Buying Some New Wheels

MT
Editor's note: This is the first in a two-part series about bicycling in Moscow.

Everyone in the new Rostokinsky Aqueduct park turned to look as a cyclist rumbled down a smooth pathway on chunky dirt tires, speeding up as he approached the footbridge over the Yauza River. His front tire airborne, his rear tire smacked each step of the staircase at the end of the bridge. His dual suspension squeaked and crunched as he landed and then sped away down the curving path into the woods of Losiny Ostrov.

"In Moscow we will also create bicycle zones, open bicycle rental points and separate paths in the capital's parks," said Mayor Yury Luzhkov, according to an article posted in mid-April on the Moscow city transport web site.

Luzhkov noted that bike paths are already highly developed in Europe and that Moscow planned to catch up by opening paths in the city's parks, but had no plans to create special lanes on heavily trafficked streets because of safety issues.

If the trails are ever built -- and there is reason to doubt that they will be since such endeavors have been announced before with little action -- more Muscovites could be getting around on two wheels soon.

While bicycles can be bought everywhere from your local outdoor market to general sporting-goods stores to the average supermarket -- Kopeika, for example, advertises some kind of blue-and-silver bike for around 1,600 rubles -- the best bet for those looking for a range of selection, quality and expertise is the collection of shops at the Sokolniki and Baumanskaya metro stations.

Bikes range from chunky, full-suspension Rocky Mountains to kitted-out, light-as-a-feather road bikes. There are also hybrids, BMX and urban commuters.

Prices also run the gamut -- from as little as $60 for children's bikes to as much as 241,000 rubles (a little more than $10,000).

"The golden youth come in, say, 'I need a bike from 200,000 to 300,000 rubles,' and we give it to them," said Oleg Grishin, the director of Omni Bike at Sokolniki, a world-class rider with nearly a decade of experience riding for professional teams in Europe and the United States and who was a member of the Russian Olympic team at the Athens games.

"I wouldn't say it's more popular, there's just more choice," Grishin said when asked how the market differs now from when he began riding in 1988. "These guys just want the best," he said. "Even if they don't know what they're getting."

Many of the bikes are brand-name Western imports, such as Cannondale, Klein, Storck, Giant and Trek. Cheap knockoffs are in the minority. The shop also offers mostly brand-name components, like Shimano. Many of the salesmen double as mechanics, and many ride in races on the weekends.

"I'm just a lover of the sport," said Dmitry Pisarev, a mechanic in Omni's graffiti-covered backrooms, which feature a paint job by Nohands.ru, an airbrushing outfit that also details bikes.

It may be tempting to choose a cheap model but "you pay for quality," said Grishin.

And you pay for location as well. Bikes, like most things, cost more in Moscow.


John Wendle / MT
Bicycles for every surface can be found in Grishin's shop near Sokolniki metro.
A Cinelli bike going by the ridiculous name of Bootleg Hoy Hoy Rats, a light, fast hybrid was selling at Omni for around $1,500. In the West, it sells for from $1,000 to $1,200.

Moscow's short riding season combined with higher costs, dangerous roads, a paucity of good mechanics and the increased wear and tear on parts because of grime levels make it hard to justify such an expense, said a rider who commutes to work daily.

But given the variety of bikes on offer, it's possible to find a happy medium of cost, skill and usefulness.

Grishin thinks that cycling is unlikely to ever become a very popular sport in Russia though, even if new paths are built.

"Honestly, I don't think the sport will get bigger," he said. "Even if there was a world championship held here, not many people would pay attention," Grishin said.

"People are mostly interested in hockey, football and tennis."

Russia does boast two current world champions though.

Irina Kalentieva, 30, a professional cross-country mountain bike racer won the Union Cycliste Internationale Mountain Bike & Trials World Championships in 2007. Yury Trofimov, 24, is an elite road racer for UCI ProTeam Bouygues TОlОcom with many victories under his belt. Like most Russian cyclists, both live and train abroad.

"There's not enough interest or money here. Most professional long-distance riders live and train in France and Italy," said Grishin, who himself trained in Italy.

Regardless of the lack of official trails, unofficial routes exist all over Moscow, including gravel and dirt trails in Losiny Ostrov, in the northeast of the city.

Pisarev, as well as another mechanic shouting out of the workshop while putting together a magenta bike complete with training wheels and a white plastic basket, claimed that some of the best mountain bike riding can found near the Nagornaya, Orekhovo, Bittsevsky Park and Krylatskoye metro stations.

"Krylatskoye is the best," Pisarev said.

Other Places to Ride

Off-Road:

Filyovsky Park, M. Filyovsky Park

Sokolniki Park, M. Sokolniki


On-Road:

Neskuchny Sad, M. Oktyabrskaya

Krylatskoye Olympic Cycling course, M. Krylatskoye


Combination:

Serebryany Bor, M. Polezhayevskaya

Further Afield:

Krasnogorsk ski park

Odintsovo ski park

Volen ski park


More information on shops, races and places to ride can be found at:

www.velogon.ru

www.dirt.ru

www.bike4u.ru

www.mastersofrussia.ru

www.velomarket-cska.ru


Places to Shop

Bike 'n' Roll, tel. 959-3129/23, M. Novokuznetskaya

OmniBike, tel. 933-8857, M. Sokolniki

VeloImperia, tel. 678-3248, M. Tekstilshchiki