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  1. #1
    Senior Member Alex L's Avatar
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    Bike touring in Russia

    First of all I want to say, that all kinds of self-supported touring are alive tradition in our country, they are part of our modern culture.
    There are many bike touring clubs in Moscow, Saint Petersburg and in other big cities. They organize weekend cycling, making summer season schedule on their websites. People meet at weekend cycling. They know each other better and then ones makes a long distance tour together.
    It is commonly to make tours with a company of 3-8 friends. Such groups of cyclists have got a leader, mechanic, accountant and chronicler. Some of the clubs and companies are less organized, some of them are more. It is possible to choose which of them is suitable.

    There are my personal priorities for long bike tour on leave:
    1. To enjoy nature - wild camping and minor roads.
    2. To get to know about another culture.
    3. To combine this with a physical activity.
    4. To change surroundings for a while.
    5. To refresh our family relations.
    6. To get adrenalin in adventures.
    7. Acceptable comfort level - shops, roads etc.
    These priorities determine my future touring route. Also the season which can I get leave in.
    What are your priorities? I do not know which of those above are more important for you. Therefore, I can't give you concrete recommendations.

    There are interesting regions for bike touring in Russia:
    The historical center of Russia, west and north-west country is best choice for beginners. Less difficult routes are there.
    In particular the local roads between Moscow and Saint Petersburg are suitable, the ones between Moscow and Archangelsk as well.
    Karelia and Kola Peninsula.
    Also South and Medium Urals, Altai, Far East near to Vladivostok, Kamchatka (hotel accommodation only because of bears) are popular.
    Comfort and infrastructure decrease in North and East direction. Woods are almost absent in the South, except Caucasus Mountains.

    I don't recommend you to visit republics of northern caucasus and republic Kalmykia. I have not been there, but I have got bad information.

    Cycling on main roads is not a good idea, especially near to big cities.

    Something is worth to see. The best way is to buy a guide-book. I can't describe all this here.

    Credit card touring - I have not got such experience.
    Wild camping is allowed everywhere but one should be really by stealth, because drunken locals may be importunate and aggressive.
    GPRS Internet connection is available near main cities. It is better to use local mobile communication services.
    Food - you will not be hungry, I'm sure.
    Trains are pretty comfortable, it depends on class. It is allowed to take bike, wrapped in cover, to compartment, but conductor may demand a bribe. I show him regulations in this case. Wheels must be disconnected to reduce luggage size.
    Suburb trains are useful too.

    Language barrier is a problem, so a phrase-book is helpful.
    To get visa is possible. It is a special issue.

    Something else?
    I think, that if a man is going to leave western “comfort zone” on his own risk, he should be a little bit adventurer. If this is about you, welcome.
    Last edited by Alex L; 04-20-06 at 11:49 PM.

  2. #2
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    A weird question here.... how easy/difficult is it to cross the entire country West to East? Say from St-Petersburg to Vladivostok or the border with China or Mongolia? I am guessing Siberia is a tough place to ride a bike but is it feasible? What types of road should you expect?

  3. #3
    Senior Member Alex L's Avatar
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    There is railway only between Chita and Blagoveshchensk. So to cross entire country by bike is impossible, but I think the rest of space is quite enough . I recommend you this report (pdf file 3.5 MB). Text is written in German and contains a lot of details. It is very fundamental report. The man has ridden from Saint Petersburg to Shanghai by bike. I have forgotten the link where the file was taken; therefore I put it on my website.

  4. #4
    Punk Rock Lives Roughstuff's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Magictofu
    A weird question here.... how easy/difficult is it to cross the entire country West to East? Say from St-Petersburg to Vladivostok or the border with China or Mongolia? I am guessing Siberia is a tough place to ride a bike but is it feasible? What types of road should you expect?

    I was going to point out the Blago-to-Chita gap, but it has already been mentioned.

    I lived in Irkutsk for two years and did alot of riding in the Baikal region, as well as south toward the mongolian border and the Sayan Mt. region. Loved it! The roads were everything from well paved multi-lane to dirt. Never a dull moment.

    roughstuff
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  5. #5
    Senior Member Ziemas's Avatar
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    You forgot to mention be prepared to be offered vodka or samogon in the countryside. People might be offened if you refuse.

  6. #6
    kipuka explorer bkrownd's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Alex L
    There are many bike touring clubs in Moscow, Saint Petersburg and in other big cities. They organize weekend cycling, making summer season schedule on their websites. People meet at weekend cycling. They know each other better and then ones makes a long distance tour together.
    It is commonly to make tours with a company of 3-8 friends. Such groups of cyclists have got a leader, mechanic, accountant and chronicler. Some of the clubs and companies are less organized, some of them are more. It is possible to choose which of them is suitable.
    Do they take tourists?
    --
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  7. #7
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    Nice article. I would add that the most important survival technique now is bribing. Everybody takes bribes. Customs officer saying that your bike is a CIA device designed to steal a nuclear war head? No problemo... probably $20 will be enough to prove that it is not... and so on... (it is not a joke, they say that not because they suspect you but because they want 20 bucks... and it is in thier power to take from you your precious time... you will get the bike eventually... two days later...)

