Motorcycling Adventures in Mother Russia
Whatever you hope to experience in your travels, chances are, Russia has what you’re looking for. If it’s epic riding you’re after, Russia has it in spades. It is the world’s largest country after all!
Russia’s rambling routes through rolling countryside, stately forests, medieval townships and fairytale villages are still largely under the global motorcycle community’s radar.
The truth is, if you haven’t considered Russia for your next riding adventure, you’re missing out on something special.
As one the few foreign riders to explore this land of legends, the splendour of Mother Russia becomes all the more real.
Motorcycle tour outfit MotoDreamer’s vision is to encourage motorcycle tourers to ride the roads less travelled.
This venture, will take you on an eye-opening journey that’s exhilarating and enlightening in equal measure.
Riding in Russia – What’s It Like?
Russia is an incredible biking destination. It has the world’s fourth most extensive road network, covering a total of 1.28 million kilometres. At last count, at the end of 2012, there were 927,721km of paved roads, and another 355,666km of unpaved roads criss-crossing the country.
Of course, these roads don’t even come close to covering the bulk of Russia’s 17.1 million-kilometre land area. Vast tracts of impenetrable wilderness, from the far Siberian Arctic to the volcanic wastelands of Kamchatka, remain completely inaccessible by road.
Russia’s most remote regions are the realm of hardcore off-road warriors. Think Ewan McGregor and Charlie Boorman’s battle with the infamous Road of Bones in the far eastern regions of Yakutia and Magadan.
Not all of Russia is even close to being this extreme! Stick a little closer to civilisation, and there’s plenty of great riding to enjoy, without all the boulder-slides and dilapidated nightmare bridges.
Only a couple of hours outside of central Moscow, the traffic dissipates, and the hazed of exhaust fume over the highways is replaced by clean air, few people and beautifully quiet, rural roads for hours, even days.
Riding in the Cities (aka Gridlock Central)
Moscow is notorious for its endless traffic jams. How bad exactly? Moscow consistently ranks as the worst city in Europe for traffic.
As a megacity of 12 million people with a stubbornly car-centric culture, paralysing congestion is one of the most excruciating thorns in the city’s side.
Despite its comparatively modest population of 5 million, St Petersburg still ranks in the top 10 most congested European cities.
Needless to say, city riding requires all senses on high alert and unwavering concertation. The size of the city is a source of confusion in itself, combined with, angry, frustrated motorists and a population of local bikers whose manoeuvres suggest the potential for carnage is secondary to getting ahead of the pack.
Our advice for surviving Moscow’s traffic mayhem?
- Avoid rush hour if can (Moscow has the world’s longest rush hour, somewhere between 6:30am and 10am, and 5pm and 8pm)
- Stay calm, but be confident, assertive and always on-guard alert – expect drivers to completely fail to acknowledge your existence
- Road rules are broken without thinking, and road manners are completely unheard off – traffic brings out the worst in people!
- Have an escape route mapped out – use secondary roads where possible and get out of Moscow ASAP
The Rest of Russia
Luckily, once you’re outside the city centre, those seemingly endless lines peter out rapidly. Even on main roads, traffic is usually fairly light.
Multi-lane highways connect Moscow and St Petersburg to other population centres. For riders, skip the highways when you can and instead explore the endless rural backroads, winding their way past quiet countryside, meadows, forests, lakes and rivers.
Road conditions vary immensely, from pristine to atrocious.
Expect a rough ride at times, even on sealed roads, which are frequently eroded and riddled with ruts, cracks, rocks, puddles and potholes. In the last few years, many of the major highways have been upgraded, but every year, after winter, the potholes rapidly rear their heads again.
Whenever a smooth stretch of road presents itself, there’s a tendency for many cars and trucks to believe they’ve suddenly been transported to a runway and will take off at lightspeed. The highway speed limit is 110km, but this is often ignored, despite the presence of speed traps.
“Unpredictable” is the best way to describe Russian motorists. If they’re speeding or erratic, give them a wide berth. The prevalence of dangerous driving is the main reason Russia is best left to the inexperienced rider.
If you can handle the sometimes challenging conditions, riding through rural Russia is a magical experience. As you cruise along curving country roads, shaded by stands of birch and pine, the scenery is intoxicating – rolling green hills, wooden farmhouses and 15th century villages with domed cathedrals and elaborate Imperial mansions.
