Is it safe in Russia?

Is it safe to travel in Russia by motorcycle for foreigners? This question is sometimes asked by our clients. The most straightforward answer is “definitely YES, there is no risk/problem to go to Russia with motorcycle”, but such answer doesn’t show all the aspects, that we think you must know before going to Russia. Let’s study this case and you will understand what we mean.

What is safety in general for most motorcyclists?

  1. Clear and predictable driving manners of local people
  2. Good quality of roads (you are not afraid of getting in a bomb hole)
  3. Good attitude to foreigners among local population (people are not aggressive)
  4. Low level of criminal and corruption (no need to pay bribes to police, no risk to walk in the evening or leave bike at the street)
  5. No language barrier, availability of Wi-Fi, possibility to pay with credit cards, etc.

If we try to answer these questions in terms of "Yes, it’s true" / "No, most probably that's not true", answers will look like No, No, Yes, Yes and Yes/No. How we got these answers and is it safe to travel in Russia we discuss in the article below.

 

1. Driving manners or local people in Russia

In the world, especially in Germany and Netherlands, at various motorcycle shows we are often asked by local people, “is it safe to go to Russia with a motorcycle, your drivers ride like crazy, in the Youtube we saw many videos with car accidents in Russia”. When we first faced this issue we were stunned for some time. But then, after we examined this case, it all got clear.

Short answer to the mentioned above question is yes, riding in Russia is more risky (according to statistics two times more risky) that in Europe. But it’s the same level of risk as riding in USA or China. And it’s less (one and a half times) risky than travelling in Africa. And two times less risky than travelling with a bike is Asia countries (Thailand, India, Vietnam, etc.).

So it’s up to you to set your level of risk and according to this level choice countries that you think you can go without much risk. Risk in Russia is approx. the same as in the USA.

Some statistics (thanks to Wikipedia) to support all said above.

Road fatalities per 100 000 inhabitants per year, 2016

Russia

Europe

USA

China

Africa

Asia

18,9

9,3

15,9

18,8

26,6

33

 

If you will browse internet you will find that in the USA it’s the highest crash death rate, not in Russia

http://edition.cnn.com/2016/07/07/health/us-highest-crash-death-rate/

https://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2016-07-06/the-us-is-a-world-leader-in-car-crash-deaths

 

One more interesting chart shows us dynamic of the car accidents with fatalities in Russia and in the USA.

 

RUSSIA

USA

Year

Total car accidents

Deaths

Deaths

2007

233 809

33 308

41 259

2008

218 322

29 936

37 423

2009 

203 603

26 084

33 883

2010

199 431

26 567

32 999

2011

199 868

27 953

32 479

2012

203 597

27 991

33 561

2013

204 068

27 025

32 719

2014

199 720

26 963

32 675

2015

184 000

23 114

35 092

2016

173 700

20 308

32 000

 

Numbers are decreasing in both countries. They are still very high, but situation is definitely changing in the right direction. Roads are becoming more and more safely, both in Russia and in the USA.

 

Why road fatalities are so low in Europe?

We think that because of small (relatively) territories, short distances and large population. Small cars and low speed limits are popular in Europe. On the opposite, in the USA and Russia territories are huge, people ride long distances and they do it not 50 km/h. So if there is a car accident there is high probability it will be severe.

And yes, we think drivers in Europe are more disciplined and polite, than in other countries. Statistics says that Europe is one of the safest places to ride!

Why there are so many videos in Youtube with car accidents in Russia?

The main reason is that car video cameras are prohibited in most counties, but not in Russia. In our country they are allowed and furthermore they are popular among people. These cameras are always working and sometimes they catch car accidents, which are being after released in Youtube. There are the same videos from other counties as well. There are almost no videos from Europe as cameras are prohibited there.

Otherwise it would be approx. the same number of compilations from Europe.

 

2. Quality of roads

There is widely distributed perception, that roads in Russia are bad. Well, partly it’s true, but only partly. Many existing roads in last 10 years were reconstructed, many news roads were built (by the way that is one of the reasons why we started doing motorcycle tours and bike rentals) and today travelling over Russia by motorcycle is a reality, not a nightmare.

To tell you the truth situation started changing in 2010-2012. It was 3-4 years as the world faced with 2008 crisis, prices for oil and other commodities were still low and Russia government decided to develop something else, except Oil, Gas, Metals and Chemicals production.

Tourism was one of the most obvious industries. Strategy plan was created and travel infrastructure (roads, hotels, petrol stations, café and restaurants) was one of the keystones in this document. And starting from 2012 after finalizing this document work began.

As of today all main highways were reconstructed and now you can go from Moscow to Saint-Petersburg, Murmansk, Kazan, Volgograd, Astrakhan, Sochi and even Vladivostok by any bike. Roads are good. What is more important many secondary roads were rebuilt (there is no fun to ride highways).

