Scooter Sales Craze Hits Moscow This Summer
- By Winnie Agbonlahor
- Aug. 20 2009 00:00
If you are sitting in a traffic jam, you may have noticed that you are being overtaken by young men going at a speed that your car hasn’t hit during rush hour for years.
It’s not quite Rome, but Moscow is seeing a scooter boom and in turn a scooter-crash boom, local riders say.
“Scooters are the best way of getting around in Moscow,” Sergei Dovedov, 28, from the Moscow Scooter Club, which was formed in 1999.
The first scooters started appearing in 1999, but it wasn’t until 2006 that sales began to spike, said Alexander Kuklev, a salesman at the Moscow scooter shop Skuter Siti, who is expecting to sell about 1,000 scooters this year.
“I remember parking my bike in Moscow in 2000, and everyone was staring at me, asking what I had there,” Dima Pantyushen, a manager of Clevermoto, a company that sells an Indian moped that is a copy of the classic Vespa moped.
The boom has been helped by the arrival of cheaper scooters like the Chinese-made Stels, which cost no more than 90,000 rubles ($2,800). Prices can go as low as 20,000 rubles for secondhand scooters.
The boom continues from a bicycle boom that has hit Moscow in the last few years, despite the city’s seeming incompatibility — in road-worthiness and driving culture — with either forms of transportation.
You might assume that riding a scooter in a city where a driver who stops at a pedestrian crossing is almost certainly a tourist would be dangerous.
And you’d be right.
There are no official statistics on scooter accidents, but scooter drivers have plenty of tales of fellow drivers who have come to a bad end.
“If you have a serious accident on a scooter — I’m talking torn-off hands, arms, legs — death is most likely. Really,” said Alexander Pomankov, 25, from the scooter club Riders.
“Unfortunately, accidents involving scooters are not rare. Sometimes, car drivers don’t see us, and then all sorts of things might happen,” said Dovedov.
The glut of scooters has been boosted by lax legislation regarding the mini-motorcycles. Anyone 16 or over can drive a scooter. No driver’s license or insurance is necessary, and there is confusion over whether a helmet is compulsory.
“It became obligatory in 2008 to wear a helmet on a scooter in Russia,” said Misha Kyshtinov, co-manager of Clevermoto. “But not all traffic officials will know that.”
Indeed, when asked about traffic rules for scooter drivers, a traffic policeman on Okhotny Ryad, who refused to give his name, said that wearing a helmet is not required by Russian traffic law.
“Well, if you bump your head really hard, I think that’s punishment enough,” he said laughing.
The Moscow traffic police did not respond to repeated attempts to contact them.
In Britain, anyone 16 or over can drive a moped, but they must have a driver’s license and insurance. Those who break the law can face fines of more than £5,000 ($8,200) and/or imprisonment. Fines in Russia are rarely more than 1,000 rubles.
Anyone watching the roads can see that a large majority of moped users do not wear helmets.
“Unfortunately, people who speed around town irresponsibly without helmets on really spoil our image,” said Pantyushen.
They also often seem to be going faster than you’d expect on a machine that has only 50 cubic meters of power.
Scooter riders live more dangerously by “tuning” up their engines so they can go faster.
Almost any scooter shop in Moscow offers the service, and a scooter can be pushed to reach speeds of up to 100 kilometers per hour after a tuning.
When asked if tuning was illegal, two shop assistants at the scooter accessories shop Revout smiled and said, “Well, nothing is going to happen to you if they catch you.”
The dangers do not seem to be putting off the scooter pioneers who say the freedom of the vehicle and its mobility is what attracts them in a city overloaded with cars.
“If everyone went to work on a scooter instead of a four-seater car, driving around town would be a lot more pleasant,” said Dovedov.