Reviving a Colonial Past With Vintage Wheels
T-shirts featuring motifs of classic Dutch bicycles are popular souvenirs for both domestic and foreign tourists along Jalan Malioboro, Yogyakarta.
In the city renowned for traditional Javanese culture, riding bicycles, which include the onthel (vintage Dutch) or fixed-gear (fixie), has become a popular pastime seeing to an emergence cycling subculture.
Malioboro bicycle shops such as Alam Baru and Adi Mitra do a roaring trade, catering to a variety of enthusiasts. Elsewhere, at Gappsta bicycle market for example, home-made fixies are sold for Rp 700,000 (about $70) while classic bicycles can be bought for as little as Rp 1.5 million.
On Saturday nights, cyclists can be seen touring Yogyakarta’s streets in mini-convoys on both fixies and onthels.
The Onthel club Pagoeyaban Onthel Djokdjakarta (Podjok) boasts 700 members made up of enthusiasts thorough in their knowledge and enthusiasm for classic bicycles.
Founded in 2006, members say the club is the largest of its kind in Indonesia.
It’s a Saturday night in Yogyakarta and around 20 vintage bicycles are lined up on the pavement near the central post-office; this is the titik-nol — Yogyakarta’s point zero.
“This is nothing. These are just a few of our members. Normally, when we hold an event, there are many more members,” Aji says.
“When we have an event, we all get dressed up in the appropriate costume,” he says.
A member since 2007, tonight Aji is dressed casually in black. He wears a club T-shirt emblazoned with “Jogja Kembali Bersepeda” (“Jogja Rides Again”), over which he wears a well-ironed black dress shirt adorned with badges related to bicycle events.
The badge for Podjok consists of a blankon (cloth Javanese head covering), handlebars, a light and bares the club’s shorthand name Podjok.
As for his cowboy hat he says he just likes cowboys. There’s no particular symbolism, other than the assertion of his own tastes.
Aji is a charismatic and enthusiastic member of the club who has been interested in classic bicycles since he was a teenager. He calls himself an onthelis — an onthel enthusiast — and has three vintage bicycles in his collection.
On this particular night, Aji is riding his Raleigh, which he says is an English bicycle from 1890. Dutch or not, this bicycle has vintage capital.
He tells me that he has conducted research to find out when all the parts of the bicycle were made.
“I bought it in Klaten, ten years ago. I only paid Rp 300,000 for it. Now, I could easily sell it for Rp 10 million.”
This is despite the bike’s broken rear light and old pedals. “You can’t get original pedals,” Aji said.
Bicycle enthusiasm relates to a passion for discovering heritage more so than a pleasure in using an environmentally friendly means of transport.
Using the bicycles evokes the slow pleasures of yesteryear — a pleasure easily longed for in the increasingly polluted and congested Yogyakarta.
“The club was founded in 2006. But, I only began being active from around 2007. Members range from around 17 to 60-years-old,” Aji said adding that members are still high school students while others have already retired.
“We meet on Saturday nights on the corner, but we also have events, gowes , when we ride to other towns and cities.
Pak Rusdi, who is 70, is a fanatic. He’s still really fit. He can still easily cycle to Solo and back,” Aji said.
Towil, the head of the club, has some 100 vintage bicycles in his collection. His home in Kulon Progo, about 20 minutes drive from Yogyakarta, marks the starting point for tourists — mainly Dutch — for his Towil Fiets bicycle tours around the nearby villages.
“We cycle along narrow paths and pass rice paddies. We visit the traditional workers and the farmers. I show the tourists how life is lived in a more traditional setting,” Towil said.
Breaking our chat, Pak Rusdi rings his bicycle bell, appropriated from an andong (traditional horse-and-cart). He calls those in attendance to pay attention, as Towil has a speech to give.
Members stand with upright and formal postures as Towil inducts a new member from the Netherlands.
After the formalities are over, the onthelis cycle a two hour circuit from the titik nol to Jalan Solo and back again.
Amongst the pollution and noise of motorbikes and cars, the silence and gentleness of the onthel bicycles carve a path through Yogyakarta’s cityscape.
A symbol of Dutch heritage, onthels are easily enjoyed, even when they are separated from their broader historical context.
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Podjok club members cycle around Yogyakarta on most Saturday nights; Podjok members pose for a photo; A rearview of an onthel with saddlebags. JG Photos/Ali Lutfi & Andy Fuller