Revolution on wheels sweeps across Russia

Russia. Moscow. 12 July 2015. Participants of a bike ride

Russia. Moscow. 12 July 2015. Participants of a bike ride

Viacheslav Prokofiev/TASS
More and more Russians are taking to the streets on bicycles and scooters. Moscow is witnessing a surge in its bike culture, with the number of rental outlets and cycle parks rocketing, and even cycle lanes appearing. The phenomenon is not limited to the capital. People are switching to alternative modes of transport in other major Russian cities as well, though long distances and problems with road safety continue to hinder the growth of cycling culture.

It may not appear so initially, but a cycling revolution is quietly underway in Moscow. Following in the footsteps of cities across Europe, more and more of the city’s residents are beginning to abandon public transport in favour of bicycles and scooters.

Over the last five years, the Russian capital has seen a major growth in demand for bicycles, with around 150 rental points now in operation. This figure is expected to double to 300 by the end of the year. Besides bicycle rental outlets, there are now 755 bicycle parks in the city, and even cycle lanes are beginning to appear.

Literary editor Oxana Agapova rides a scooter to work and on business in Moscow from May to September. “Once the city is freed from the snow, my speed increases three times, because I can at last travel on a scooter,” she said. “It's a 15-minute walk from my home to the metro, but a scooter reduces this time to five.”

“For me, the scooter is the best mode of transport. The car is inconvenient because of traffic jams and paid parking lots in Moscow. It's too far to travel to work by bike and they won't let you with it in the metro,” said Agapova.

Worth the inconvenience

According to Agapova, it was her childhood dream to have a compact means of transportation. “The only problem is the stones on the city sidewalks, which break the bearings, and the scooter vibrates unpleasantly when you go on it,” she said.

Ballistics engineer Anna Konstantinova, meanwhile, likes to travel around Moscow by bicycle. “I've been cycling for more than three years. I have a city bike with multiple speeds and a wicker basket in front to put stuff in,” she said.

“Previously, the distance from home to work was 5.5 km [3.4 miles – RIR] and the ride took 25 minutes. By public transport, the same route took 40 minutes. So I went by bike every day, even in winter.”

Recently, Konstantinova has changed her place of work, and it is now 21 km from her home to the office, which takes one hour and 40 minutes. “It's now too far, but I try to ride my bike at least once a week,” she said.

While riding, Konstantinova strictly observes the traffic rules, using the right-hand lane of the road, within one metre of the pavement. According to her, difficulties for cyclists in the city are often created by improperly parked cars which obstruct passage, as well as a lack of bicycle parking areas, where it is safe to leave her bike.

“I have to tie the bike to fences and poles, which hinders pedestrians,” said Konstantinova.

The rise of two wheelers

Konstantin Trofimenko, a senior researcher at the Institute of Transport Economics and Policy at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow, said alternative non-motorized forms of transportation like bicycles and scooters have become popular in recent years in Russia.

According to Trofimenko, while the trend is developing in Moscow, it is also becoming fashionable in St. Petersburg, Chita, Khakassia and Buryatia. “They are mostly used by young people, the people for whom the environment and healthy lifestyles matter,” he said.

In Asia, people ride bicycles because they cannot afford to buy a car. In European cities, buying a car is not a problem, but all that a city dweller needs; work, entertainment venues, shopping and recreational facilities; are typically within three to five kms of their home. The most convenient way of covering this distance is on a bicycle, since it takes too long to walk, it is expensive to go by car (petrol and parking fees) and, if you opt to use public transport, it is necessary to time your trip to the schedule.

Russian cities are built according to the “Soviet type”; work and entertainment is in the city centre, with residential or “sleeping” districts located on the outskirts. “To go from a ‘sleeping’ district to the centre is too far (10-20 km), so people rarely use the bicycle as the main mode of transport,” said Trofimenko. “In Russia bicycles and scooters will become more popular with citizens as the decentralization of cities gradually progresses,” she said.


A person riding a scooter is still considered a pedestrian, so he or she can ride on the pavement and it is safer than a bicycle, said Vladimir Sokolov, chairman of the Pedestrians' Union, an interregional public movement for the rights of pedestrians.

“Cyclists are required to go on the roadway or on the bicycle path, if any,” he said. “But on Russian roads, it is often not safe. Cars race at speeds of up to 80 kms per hour, and bicycle paths are few.”

According to Sokolov, for a cycling movement to begin to spread on a large-scale in Russia, the maximum permitted speed for cars in the city should be reduced to 40-50 km per hour. It will also require the introduction of compulsory lessons on traffic rules in high schools, which will need to be carried out by police officers.


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