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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Mobile Toys for the Upwardly Mobile

Motorbikes, jet-skis and snowmobiles: These are the new wave in new Russian leisure locomotion.


That was the message at the Fourth International Motor Show in Moscow this week, where a surprising number of visitors, especially the better-heeled, walked past more practical conveyances like cars and trucks and tried out vehicles whose main purpose is hijinks.


"New Russians and snowmobiles are birds of a feather. They use it as a toy," said Alexei Artyomov, a mechanic at Czar, the official dealer for the world's flagship snowmobile producer, the Canadian company Bombardier.


Cees Van Duin, product manager for snowmobiles and jet-skis at Yamaha Motor Europe, said the company was targeting the rapidly emerging class of well-off customers to market a variety of its products from bikes to jetters.


"I think it is those New Russians, people with money," he said. minister Pavel Grachev reportedly enjoys a quick run through a snowy plain on one of the firm's snowmobiles.


"Grachev, for instance, was very excited after trying one," Artyomov said.


With its prices ranging from $6,000 to $18,000, Yamaha, which offers a range of products from powerful "muscle" bikes and American-style cruisers to jet-skis and snowmobiles, sees its sales limited so far only to wealthy Russians.


"Considering the price level of our products, we have to talk to those customers first," Van Duin said.


That didn't stop Alyosha, 8, from sitting for awhile on top of Yamaha's PW50 motorbike for young riders Friday at the motor show, held at the Krasnaya Presnya exhibition center. "Dad, this is so cool," he said.


But his father, Valery, who works as a security guard, tried to shift his son's attention to something slightly less expensive.


"Come on, you are a small boy yet, I'll buy you a bicycle," he said.


"For this sort of money I'd rather buy a car, even a second-hand one," he said.


For an average Russian earning an average wage of about 800,000 rubles ($150), some of Yamaha's products are priced rather beyond reach. A V-Max 4-cylinder 1.2 liter American-style chopper retails at $16,000, while a three-seater Yamaha 1100 jetter costs $10,000.


Still, the company feels optimistic about its future sales, especially since the customs import duty for snowmobiles stands at a reasonable 5 percent, unlike the sky-high import taxes for foreign-make cars and trucks.


"We know there is demand for jet-skis and snowmobiles because there were exports [to Russia] in the past, but not organized" through official dealers, Van Duin said.


Jet-skis have swarmed across the waterways around Moscow this summer, breaking the peace with their persistent whine.


But with Russia's long winters and vast northern territories that never thaw out completely, the future for the snowmobile business looks particularly bright, Van Duin said.


"Those are utility products and there is a huge area of Russia where you can use those machines," he said.


"They are not only used for fun, but for work as well -- transport, farming or things like that. That means that probably in the future the utility value of this product will also be seen by the average people," he said.


However, a Russian manager for a major Western brand of superbikes was more blatant in discussing his firm's usual customers.


"It's only bandits who drive those. Have you ever seen a normal person on top of those bikes in Moscow? Only the bandits can afford them," he said.


"We have all sort of professional bike racers coming over -- they rub the brakes, the tires -- but they just sigh and walk away," he said.


Still, powerful Western motorbikes have become a common scene on Moscow streets, with Russia's rich and famous heading at breakneck speed on weekends down Kutuzovsky Prospekt for a shot of adrenaline.


Many now buy small scooters to roam the quiet streets of their neighborhood, while others opt for powerful jet-skis to cruise the waterways near their country house.


A dealer for the famous Italian motorcycle producer Cagiva said he hoped to seal a deal with the government to sell a batch of the firm's police version bikes to the GAI, the Russian traffic police. He refused to disclose the sales figures but said the contract "looked good."


As the crowd got bigger with the show in full swing Friday, a burly man with a thick, gold chain around his neck, complemented by a gold watch and bracelet on his left wrist, looked quickly over Czar's Bombardier snowmobile stand and turned away.


Asked if he thought snow riding was too boring to bother with a display of world's famous snowmobiles, he said, "I already have one."


Could he buy another soon? "If necessary, I'll buy it," he said.


But while snowmobiles might have been just a fun toy for the upper class a few years ago, the market is beginning to eye the oil and gas industry, as well as hunters in Russia's remote regions, as promising clients.


Czar's Artyomov said the company sells regularly to hunters coming from as far away as Nizhny Urengoi in Central Siberia and Magnitogorsk in the Far East.