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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Anyone With a Bike Can Join Weekend Rambles

For MTThe majority of the club's weekend tours of the Moscow region stray off country roads onto bike paths and small, unpaved lanes.
While Russia has yet to rival the Netherlands or France as a nation of bicycle fanatics, a small but active group of local cyclists is working to promote the sport within Russia and raise the country's profile abroad.

From April to October, anyone with a bike can join the 160 active members of the Moscow-based Russian Cycle Touring Club on their weekend rambles in and around the Moscow region, says the club's president Igor Nalimov.

Officially registered in 1996 as a nonprofit organization, the RCTC has primarily Russian membership, but Nalimov says the club is open to everyone. Many of the club's organizers speak English or French, so language is rarely an obstacle for expat members.

The club arranges several lengthy cycle tours of Russia, the Commonwealth of Independent States and other destinations abroad each year, but it is the weekend day trips that attract the majority of participants, as they provide a great excuse to leave the city for a ride through the countryside.

Vladimir Filippov, an avid cyclist and one of the RCTC's main organizers, says the club tries to accommodate riders with different needs and skill levels on these jaunts outside the city by organizing several different trips each weekend.

Filippov, for example, often leads tours for families and children and brings along his own wife and 12-year-old son.

Participants on these rides usually take an elektrichka, or suburban train, 40 to 50 kilometers outside of Moscow and then spend the day peddling down quiet country lanes taking in the scenery.

The majority of rides also trek down bike trails or small, unpaved roads; not only does this cut out the dangers of cycling on busy roads and highways, but it also, according to Filippov, takes advantage of the country's readily available natural beauty.

"Even 50 kilometers outside of Moscow, it is possible to find and cycle through real wilderness," Filippov says. "In Europe, or even in America, such places are either few, or one must travel a fair distance to reach them."

The RCTC is aiming to draw cyclists from all over the world, and every year the club hosts roughly a dozen riders eager to explore the country by bike.

Among the main attractions that pulls in foreign cyclists is an extended 14-day tour of the Golden Ring cities, which takes place annually in late June and early July and has drawn riders from all over Europe and the United States.

Wade Hatler, an American currently touring the world on his recumbent bicycle, came to Russia by way of the RCTC last year.

Hatler, like most foreign cyclists acquainted with the club, first learned about the RCTC when he stumbled across the club's web site.

"[The RCTC] was extremely helpful," Hatler says. "It arranged my invitation, gave me information about my visa and found a hotel for me."

During his three-month tour, Hatler joined other club members on an epic 700-kilometer ride from Moscow to St. Petersburg.

Hatler says Russia has a lot to offer foreign cyclists with an appetite for adventure and says he found the Russians he met on his cross-country journey to be some of the most hospitable he has found anywhere on his world tour.

For foreign cyclists who wish to travel independently, the RCTC can also be useful, not only in arranging visa support, but also by providing helpful information about Russia, recommending things to see and suggesting which routes to take and which to avoid.

Apart from hosting foreign riders, some local members make two or three annual cycling trips abroad. The club has already sponsored tours in the United States, Europe and Egypt. Filippov adds that plans are in the works for a trip to Australia.

The trips abroad, like the day trips around Moscow, are geared to match participants' needs. Fillipov, for example, participated in a tour of France in 1995, made on tandem bicycles to accommodate the tour's visually impaired riders.

The Russian cycling season runs from April to October, but the club meets on a semi-regular basis during the off-season to make plans for future tours or to watch films and slide shows of past tours. Courses led by the group's more experienced members are also offered, ranging from bicycle maintenance to trip preparation.

To officially open the cycling season, the club is helping arrange a large gathering of cyclists on April 14. The event, which will take place northeast of the city in the Moscow region, is expected to draw more than 300 participants.

The RCTC is also organizing bike trial competitions for advanced cyclists to start the season by showing off their skills.

For more information about the Russian Cycle Touring Club, call Igor Nalimov at 353-55-95 or Vladimir Filippov at 354-62-59, or visit the club's web site at www.bigfoot.com/~rctc.