    Stuff like that works as well (from National Geographic)
    I took out my camera and snapped a picture. Just then an incensed guard ran over to me, spitting fire. "Give me your camera!" he barked in Russian. "Here it's forbidden to take pictures." I wouldn't relinquish it, offering the camera's memory stick instead. He agreed. I turned toward the car for a moment, took a blank memory stick out of my shirt pocket, turned back to the guard, and made a show of opening the camera port. I handed him the blank disk. We were both satisfied.
    If you are planning on camping or using water filtering devices don't forget to consult this map (they have it printable pdf format) http://www9.nationalgeographic.com/n...ture1/map.html
    Last edited by bormoglot; 04-20-06 at 01:59 PM.

  8. #8
    Senior Member Ziemas's Avatar
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    One other thing to mention is the dual price of museums, other cultural sites, and some hotels. There is one price for Russians and a higher price for foreigners. Don't be surprised if you come across this while in Russia. It's just the way things are done....

  9. #9
    Senior Member CTAC's Avatar
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    There is a road being built between Chita and Khabarovsk. It should be fully completed in 2008, but I think one can get from Chita to Blagoveschensk already.

  10. #10
    Senior Member CTAC's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ziemas
    You forgot to mention be prepared to be offered vodka or samogon in the countryside. People might be offened if you refuse.
    That would be a very wrong advice. People would not get offended if some stranger refuses to drink vodka with them. Do not drink with Russians, unless you know what you are doing!

    I think language barrier might be a real problem. Outside large cites very few people speak Engilsh. Make sure you have at least a phrase book. A better option could be someone who can translate for you and keep a cell phone. I was in Russia last summer and cell phone coverage in rural areas was much better then in US.

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ziemas
    You forgot to mention be prepared to be offered vodka or samogon in the countryside. People might be offened if you refuse.
    And that Vodka is MUCH stronger than anything in the US aside from Everclear. You have to be EXTREMELY careful of that stuff. Two shots of it and my head was ringing like I was in the St. Petersburg Bell Tower on Christmas day.

  12. #12
    Punk Rock Lives Roughstuff's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by cyclintom
    And that Vodka is MUCH stronger than anything in the US aside from Everclear. You have to be EXTREMELY careful of that stuff. Two shots of it and my head was ringing like I was in the St. Petersburg Bell Tower on Christmas day.

    When I lived in Irkutsk, it was a tradition in Siberia to drink vodka that had the same proof as your latitude! In general be careful of drinking anything you have not, yourself, opened, or seen someone else drink Ok. There have been instances of methyl alcohol being added to some beverages.

    Cyrillic is not hard to learn in a few days; and Russian has its fair share of cognates. The good will you generate as a cyclist will get you real far.

    Perhaps bribery has its role; but to me, the most valuable asset is patience. Russians are not used to providing or receiving high levels of consumer service; you must get used to this. But be patient and pleasant and things get done.

    I got very drunk with the Mayor of Irkutsk while I was on assignment out there. Don't underestimate the diplomatic effects of becoming ****faced with the locals.

    Roughstuff
    Electric car sales are on fire! :)

  13. #13
    Senior Member Alex L's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by bkrownd
    Do they take tourists?
    Why not?
    I want to clarify. The clubs, I was talking about, are not commercial bike travel agencies. They are open for everybody associations.

  14. #14
    Senior Member Alex L's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Roughstuff
    Perhaps bribery has its role; but to me, the most valuable asset is patience. Russians are not used to providing or receiving high levels of consumer service; you must get used to this. But be patient and pleasant and things get done.
    Roughstuff, you are wise Man.

    Quote Originally Posted by Roughstuff
    I got very drunk with the Mayor of Irkutsk while I was on assignment out there. Don't underestimate the diplomatic effects of becoming ****faced with the locals.
    Nostalgia?

  15. #15
    Senior Member Alex L's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ziemas
    You forgot to mention be prepared to be offered vodka or samogon in the countryside. People might be offened if you refuse.
    Ziemas, you are right basically.
    If people are already drunk, their behaviour very often becomes inadequate . In this case, such situation is possible in Russia. I hardly can imagine this in Finland, for example.
    Last edited by Alex L; 04-21-06 at 06:05 AM.

  16. #16
    Bike for Health & Enjoy Denis V.'s Avatar
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    Hello Alexey!!!
    You have started very good thread.

    Russia is good country for travelling !!!
    We invite everybody in Russia.

    If you have question ask us !!!

    Good Luck Friends !!!

  17. #17
    Punk Rock Lives Roughstuff's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Alex L
    Roughstuff, you are wise Man.



    Nostalgia?

