Interview by Peter Hainsworth
What are you doing here?
I moved here in April 2010. My background is in IT, the same as my wife, we both worked for the same company. She came over to the UK office, in 2008, on a training course she was running, and that was how we met. I subsequently applied for a transfer here, but because of the financial climate at the time, they asked us to wait. We waited three months, then another three months, then another three months, they said âcan you wait another three months please?â, and I said ânoâ. I said âWe have put plans into place, if you canât put it into effect now, then Iâm leavingâ. So I left, and came here without a job. Prior to working for that company, I had worked for myself as an independent IT consultant for 13 years and some of that consultancy work involved running training courses, so I had no problems teaching and doing presentations. I did a TEFL course and got involved with a guy here who was setting up a school. We started off in August 2010 – two of us and about 20 students, He was a brilliant teacher but I was the better administrator. He said: âIâll do the teaching, you run the school.â Over the next 15 months the two of us built it up to a school with 7 teachers and over 300 students. We were doing very well, but the school wasnât mine. I was making him a lot of money. I walked away, in October 2011, mainly out of frustration. Weâre still friends. I had proved to myself that I could do this, and running my own school became my long-term plan. In the meantime I have been doing some freelance teaching work, and some IT freelance consultancy work. I also do some voice recording and have done one film recording! Apparently, my voice is normal middle-English, which the Russians like. I have recorded the sound tracks for maybe 40 or 50 different walking tours all over St. Petersburg, Vienna, Moscow, Paris, London and Istanbul. So I have three feathers in my cap at the moment: teaching; IT Consultancy and voice recording!
What bike do you drive, did you ride it here?
My bike is a Yamaha FJR 1300, that model replaced the Yamaha FJ 1200. I saw a review of it in the motorbike press it looked like a beautiful machine. I was a consultant at the time, earning a lot of money, so I just went out and bought one, on the September number plate. Iâve been a member of the FJR Ownersâ Forum ever since. I go to various FJR meetings in the UK, Iâve made a lot of friends through it, this is the longest Iâve had any bike, itâs an amazing machine.
I came here in April 2010, and left my bike in my brotherâs garage. I missed it so much that in September I flew back and rode it here. That took me three days and was a real adventure! I admit that I lost my rag with the border guards. Sometimes you need to show them that you are not prepared to tolerate their nonsense!
Since Iâve been living here Iâve ridden to Volgograd, where my wifeâs parents live. Because my bike is still on British plates it has to leave the country every four months, so last weekend I drove to Ukraine, down the M2 just to be able to cross the border to be able to get a three month visa which can then be extended to 12 months. That was a pleasant weekend. The last three hours coming back on the Sunday was â interesting â because of the weather. There were dreadful thunderstorms, flash flooding, not pleasant to be on a bike, particularly with some of the idiot drivers around who created âbow wavesâ with absolutely no consideration of others. They have a small focus zone, and donât think about other road users. Driving standards here are appalling.
Riding in Russia is an experience, and I think that, in order to improve driving standards, everyone should be forced to ride a motorbike for two years before they are allowed into a car. I think that driving standards would improve dramatically, because their awareness of other road users would be become much better.
Is there a bikers club here you are a part of, or do you communicate with other bikers in some way?
We set up a group on Facebook called MERC â Moscow Expat Ridersâ Club â which now has about 20 members, most of whom I have met. We do try to organise rides out, but weâre not affiliated with any Russian biking group. Occasionally we will meet out at Sparrow Hills, where the big biker groups hang out, but Iâd rather be riding than sitting there talking. Over the last two years, at the end of April, beginning of May, thereâs been the Harley Brothersâ Festival, which has been held at Bor, which is about 35 kilometres South of Moscow. This used to be linked with the government, now it is a private hotel complex. Very Soviet, but very nice.Harley Davidson is very big over here because Russians like anything American. Personally, Iâd rather have a bike that works!
Apart from all that, there is a kind of fraternity amongst bikers. When youâre riding and you see another biker, you always acknowledge him or her. If you see another biker stuck by the side of the road, you invariably stop to offer assistance.
So Yamahas are reliable?
