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27 Sep, 2010 13:50

Daredevil cyclists vie with cars on Moscow roads

A new craze is gathering speed on the streets of Moscow, and it is difficult to stop. The extreme activity is akin to cycling, but goes much further, as the bikes do not have any brakes in the ordinary sense.

Moscow is known for extremes like the 70-degree difference between summer and winter. There is also the extremely warm hospitality of friends. And then there is the extreme sport known as driving.

But some Muscovites have taken things a step further and decided to cycle on the city's streets with no brakes.

“I stop only when I block the rear wheel and slide on the tire. I block the pedals with the force of my legs and put my weight at the front of the bike. It’s not instant, but I can control my stopping that way. It’s like ABS in a car,” says cyclist Mikhail Rashkovsky.

These thrill-seekers use fixed gear bikes, which have only one gear and the pedals are always in motion when a bike is moving. So there is no free-wheeling either. The tires must be replaced every three weeks from all the skidding. But with only bare essentials the vehicle weighs just six kilograms, making it much faster than normal bikes.

The riders regularly reach 70km per hour in central Moscow. Scary for some, but that is the attraction for them. They say their aim when riding these bikes is not to stop even at red lights.

”It’s a type of extreme sport because you only have a certain gear and you have to be in full control… and the speed, of course. It’s such a thrill weaving in and out of the traffic, trying not to stop. It’s a sort of addiction too. Once you start, it’s hard to stop,” explains cyclist Sergey Kuchmey.

But it is an expensive hobby. The top frames can cost as much as US$10,000 and that does not include the rest of the parts that Russian cyclists have to buy in Europe, where the bikes are common.

Taking the road laws into their own hands surprisingly does not bother the police. The cyclists say it is because the cops simply do not care about them. A good dodge for the riders, but their daredevil antics do not always dodge the cars.

”A car decided to turn right in front of me without indicating. I smashed into the right wing and fell on the bonnet. Then I fell on the road, and my bike’s fork was broken and the frame bent. I didn’t break anything, just scraped my skin. I had to throw my bike away though, as it was no longer usable,” recalls cyclist Ivan Khrunichev, adding: “These things wouldn’t happen if people followed traffic rules.”

These men ride the gauntlet in Moscow but still do not even wear helmets. A risk they say is worth taking.