    Nostalgia? In some ways yes. I LOVED my Irkutsk assignment. The American sponsors I worked for were so pathetic, I left the program. But i'd go back there in a flash if i had the chance with a different sponsor.

    The story with the mayor gets better. One of my students, Andre, came over for dinner one night, I had been making some chicken soup. This student was kind of a cunning, social climber type guy, and he was dating the mayor's daughter. Well, I don't know what was wrong but they (not me) got intestinal upset from my soup. They joked that I was trying to poison them.

    I don't think Andre dated the mayor's daughter any more.

    Roughstuff
    Electric car sales are on fire! :)

  18. #18
    Formerly Known as Newbie Juha's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Alex L
    If people are already drunk, their behaviour very often becomes inadequate . In this case, such situation is possible in Russia. I hardly can imagine this in Finland, for example.
    Thanks for that, Alex. But I think if a person is drunk, he's drunk regardless of country. Drunk people tend to be unpredictable in their behaviour. We definitely have our share of them, but they are probably not very eager to offer drinks to strangers - alcohol is expensive here .

    --J
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    Who is this General Failure anyway, and why is he reading my drive?


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  19. #19
    Senior Member Ziemas's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Alex L
    Ziemas, you are right basically.
    If people are already drunk, their behaviour very often becomes inadequate . In this case, such situation is possible in Russia. I hardly can imagine this in Finland, for example.
    Also the social element of drinking in Russia. In the States (where the vast majority of posters on this board are) drinking is not as acceptable as it is in Russia, or even Europe for that matter.

  20. #20
    Senior Member Alex L's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ziemas
    Also the social element of drinking in Russia. In the States (where the vast majority of posters on this board are) drinking is not as acceptable as it is in Russia, or even Europe for that matter.
    Take it easy.
    This social problem is not fatal for bike touring in Russia, besides that I do not call everybody to tour here at all. Quite the contrary, I want to warn against possible disillusionment because of difficulties etc. If a man is unable to accept mentally my country "as it is", he should not come here.
    Last edited by Alex L; 04-21-06 at 12:02 PM.

  21. #21
    Senior Member Ziemas's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Alex L
    Take it easy.
    This social problem is not fatal for bike touring in Russia, besides that I do not call everybody to tour here at all. Quite the contrary, I want to warn against possible disillusionment because of difficulties etc. If a man is unable to accept mentally my country "as it is", he should not come here.
    I was just noting a major cultural difference between Russia and America. Nothing more. People need to know something about your country before they can accept it or not....

  22. #22
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    Quote Originally Posted by Denis V.
    Hello Alexey!!!
    You have started very good thread.

    Russia is good country for travelling !!!
    We invite everybody in Russia.

    If you have question ask us !!!

    Good Luck Friends !!!
    Privyet, Denis!
    How is Tula and Yasnaya Polyana? I was there in 1969 - and it was in winter; beautiful, but VERY cold.
    I have very fond memories of the old CCCP and its peoples, as I travelled extensively there over a period of 10 years. I am however surprised that my liver is still in good working order!
    Vsego dobrogo

  23. #23
    Bike for Health & Enjoy Denis V.'s Avatar
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    Alexey !

    Please Check your e-mail or Privite message!!!

  24. #24
    Bike for Health & Enjoy Denis V.'s Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Artmo
    Privyet, Denis!
    How is Tula and Yasnaya Polyana? I was there in 1969 - and it was in winter; beautiful, but VERY cold.
    I have very fond memories of the old CCCP and its peoples, as I travelled extensively there over a period of 10 years. I am however surprised that my liver is still in good working order!
    Vsego dobrogo
    Hello Artmo from Tula !!!
    I'll answer you later. I am preparing to tomorrow competition(We are going to open summer biking season)!

    Будь ЗДОРОВ !!!

  25. #25
    The Site Administrator: Currently at home recovering from a couple of strokes,please contact my assistnt admins for forum issues Tom Stormcrowe's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Alex L
    Take it easy.
    This social problem is not fatal for bike touring in Russia, besides that I do not call everybody to tour here at all. Quite the contrary, I want to warn against possible disillusionment because of difficulties etc. If a man is unable to accept mentally my country "as it is", he should not come here.
    Privìet, Alex! I am interested in touring Russia. I am currently learning Russian to facilitate the tour. This is a, pardon the pun please, 5 year plan! I have the tour planned for a graduation present to myself, and want to take a year and tour Russia and other Federation Republics. Among other places, I want to visit Moscow in Russia proper, Baikonur, in Khazakstan, as well as "Old Russia, "The Golden Ring, cities like Vladimir. Essentially, I want to immerse myself in Russian culture and have a great tour and not be regarded as a "Bloody Tourist"! Suggestions? (By the way, I am willing to take the people and places at face value, warts and all, if you know what I mean!)
    on light duty due to illness; please contact my assistants for forum issues. They are Siu Blue Wind, or CbadRider or the other 3 star folk. I am currently at home recovering from a couple of strokes. I am making good progress, happily.


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