Very. There are various categories of bikes. Most of the Harleys that you see here are whatâs classed as cruisers. They make a lot of noise, people hear them, thereâs a lot of chrome to be polished. Itâs the classic 50s, 60s style bike. Russians are very image-conscious; they like to be seen with their bikes. Mine is classed as a sports-tourer, a sports bike with touring capabilities, with panniers on it. Itâs got decent seats for long distance riding, so I prefer mine, the best bike Iâve ever owned.
What does the wife think of it?
She loves it. She was very nervous when I told her about my biking life, back in 2008. She told me a story about when she was 10, and her father bought her a push bike. She had this beautiful bike but she cried, because she was scared. So I said, fine, weâll go for one ride. I wonât drive quickly, if you like it thatâs fine, if you donât, thatâs also fine. I will never force you to go on a bike again. So we rode from Wokingham, where I lived at the time to Ascot. I stopped once on the way, and she said this it is fantastic. Sheâs never looked back. The next FJR event is being held in Llangollen, in North Wales, in August this year, and we are riding together, on the bike, all the way back to the UK. I will take it more slowly, weâll take three or four days to get there.
As the driving conditions permit. A lot of the roads in Russia are of very poor quality, with potholes and everything else. I cruise at 120, 130 km an hour if Iâm with somebody.
And if youâre not with somebody?
A little bit quicker. I cruise on my own at 100mph plus, when out of built up areas. You donât get to my age and be a biker if you donât drive carefully. I donât take risks.
So it is the feeling of independence that you get out on the open road?
Yes, I love the feeling of freedom, the ability to be able to filter through traffic jams and everything else. In Russia you are shown some courtesy, but there are some drivers who resent the fact that you can avoid their traffic jam. You can see when a driver has seen you in his mirror and has moved one way or the other to block your way. One advantage that people on Harleyâs have is that their bikes make a lot of noise. So they will rip the throttle to let people know they are there. My bike is like a Rolls Royce. Revving the engine doesnât do any good.
I donât suffer fools gladly. I think Iâm better being my own boss, I do like the independence. I get very frustrated, very quickly, with bureaucracy, which is a problem living in Russia. I wouldnât like to drive a car in Moscow. I think the metro is unbelievably good. The efficiency of the system, the frequency of the trains, the fact that they run from 5.30am to 1am in the morning, itâs a brilliant system, nevertheless, if you use it between 7.30am and 9.30am you can be physically in contact with about 5 or 6 other people simultaneously, because they are so closely packed in around you. Walking down the street, youâre walking round cars which are either double parked or parked on the pavement. Now they are introducing a parking charge system, and you can usually tell a street that has this system because there are no cars parked there. Itâs just moving the problem. I donât think that itâs solving the problem. I donât know what the answer is, maybe working from home.
What about the traffic police here, how do you handle them?
Iâve been stopped by the police 4 times in just over 2 years. The first time I was stopped was 2 or 3 days after I brought my bike in to Russia, and I committed a cardinal sin of crossing a double white line. The policeman signaled me to stop and pulled me in. I phoned my wife and she acted as an interpreter, and, shall we say, we managed to âresolveâ the situation. I was then pulled up three months later, it was a random check, they wanted to see paperwork, documents. I pulled the lot out, he could see that they were foreign. He didnât even bother to look at the number plate at the back of the bike, or translate the documents. The other two times was within 20 minutes of each other at the beginning of this season. I think the police had been given instructions to check all motorbikes because it was the start of the season. On the first occasion I was asked where I was from, I said England. He said ah, Manchester United, go! Twenty minutes later, the same thing happened. I think they realise that English people have their documents in order, so really Iâve had no problems with the police.
What about speeding, donât you get stopped for that now they have all those cameras everywhere?
The cameras are forward facing and bike number pates are on the back, fortunately. I always have a little heart flutter when I cross the border because Iâve been told that if there are any unpaid fines, they wonât let you out of the country. Theyâve not tracked me down yet, must be because I keep within the speed limit (laughs).
A coffee making machine started created continuous scraping sounds making further meaningful conversation difficult.
If you are an expat biker, Pete can be found on his facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/groups/213109478802386/