Russia offers not only fantastic riding but fascinating Tsarist, wartime and modern history, and an absorbing cultural deep-dive unlike anywhere else on earth.
Why is Russia Still an up-and-coming Moto Travel Destination?
For the uninitiated, the logistics of riding in Russia can be a little overwhelming.
It’s only in the last few decades that Russia has really opened up to foreign travellers, and outside Moscow and St Petersburg, tourist infrastructure is still developing. The quality of tourist services like hotels, restaurants, tours and tour guides can be hit-or-miss, and finding useful travel information (especially for riders) isn’t always easy.
Tourists are permitted to rent vehicles, including motorcycles in Russia. However, many local rental agencies have little experience with foreign clients, so if you don’t speak Russian, complex tasks like hiring a vehicle can be pretty problematic.
While Russians are friendly and renowned for their hospitality towards guests, the language barrier can be a challenge, what with getting lost, finding fuel, potential breakdowns and indecipherable road signs to contend with.
Introducing MotoDreamer: A 10-Day Guided Tour Through the Heart of Russia
The 10-day loop, beginning and ending in Moscow with include six full days of riding plus guided sightseeing days in Moscow and St Petersburg.
You’ll meet your professional, bilingual tour leader in Moscow, where your choice of one of MotoDreamer’s as-new 750cc and 850cc touring bikes will be waiting for you. As with all MotoDreamer Tours, you’ll be tailed by a support vehicle in case of any mishaps.
Riding north out of Moscow is like journeying through time.
Moscow to Tver (Day 3)
The first day’s ride will stick to predominantly secondary rural roads, immersing you in the fantasy atmosphere of a bygone era. Moscow’s rampant commercialisation seems a world away here, where Old Russia lives on in the scattering of storybook cottages and tiny churches between the 431km scenic route to Tver.
An elegant town on the Volga River, considered one of Russia’s heritage ‘Golden Ring’ cities, Tver can trace its history back to the 12th century. The beautiful baroque Catherine’s Convent is a testament to Catherine the Great’s fondness for this peaceful riverside sanctuary.
Tver to Valday to Novgorod (Day 4)
The ride from Tver to St Petersburg is an equally scenic two-day affair. Tracking north-west away from the more populated Volga River region, the roads feel far more remote and the wilderness increasingly take over. There are even a few stretches of sand and gravel to have a bit of skid-and-slide fun with. Soak in the sublime sights around you – highlights such as Seliger’s sapphire blue lakes and Valday National Park’s rugged glacial landforms.
The last stop before St Petersburg is Novgorod, one of the oldest cities in Russia, with a 900-year old Kremlin beside the banks of the Volkhov River.
Sightseeing St Petersburg (Day 6)
As one of the most beautiful cities on earth, it made perfect sense to break up the ride with a full day’s city sightseeing in this living art gallery of a city. We’re sure you don’t need us to sing St Petersburg’s praises – but if all that riding has got you in the mood to relax, wine, dine and be pampered, St Petersburg is as good as it gets.
St Petersburg to Pechory (Day 7) to Derbovezh (Day 8)
After living it up in St Petersburg, your final three riding days will take you back through the old country. We’ll overnight in a homestay in Pechory, famed for the network of burial caves beneath its c1473 monastery. Sample home-cooked Russian soul food and brave an invigorating banya (a traditional Russian sauna that involves being whipped naked with a bundle of birch twigs).
The festive, lakeside resort town of Derbovezh is the final stop before the 375km back to Moscow on a mix of narrow backroads and speedy expressways.
Why Russia Should be on Every Rider’s Radar
Russia is a land of countless contrasts, thousands of years of world-shaping history, hundreds of unique ethnic groups and a staggering variety of natural environments.
MotoDreamer’s 10 Day motorcycle tour may only offer the tiniest glimpse into what makes Russia Russia, but it’s been specially mapped out to show you as many sides of the country as possible in a short length of time.
With the added freedom of touring on two wheels, you’ll soon leave the tourist trail far behind in search of whatever the Real Russia is to you.
Written by: Fiona Davies (extreme pillion rider and adventure travel writer)