Locally Made Bicycle Hits the Streets

Eight Moscow sports shops received their first shipments this week of Russia's new Tvel brand bicycles.

By June, the company intends to put $600,000 worth of their product in stores throughout the nation, said Vladimir Slesarev, general director of the Avtomarket automobile assembler, one of Tvel's co-owners.

The bikes were designed locally, but assembled from parts made in Taiwan. Tvel developer and company co-founder Valery Trofimov said Wednesday that Tvel is looking for domestic factories that could produce parts of the same quality. The company hopes to produce 45,000 bicycles a year by 2002.

Trofimov said the bikes are designed especially for local conditions.

Finicky Moscow retailers have already given the cycles initial approval.

Vadim Vasilyev, assistant director of Moscow's Velomarket-TsSKA bike shop, said Tvel bicycles are the first domestic cycles his store has decided to sell in the past two years. "Unfortunately, domestic bikes hardly ever sell," Vasilyev said. "They're really ugly."

Vasilyev said that while Tvel bicycles look better than other domestic brands, they are priced too high for a Russian product. Tvel bikes are in the same price range as products made in Taiwan, he said, adding that they would sell better if the company knocked off $15 to $20 from their retail price.

The Max model, designed for children from 6 to 8 years old and the Uragan model, for 10 to 16 year olds, both retail for 2,800 rubles ($99). The 18-speed Master and Bagira bikes sell for 3,800 rubles each. In total, Tvel makes eight different bike models.

According to COMCON market research agency, about 450,000 bicycles are sold nationwide each year. Only about 10 percent of those are imported from outside the former Soviet Union.

The former Soviet Union's largest bikemaker is the Minsk Motovelozavod plant, which last year exported 200,000 bikes to Russia, Motovelozavod general director Mikhail Rakevich said.

According to COMCON figures, bicycle ownership in Russia is falling. By the end of 1999, Russians owned 2 percent fewer children's bikes and 7 percent fewer adult bikes than two years ago.

Bicyclemakers blame the drop on bicycles wearing out and a shortage of cheap domestic products, rather than reduced demand from consumers.

Several local companies, such as the Peleton machine-making plant, decided to start up or resume bicycle production last year. As a result, in 1999 the country produced 18 percent more bikes for adults and 100 percent more for children than in 1998, according to the Russian Statistics Agency.

In its debut this year, the Peleton company is focusing on a slightly different sector of the market. "By May, we are planning to put out 2,000 Kamy-type foldable bicycles. And if there's demand for them, we'll make about 30,000 more by the end of the year," said Alexander Vakurov, Peleton's director of bicycle production.

Peleton is not limiting itself to one type of bicycle, however. "Simultaneously, we're going to make some Turist-type models, because people are asking for those kinds of bicycles," Vakurov said. "Demand is expected for bicycles made for agricultural areas, the kind that can have a trailer attached to them, where one can put a bag of potatoes, for example."