What we said before doesn’t mean that all roads in Russia are good today. What we want to communicate is that there are good roads today!

Are there holes in asphalt?  Yes, sometimes you can see holes even on highways, so always be careful and concentrated. And if you are adventure rider looking for new non-touristic places, roads and destinations then be ready to ride at least sometimes broken asphalt and unpaved roads. And it’s better to do with something like BMW GS, Honda Africa or KTM Adventure

 

3. Attitude to foreigners among local population

Well, that’s the easiest point. Just look at Horizons Unlimited or Adv Rider web sites for reports about travelling to Russia from people all around the world and you will see that except custom/border officers and government in general regular people in Russia are very friendly, helpful and have very good attitude to foreigners.

Motorcyclists and car drivers will always help you in case of any problems.

The only thing we want to be aware is that there are pocket thieves in the crowd places like in all other cities, so keep your wallet in secured place.

4. Level of criminal and corruption (no need to pay bribes to police, no risk to walk in the evening or leave bike at the street)

High level of criminal was in Russia in the 90th when the USSR fell and there was no police for some time. Today situation is much better. Moscow, Saint-Petersburg and other cities are usual European cities with cafes, restaurants, night clubs, beautiful girls in the streets, lots of entertainments and tourists (many from China!).

Police is very friendly to motorcyclists in general and if you follow the law they will never stop you. Even if they stop you attitude to foreign bikes is good, so don’t be afraid. Last year we travelled more than 50 km and we just once were stopped by police. In modern Russia video cameras are becoming more and more common means of driving rules control. They fix speed and many other parameters.

In the city center you can easily walk in the evening without any risk of being robbed. Still follow usual safety rules – do not drink with the unknown people, do not take any presents for free, be polite and respect local traditions, if you leave in the suburbs it’s better to be in the hotel at 10 pm or take a taxi to the hotel. In big cities (Moscow, Saint-Petersburg) several years ago special tourism police was created with the main task to help foreign tourists in case of any problems with street retail, currency exchange, any harassment or law violation.

Regarding bike – general rule is that for night it must be parked at the private/security parking. This rules works actually all over the world, not only in Russia.

5. Language barrier, availability of Wi-Fi, possibility to pay with credit cards, etc.

Language barrier is one of the main difficulties for foreign travelers in Russia. In big cities you can find people on the street with the knowledge of English language and in all restaurants, cafes and hotels there is English-speaking staff. Streets and roads signs are written in both Russian and English language. But when you leave these cities you turn out to be alone. There is no easy solution for this point and that is one of the reasons why we offer guided tours mostly.

What we can advise is plan in advance as much as possible. Look for addresses, upload latest navigation maps, buy paper maps, find Russian motorcyclists and ask for advice/help with your trip planning. Travel with us in guided tours…))

Still if you need help look for people of younger generation of 25-40 years old. In Moscow or St Petersburg there are more English speaking people than for example in the Far East but even there you will find help. There are motor services which help foreign tourists in Moscow, there is a Call Center helping motor travelers from different countries (http://selipoehal.ru/pomoshch-mototuristam/). There is a special forum thread of help to foreigners on BMW forum. And of course we can help you if something goes wrong.

Regarding Wi-Fi – it is widely available in Russia and as usual not limited by 30-60 minutes free time. It’s just free (but still not always, for example Moscow metro/underground recently made it for money, although before it was free).

Credit cards are widely accepted (Crimea is the only exception). In all cities in the cafes/restaurants, at hotels and in supermarkets you can pay with card. Also there are a lot of ATMs everywhere, so you can always take cash. We have recently visited Netherlands and were shocked to learn that we can’t pay with our Visa and MasterCard cards in restaurant and supermarkets. Local Maestro cards are accepted, but we don’t have local cards.

Also Uber and GetTaxi are popular in Russia. It is a comfortable and cheap way of getting around the city.

If you want to see Russia we are glad to offer you bike rent and guided motorcycle tours. There are classic 9-14 days tours to Moscow - Saint-Petersburg, Karelia, Volgograd, Sochi and many other places. There are more challenging destinations like the Trans-Siberian Tour from Moscow to Vladivostok. Please see more information

Moscow - Saint-Petersburg - Karelia https://rusmototravel.com/tours/moscow-saint-petersburg-karelia-one-best...

Crimea - Moscow https://rusmototravel.com/tours/one-way-tour-crimea-moscow-black-sea-red...

Moscow - Saint-Petersburg https://rusmototravel.com/tours/moscow-saint-petersburg-never-ending-cla...

Trans-Siberian Tour, Moscow - Vladivostok https://rusmototravel.com/tours/trans-siberian-tour-motorcycles-10000-km...

Return tour Vladivostok - Moscow https://rusmototravel.com/tours/vladivostok-moscow-return-trip-over-tran...