Do you get our Monday morning newsletter? Sometimes, I just like to write a little commentary instead of the summation of the previous and upcoming weeks, and today I wrote these thoughts about my trip last week to Kazakhstan. I was there on non-CMG business, but that doesn’t mean I’m not always thinking about motorcycles.
If you’d like to receive the newsletter in your inbox every Monday morning, go ahead and tick the box in the top-left corner of this page or the Home Page. Go on – you know you want to… – Ed.
It’s a funny old world. I left last weekend’s Fundy Rally to spend the rest of the week in Kazakhstan, as one does, and yesterday I went around the country’s capital in search of motorcycles. Didn’t find any. No Urals or Cossacks or CZs or – well, are there any others? It doesn’t really matter. There weren’t any to be seen.
Eventually, I found a KTM dealer, but the store was so new it didn’t have any product. It was also closed, but it was late in the day because I’d been searching everywhere else first. My Uber driver, Paul, had been Googling and could only find phone numbers, not addresses, and nobody was answering the phone.
“They’re not so popular,” he told me. “Astana is a cold city, and there are only maybe four months of the year when they can be ridden. Why would you have one?”
I can think of many reasons. Plus, it was a lovely day in the mid-20s C, unseasonably warm for a city where the river usually freezes over by December. And it was a weekend. Astana is very similar to Winnipeg in climate, with flat surrounding land that doesn’t slow the wind, and temperatures that can often dip to 40-below. You can bet Winnipeg Willy won’t be putting away his new Harley just yet.
Astana, however, is a new, planned city in the middle of the steppe and there really aren’t too many places around for road trips. Motorcycles are definitely an expensive luxury, so I can understand why they’re not a priority. But there are some bikes. “If you want to see them, you must go out at midnight,” said Paul. “Here, they’re all … what’s the word? Hooligans. Yes, they’re all hooligans. Not good.”
He was right, too. I went out at midnight and didn’t see any motorcycles, but I did hear them, revving and racing in the darkness. They sounded like Japanese sportbikes and they’re just playthings for rich people in Astana.
What a reputation. I’ve never thought of bikes as being particularly respectable, but they are in Canada compared to central Asia and Russia. I like it that way, too – being able to hold my head high and tell anybody that I ride a motorcycle, not whisper it furtively as if it’s only an illicit, two-wheeled drug. Bikes can be expensive in Canada, but at least most of us can probably afford one somehow if we really want one, even if it’s not that new and fancy. I don’t ever want to live in a city where I only bring my bike out at night.
Like I said, funny old world. I’m glad I live in this part of it.
Good points Adam – I found traffic during the day was well-behaved and well-policed, though. It was at night that everything became more of a squeeze. Another driver of a taxi I was in pushed his way past another car in the same lane, as if we were in China, which is just next door.
This is very much the case in Astana – bikes are very rare as are seen as toys more than anything else, and people don’t like to be inconvenienced by things like poor weather or winter storage for their toys.
It’s somewhat better in Almaty though – more people actually treat bikes as transport. The weather is marginally better (somewhat similar to Toronto but less humid), and there are some nice riding roads and trails, especially if you don’t mind going off-road.
One of the big things that turn “normal” people off bikes there though are poor driving standards. Though not as bad and chaotic as, say, India, local drivers are still rather aggressive. I feel mostly at ease riding here in Canada, but I would probably stick to the added safety of the car over there for the most part.