bicycles a few years ago, because he recognised a growing trend amongst affluent and aspirational Indonesians.
They were taking to the streets on Sundays, to find some way of working out the stresses of daily life and biking was becoming fashionable.
So Mr Lie capitalised on the new expensive tastes of his consumers and is now in the midst of opening another branch in the city.
Mr Lie says Indonesians these days are far more exposed to what's going in the rest of the world, and want to have access to the same standard of goods they see their counterparts enjoy overseas.
"People nowadays, they get a lot of their information from the internet, or from watching the Tour De France," he says in between serving customers in his busy store.
Growing middle class
Just over a decade ago, it would have been unthinkable for an average Indonesian to spend a few thousand dollars on a bike.
Today though Indonesia's middle classes are far more confident about the future.
Indonesia has one of the fastest growing middle classes in the region - up from 80 million five years ago to 130 million now.
That's more than half of this country's 240 million strong population.
And that number is expected to grow - by 2020, many think that Indonesia's middle class will be wealthier than many in Asia.
Indonesia's economy has been one that has managed to continue to grow, despite bumps in the global economic environment.
Largely insulated from the troubles overseas because of strong domestic demand, economists say Indonesia will see growth rates stay stable or possibly even rise next year, at a time when many in the region are cutting their growth forecasts.
All this has meant Indonesian consumers are feeling far more confident about their prospects than ever before.
They consistently rank as some of the most optimistic in Asia about their economic future.
And you can see signs of that all over the streets of Jakarta these days - but especially on Sundays.
The local government has made some Sundays in a month a car-free day - an opportunity for Indonesians to get some fresh air after a busy week at their desks.
Indonesia's next generation has the ability and the desire to spend money on what it wants and not necessarily what it needs.
Not so lucky
But while the future may look bright for some Indonesians, for others not much has changed at all.
In the district of Menteng Dalam, just outside one of the poshest areas in Jakarta, life still moves at a much slower pace.
Tiny shacks are packed densely against one another, and people living in them spill out on to the streets.
The strong economic growth that is so visible just a few kilometres away has yet to touch this part of Jakarta.
Sewi, 62, has lived here for the last two decades.
He has owned his tattered, worn out and old fashioned bicycle for just as long.
Even if he wanted to he wouldn't be able to buy a new one - he just doesn't have that kind of money.
"I've always liked old bicycles like this," he says as he tinkers with his rusty old machine.
"I'm not tempted by newer models. The young generation - they like to change their bicycles all the time and throw the old ones away. But I like to look after things from the past. "
Sewi doesn't understand how some young Indonesians are so eager to spend their hard earned cash.
He's from a generation that still remembers the hard times here. Millions like him have yet to taste the benefits of growth.
Indonesia's future generations need to ride the waves of prosperity for this country's economic rise to be considered a true success.