Install

Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A Few Hardy Souls Pedal for Their Rights

Fed up with suffocating traffic yet far from enthusiastic about tackling metro crowds at rush hour, Asya Mollogulova took a radical step two years ago: She sold her Volkswagen Golf and bought a bicycle.

These days Mollogulova, a 24-year-old designer, bikes 40 minutes everyday from Profsoyuznaya Ulitsa in southern Moscow to her office near the Tretyakovskaya metro station in the city center.

"I can make up to 17 kilometers per hour," she said. "During rush hour it was about 13 kilometers per hour by car."

While the sight of commuter cyclists pedaling around Western European cities is common, cyclists in Moscow have largely been restricted to doing bike tricks off the Lenin statue in Oktyabrskaya Ploshchad.

Mollogulova is one the few adventurous souls who has swapped four wheels for two to traverse the streets of Moscow, possibly one the least bike-friendly cities in the world -- a kind of bizarro Amsterdam where aggressive drivers and a lack of bike paths make cycling a perilous endeavor.

"There are no bike paths for us here, and neither drivers nor pedestrians like to see us in their way," Mollogulova said.

While there are no comprehensive statistics on traffic accidents involving cyclists, the frequency of such accidents is increasing, said city traffic police spokesman Maxim Galushko. At least one accident report comes in daily of a car striking a cyclist, Galushko said.

Exactly how many cyclists there are in Moscow is also unclear. The organization Russia Without Cars estimates there are some 4 million bikes in Moscow but that a majority of their owners can't use them because of the city's complete lack of biking infrastructure.

The city's only bike paths are located in parks or recreation areas such as Vorobyovy Gory, and it has none that are suitable for transportation purposes, said Dmitry Skvortsov, a spokesman for the organization.

"Bikers have absolutely no rights in Moscow," Skvortsov said.

None of the city's major development plans since the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution have accounted for bicycle transportation, and Marina Ganshina, a spokeswoman for the city's architecture and city construction committee, said there are no plans in the works to build bike paths.

Megalopolises -- and Moscow in particular -- are simply not suitable for bicycle transport, said Maria Protsenko, a spokeswoman for the city government's transportation and infrastructure department. The distances are massive and the winter is too long to consider cycling a serious alternative to driving, Protsenko said.

The temperature argument is one that software consultant John Roseman, who has lived in Russia for 15 years, does not buy.

"I have been bicycling for all that time and cycle almost every day, including in the winter," Roseman said, who cited health, economic and environmental concerns as his motivation for cycling.

Vladimir Abramov, 54, said he has been cycling in Moscow since he was 12, and that the number of cyclists in the city has dramatically increased since the 1970s and 1980s.

He said the trend is simply due to the fact that there are more bicycles available.

"In 1987 I had to travel to another city to buy my mountain bike," Abramov said. "But now good bicycles can be bought anywhere, and for many people, it is not a problem to pay $150 to $200 for a bike."

Bicycle imports have more than tripled over the last five years, totaling some 1.8 million last year, according to State Statistics Service data.

Moscow's Blade Runner-like sprawl and lack of bike paths are not the only impediments for its cyclists; there is also the aggressive behavior of its drivers, Mollogulova said. "Sometimes male drivers have tried to nudge me to the edge of the road so that I run into the sidewalk," she said. "They don't need to do it. They just like to scare me."

The few attempts by the city to outfit new districts such as Kurkino and Novo-Peredelkino with bike paths proved comically in vain, as they were immediately co-opted by motorists, cyclists said.

But Moscow cyclists have no intention of giving up the good fight. In order to publicize their plight, dozens -- sometimes hundreds -- of cyclists gather at Turgenevskaya Ploshchad each month to ride down city streets. The strategy is to create what they call a "critical mass" of bicycles that will be impossible to ignore. Two years ago, their convoy was blocked by OMON riot police and directed to an alley, where they were then cordoned off by traffic police, said Alexei Voronin, one of the cyclists. Seven cyclists were detained, and police threatened others that they would puncture their tires if they did not disperse immediately, Voronin said.

Roman Dubchuk, 27, said that despite the myriad obstacles, he had no plans to give up cycling in the city. "But the fastest way to navigate Moscow is by metro, of course," Dubchuk said.