It’s hard to imagine a time when cycling was popular in Moscow. But before car sales rocketed at the end of the Nineties, Muscovites could cycle down one of the city’s many wide avenues without fear of being knocked down. And from the legendary Turist, produced in the Ukraine in the Seventies, to the Aist from the Belarusian company of the same name, the options for how they took to the streets were plentiful, though pricey. For wannabe cyclists without the wherewithal to pay for a bike, there was even the option of a state loan. “When I was growing up, we spent all our summers riding around. Those bikes almost never broke down. The quality was great,” says Vadim Hazov, 30, a bike enthusiast and entrepreneur, who launched Velo Delo, a cycle repair shop, in Moscow last year.
Despite the popularity of cycling in the past, the collapse of the Soviet Union flooded Moscow with imported bicycles. Bike factories shut up shop and Muscovites swapped two wheels for four. But now, things look set to change: following the lead of other European cities, Muscovites are increasingly coming to embrace cycle culture. Leading the charge is Hazov, who had been fixing up bikes for close to a decade before opening Velo Delo. “I didn’t originally open my repair shop for commercial reasons,” he says. “It began as more of a personal project. I started picking up unwanted bikes from people, fixing them up and taking them to orphanages. It was only then that I realised there was a demand for the service. My project grew and I started seeing its business potential.”
Hazov now has two repair shops in Moscow and an online store. Although his daily routine involves repairing punctures and replacing broken spokes, it’s fixing up old Soviet bikes that he enjoys the most. “These days it is almost impossible to find bikes with those kind of steel frames,” he says. “With modern bikes it’s often just about making money, and taking shortcuts.” Luckily for Hazov, the city’s newfound love for bicycles has dovetailed with a craze for all things vintage. Only last year, the Moscow Design Museum dedicated its debut show to objects from the Soviet era and these days Muscovites regularly frequent the city’s flea markets to pick up all manner of forgotten relics. On the back of this trend, would-be cyclists are taking their parents’ bikes out of the attic and getting them patched up.
“With modern bikes it’s often just about making money, and taking shortcuts”
The city government too seems to have cottoned on to the benefits of biking: in May, it launched a public-hire cycle scheme with 1,000 bikes in 100 different spots. Despite this, cyclists still face numerous challenges in the capital where bikes are not a priority. There is no proper infrastructure for cyclists, not nearly enough bicycle paths and nowhere to lock them up. What’s more, many in the city don’t consider cycling a real method of transportation, on par with cars or motorbikes, despite the capital’s legendary traffic jams. This year, Dutch GPS manufacturer TomTom rated Moscow traffic the worst in the world. “Drivers don’t really respect us for some reason,” says Hazov. “There is no proper road culture. I feel like they get angry with us when we cycle on busy roads, which I feel entitled to do.”
Then there’s the weather: cycling is only really possible from March to September. In spite of these challenges, the number of bike enthusiasts and cycling events continue to grow. In July, cyclists took to the streets for Velonotte, a five-and-a-half-hour midnight bike tour of Moscow complete with pre-recorded lectures by historians, architects and other experts. Last month, a four-kilometre stretch of road was declared car-free for 24 hours and several weeks later, Muscovites dressed up in their finest British garb for the annual Tweed Ride. “I feel like the development of the cycling industry lies on the shoulders of the few activists,” says Hazov. “There are few people who are genuinely obsessed with it and really prepared to dedicate their time … But give it two to three years and we will be able to freely ride our bikes to and from work.”
Hazov’s future plans include launching his own brand of bike with high-quality steel frames. “It’s my dream to launch my own brand,” he says excitedly. “This winter I am going to try and start production. I already have some equipment and people who are willing to work on design. I even have a logo.” Looking beyond Moscow, he hopes to open more branches of Velo Delo in other cities. “Vintage bikes will be all the rage over the next few years,” he says. “And people will need someone who is experienced in getting them up to scratch.”