What characteristic unites Russian businessmen in suits sporting expensive backpacks, active babushki, children in Victory Day parades, and hip baristas in the favorite bookstore of the St. Petersburg youth? Scooters.
Scooters have become a cross-generational, serious means of transport for urban Russians in the past few years. In 2011 the Moscow-based group “Let’s Kick!” was founded to form a community of scooter riders; their VKontakte group currently has nearly 6,000 members. Scooters really started to become common in Moscow around 2015, mostly among professionals in their 20’s, and continues to spread from there, both geographically and among the population.
The latest development is kicksharing, or scooter rental, usually through an app. Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin declared the inaugural 2018 season successful, with a total of 140,000 rides. Many providers are expanding services this year. For example, Samocat Sharing has 15 stations in Moscow, but will kick that up to 100 this year. Kicksharing can now even be found outside major cities, in places like Omsk and Sochi.
Although the trend is likely due to worldwide popularity – 2018 was named “the year of the scooter” – scooters have a respectable history in Russia. In the Soviet period, they were a popular toy for children. Before factory-made ones became widely available, as several bloggers remember, practically all children had do-it-yourself versions made of planks of wood and rings of metal.
In 1973 a Soviet engineer published an article proposing an adult model that would quickly and effortlessly transport heavy loads, but it was never mass produced. That engineer was 40 years ahead of his time. Nowadays, children still enjoy playing on scooters, but adults also find them very practical. For example, Adel Mavzyutova, a 20-year-old student in St. Petersburg, said she especially likes riding her scooter to the grocery store, so that she can hang the food bags on the handles.
Compactness is one of the biggest advantages of scooters for urban Russians. While a bike might make sense at the dacha, the apartments in which 66% of Russians live don’t have a lot of extra space. Indeed, 67% of scooter purchasers choose the even more compact, folding models.
Mavzyutova also mentioned that she prefers scooters because she feels safer on the sidewalks than in the streets. Currently, scooter riders in Russia are considered pedestrians, unlike bikers. In Perm, for example, bikers were forbidden last month from cruising along a riverbank, but not scooter riders. However, this issue is being studied by the Scientific Center of Traffic Safety of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, and the results should be available by the end of the year, which could lead to legal changes.
The popularity of scooters is somewhat surprising in Russia. Roads leave much to be desired, according to the centuries-old saying “В России две беды: дураки и дороги” (In Russia there are two misfortunes: fools and roads). Additionally, as everyone knows, Russia is a pretty cold and snowy place, which keeps scooter-riding strictly contained to the summer season. However, these kinds of barriers aren’t stopping a people adaptable enough to nail together their own scooters out of wood, and there is every indication that Russians will continue to get a kick out of scooters for years to come.
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