For Many Jakartans, Morning Starts With a Coffee From Starbikes

35-year-old Okto preps his Starbike on a patch of grass in Mega Kuningan, Central Jakarta, on May 31. (JG Photo/Jeremy Siregar)

By : Joy Muchtar | on 2:43 PM May 29, 2018
Category : Life & Style, Food & Drink, Community

Jakarta. Mohammad Ali, a father of two from Surabaya, East Java, stands on the side of the road, eyes on his "Starbike" –  an old blue pushbike laden with sachets of powdered coffee and tea tied to the handlebars and a rough wooden box strapped to the pillion seat filled with thermoses of hot water, a bucket of ice blocks and cool bottled water – while waiting for customers.

Starbikes – an obvious pun on Starbucks – are what some Jakartans call people like Ali who sells coffee, snacks and cigarettes from a bicycle. They can be found almost anywhere in the city, from around the Hotel Indonesia traffic circle, especially at night, to little alleys behind tall offices in the city's central business district.

Mohammad Ali flashes a smile on his Starbike run on Thursday (31/05). (JG Photo/Cahya Nugraha) Mohammad Ali flashes a smile on his Starbike run on Thursday (31/05). (JG Photo/Cahya Nugraha)

Dressed in a t-shirt, cotton trousers, knockoff crocs and a brown hat, Ali has a boyish, wide smile that almost reaches his ears.

Ali has been selling coffee from his Starbike around offices and embassies in Mega Kuningan in downtown Jakarta for more than 10 years. He said he knows almost every Starbike owner around his area and that he's on first-name terms with many of his loyal customers.

"I know all the people sitting over there," Ali said, discreetly pointing to a group of construction workers and Go-Jek drivers sitting on the narrow pavement, chatting and laughing with friends over milky coffee in clear plastic cups.

No extravagant mounds of whipped cream or fancy chocolate shavings here, you don't even get a sleeve for your hot cups.

Many Starbike sellers in Jakarta have a boss who owns the bikes and buys the drinks and snacks sold on them, but some do own their own bikes.

Soft-spoken Andi started his Starbike with just Rp 50,000 in his pocket. (JG Photo/Cahya Nugraha) Soft-spoken Andi started his Starbike with just Rp 50,000 in his pocket. (JG Photo/Cahya Nugraha)

One of them is Andi, who came with his wife to Jakarta from Makassar, South Sulawesi, four years ago when he was just 18.

Andi said after he bought his bicycle he only had Rp 50,000 ($3.5) left to buy drinks and snacks on his first day as a Starbiker.

He said for him, business has always been slow.

"Honestly, if my wife don't chip in and make fritters to sell, I don't think we can survive," Andi said.

A soft-spoken man, Andi said he often loses money because customers forget to pay. Instead of berating them, he leaves them be, hoping that they would remember the next day and become his loyal customers.

Hasan's trucker cap. The writing says 'Waking Up in the Morning is Hard Enough, Try Starting Up a Family.' (JG Photo/Cahya Nugraha) Hasan's trucker cap. The writing says 'Waking Up in the Morning is Hard Enough, Try Starting Up a Family.' (JG Photo/Cahya Nugraha)

43-year-old Hasan is another Starbiker who has a family to support. He has been riding his bike around Mega Kuningan for six years.

Hasan wears a trucker cap with the words "Bangun Pagi Aja Susah Apalagi Bangun Keluarga" ("Waking Up in the Morning is Hard Enough, Try Starting Up a Family" – the Indonesian word for "waking up," bangun, is the same as the word for "starting up" or "build") emblazoned on the crown.

Hasan always smiles and spends time to talk to his customers even though as a father of two, he has to work extra hard every day to make ends meet so he can support his family.

Good Job for Some 

Andi doesn't mind being a Starbiker since he owns his own bike and can choose when and where he has to work.

"Whenever my family calls me to ask me to go back to the village, I can just go, because I'm my own boss. Whenever my wife needs me there, I'm there," Andi said.

26-year-old Ali said this is not such a bad job for someone like him who's always wanted to work outdoors.

"When I was in Surabaya, I also wanted to work outside. The first job I got in Jakarta was as a cleaning service man at Taman Menteng (Menteng Park) for 7 months. When I quit I saw a lot of my friends on Starbikes. They taught me how to do it," Ali said.

Fighting Off Street Thugs

Most Starbikers tie up all their goods on their bicycle with simple raffia strings. Heavy items that cannot be tied up are placed in a basket in front or behind the rider. This might come as a surprise, but Starbikers are easy prey for pickpockets and street robbers.

You can also get cold drinks from a Starbike. Here's Okto, who has been working as a Starbiker for only two months. (JG Photo/Jeremy Siregar) You can also get cold drinks from a Starbike. Here's Okto, who has been working as a Starbiker for only two months. (JG Photo/Jeremy Siregar)

Hasan said he uses his ice pick to defend himself when people try to steal his box of cigarettes.

"I'm from Madura [an island east of Java, as the stereotype goes, Madurans are feisty). I fight them off. It's my money. I have to defend myself," he said.

Struggling to Make Ends Meet

Most Starbikers are struggling to survive since drink prices rarely go up because if they do, as Ali said, people will simple not buy them.

"The most expensive drink I sell costs only Rp 5,000," he said.

It's the same with every Starbiker around Mega Kuningan. The cheapest item is usually Rp 3,000.

Mohammad Ali's trusty bicycle bell, which he rings to attract customers. (JG Photo/Cahya Nugraha) Mohammad Ali's trusty bicycle bell, which he rings to attract customers. (JG Photo/Cahya Nugraha)

On a very good day, Ali tells us he could make up to Rp 900,000. Once he even made Rp 2 million.

"I'm a natural salesman. I like to meet people, talk to them, sell them my stuff," Ali said.

Not all Starbikers are as gregarious, or lucky, as Ali. Mohammad Baharuddin, 53 years old, said most days he makes only Rp 50,000, slightly more if he gets lucky.

Baharuddin has been selling coffee and snacks on his bike for 23 years. His bicycle is ladened with so many items, including an extra jerry can of water hanging from his handlebars and pieces of cut fruits, he sometimes finds it hard to move around.

Mohammad Baharuddin has been a Starbiker for 23 years. (JG Photo/Cahya Nugraha) Mohammad Baharuddin has been a Starbiker for 23 years. (JG Photo/Cahya Nugraha)

Baharuddin said he's stuck to the same job for more than 20 years because doesn't believe he can do anything else. "I left school after Year 6. What else could I do?" he said.

 

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