Despite Bad Traffic, Muscovites Flock to Motorcycles For Moscow's consumer class, the latest fashion is motorcycles and scooters. But the Russian capital may be the least "bike friendly" city in the world. The roads are full of potholes, and traffic laws are widely ignored.
NPR logo

Despite Bad Traffic, Muscovites Flock to Motorcycles

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/91544408/91544375" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Despite Bad Traffic, Muscovites Flock to Motorcycles

Despite Bad Traffic, Muscovites Flock to Motorcycles

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/91544408/91544375" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

This next story is about driving and has nothing to do with gas prices. It's the way people get through traffic in Moscow. For many months of the year, the roads are icy and driving conditions are always dangerous because of the heavy traffic. Yet, many drivers are turning to motorcycles. NPR's Gregory Feifer has more.

(Soundbite of motorcycle revving)

GREGORY FEIFER: This Moscow road is typical. It's full of potholes, covered in dirty slush most of the year, and crammed with cars whose owners drive like lunatics. Moscow is probably one of the least bike-friendly cities in the world, but there's been a sudden explosion of motorcycles here. Motor scooter owner Yuborg Biden(ph) says it's the only way to get around.

Mr. YUBORG BIDEN: (Through translator) Moscow traffic is so bad, usually you can do only one errand a day. On a scooter, you can fit in three or four. Soon there won't be any more traffic jams, because half the city will be on scooters.

FEIFER: Moscow's streets are full of brand new Mercedes and BMWs. No one even bats an eye at passing Bentleys and Ferraris. So for some, motorcycles are the new status symbol. Under the Soviet Union, motorcycles were decidedly unglamorous - a cheap mode of transportation for rural dwellers, often with a sidecar.

Now burgeoning numbers of leather-clad riders are tearing around the streets on the latest Japanese racing bikes.

(Soundbite of engine starting)

FEIFER: But for the truly wealthy, Harley Davidson's are the must-have motorcycle.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Man: (Singing) (unintelligible) that new guy.

FEIFER: Inside Moscow's brand-new Harley Davidson dealership, businessmen in expensive suits shop for models costing more than $50,000. Import duties and other fees mean Harleys here cost almost double what they do in the United States. But Andre Dusyinchinka(ph) is already shopping for his second one.

Mr. ANDRE DUSYINCHINKA (Motorcycle owner, Moscow): (Foreign language spoken)

FEIFER: Harley Davidson is a huge legend, he says. That's why we spend so much money on them. I like mine because of the pleasure I get riding it, he continues. But, of course, it's also a status symbol.

It's also incredibly dangerous. Victor Palkminkin(ph), a former member of parliament who's the head of a motorist association, says many car drivers simply don't pay attention to motorcycles on the streets, and often cut them off.

Mr. VICTOR PALKMINKIN (Head of Motorist Association, Russia): (Through translator) On the other hand, many motorcycle and scooter drivers believe traffic regulations don't apply to them. They appear out of nowhere, racing past cars, rushing side view mirrors, doing whatever they want.

FEIFER: The authorities don't keep statistics about the number of road accidents involving motorcycles. But back on Moscow's streets, traffic policeman Andre Karpa(ph) says there's been an unmistakable spike in injuries and deaths.

Mr. ANDRE KARPA (Traffic Policeman, Russia): (Through translator) Many victims ride drunk. When they crash, they usually fly forward 30 to 40 feet, land on top of cars or get stuck underneath. Arms and legs are often broken. Helmets can save lives, but many ride without them.

FEIFER: That's hardly unusual in Moscow, where corrupt police don't enforce laws that are routinely ignored. Many Muscovites say the driving culture reflects current Russian society as a whole. It's everyone for himself. They believe it's going to take at least a generation for that to change.

(Soundbite of engine starting)

FEIFER: Gregory Feifer, NPR News, Moscow.

Copyright © 2008 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.