Minsk bicycle infrastructure for an IT expat
After the decree "On the development of the digital economy" was adopted, the Belarusian High-Tech Park began to grow actively with new companies, and existing residents were even more willing to invite specialists from abroad. A significant part of those invited is residents of the countries of the former USSR, for whom, despite the common past, some of the features of traveling around Minsk by bicycle may come as a surprise. If you are thinking about moving to Belarus or already in this process and want to use your bike as a transport, this material may be useful to you.
The biggest surprise for a beginner may be a ban on cycling on the roadway. Yes, in Belarus you can ride a bike only on a bicycle or foot path. You can only go along the road when it is impossible to move along the sidewalk and bike path, whatever that means, according to the drafters of the Rules.
At the end of 2019, it is planned to adopt a new version of the SDA , where, in theory, they can be allowed to ride on some roads. But so far this is only a bill, and in what form it will be adopted, it is difficult to say. Therefore, keep in mind: for driving on the roadway you can be easily and quite legally fined from ~ 12 to ~ 36USD equivalent. Naturally, it is not accepted to negotiate with the traffic police and is much more dangerous for a wallet than a usual fine.
Another feature is that it is also impossible to cross a bicycle at a pedestrian crossing if there is no special sign. That is, according to the usual "zebra", the cyclist must walk and drive the bike nearby. Fortunately, there are more and more places where you don’t need to get off the bike, and if amendments to the traffic rules are adopted, you will only have to dismount at unregulated pedestrian crossings.
In the past few years, new bicycle paths on the sidewalks have been actively appearing in Minsk. They are simply painted with paint, as a rule, from the side of the roadway and indicated by road markings and signs.
In places where bike paths are interrupted, the curb stones are usually underestimated, so you don’t have to buy any special bike to “jump on the curbs” - a regular city or hybrid with a rigid fork will do.
Do not choose single-speed bicycles if you are not confident in your abilities - the difference in terrain in Minsk is more than 100 meters. The central part of the city is in a lowland, so returning to "sleeping bags" without a reserve of 3-5 gears can be uncomfortable.
In 2009, a central cycle path of 27 km was opened in the city. It passes through the whole of Minsk from the northwest to the southeast along the Svisloch River. It is convenient to move along the bike path in the central part of the city or drive onto it from the outskirts to get to the center, minimally distracting by pedestrians and traffic lights.
Not very convenient is that many bike paths that are simply marked on the sidewalk are tiled. It would be more comfortable and faster to ride on smooth asphalt, but this can probably be explained by the lack of a budget for laying separate tracks, and not by the conscious decision of the designers.
There is no modern bike rental in Minsk. There are seasonal rental points for sports equipment, but the appearance of bicycle sharing services, which are used to by residents of European cities, is not yet expected in the city.
Stationary indoor bike parking is also rare. Sometimes some advanced developer or residents themselves can raise money and build a parking lot, but for now this is more likely the exception. Most bicycles are stored either in apartments or in the entrances of houses.
In most cases, there will be no problems with pedestrians and motorists along the way. People are gradually getting used to the fact that more and more cyclists are appearing in the city every year, therefore exits to the bike path or not passing a car at the transition are quite rare. Elderly people or ladies with wheelchairs can go along the bike path, but this is rare, and most often it is enough to signal to get a person off the track. The younger generation and those who have been living in Minsk for some time know about the rules of behavior, and usually there are no problems.
In the photo: people walk along the side for pedestrians
There is no particular attitude or neglect of cyclists, few will judge a person’s wealth or social status by the fact that he comes to work by bicycle. For example, in Belarusian villages, cycling is often the main form of transport, so your ride on bicycles will most likely not cause surprise.
Compared to large European cities, Minsk is a safe city and bicycles are rarely stolen here. According to a rough estimate, there are now 400 thousand bicycles in Minsk, and thefts are registered about 400-600 per year. Bicycle parking in one form or another is quite common, but usually these are the cheapest designs with a front wheel mount.
Most owners fasten their bikes with inexpensive cable locks, so if you use a chain or lock, the chance that your bike is stolen is minimal, unless the thief hunts for yours.
As an additional measure of protection, the bike can be insured. In Minsk, two companies offer such services, on average it will cost 6-10% per year of the cost of a bicycle.
Service and Parts
Not everything is good with it in Minsk yet - mostly the cheapest components of Chinese, Russian, and sometimes Taiwanese manufacturers are sold in stores. The assortment is small due to the fact that the supplier of many sellers is the same. Ordering spare parts and accessories by mail is also not always profitable and convenient due to the low limit on duty-free import of international parcels - in order not to pay a duty of 30% of the cost, the goods in the parcel should not be valued above 22 euros.
Bicycle services exist, as a rule, at bicycle shops or in garages, but do not count on their high quality. Serving and setting up a rare / expensive bike can also be problematic, including due to the lack of spare parts.
As a transport, not to mention fitness or entertainment, it is quite comfortable to use a bicycle in Minsk - there are more cyclists, and after that the infrastructure is developing. The climate allows you to easily use a bicycle from April to November, but some cyclists also ride all year round.
In general, if you like bicycle, Minsk will become a friendly city for you.
UPD: text - the opinion of a person who has been living in Minsk for 37 years and uses a bicycle as the main mode of transport.