Tuesday, June 26, 2012


As soon as the warm weather hit, out came the bicycles.  I don't mean that Kazakhs took to biking the way the Dutch do; I mean, my co-workers and the students at my school took to biking.  It seemed like everyone at the school, the principal included, had a bike, and Sophia and I were still walking.  We had yet to fix her bike.

On the way home from school one day, we stopped by the Mega mall that's on the way.  A new sports store, Sportsmaster, had just opened, and we went inside.  There we ran into two other teachers, one who was buying a bicycle, and one who speaks Russian and was helping.  So we had the Russian-speaker help me too, and I bought Sophia a bike.  It was the cheapest one there, 20,000 Tenge (about $133), and small even though they claimed it was a grown-up bike.  But this in-between size was perfect for Sophia.  It doesn't have hand brakes or gears, but again, this isn't a problem for a 9-year old.

We bought it and are thus far quite happy with the purchase.  We've biked to school just about every day since.  I donated her old bike to science--eg, I let the upper-grades science teachers use it for demonstrations and parts.  (I didn't quite feel comfortable selling something that may or may not be fixable.)

My bike, which I bought at the bazaar earlier this year, has so far proved to be okay. It hasn't broken yet.  The teacher who bought her bike at Sportsmaster the same time as Sophia, her bike already broke.  Some part that apparently isn't supposed to break on new bikes.  The store fixed it--but only once she went somewhere else and bought the piece they needed.  Not a good sign of quality of materials or service for this new store!!  (Which, by the way, is a chain, I've been to it before, near Artyom, and there are many of these stories in Russia.)

We have biked to church a few times, and I was quite disappointed to find out how long that takes.  It takes up to one hour by bus, because the buses that go to church run so infrequently, and you have to walk to the bus stop and then wait.  It takes about 5 minutes by car.  It takes 40 minutes by bike.  Such a difference!  This city is not at all bike-friendly.  The roads are fierce and dangerous, so we do not bike on the roads.  We bike on sidewalks, maneuvering around people, and going up and down so many steep curbs.  At one point we have to go down the equivalent of two flights of steps.

Luckily, about half of the ride to church is filled with these kinds of obstacles; the other half is idyllic. We bike across the "rainbow" bridge over the river, with the sun shining upon us.  We bike through lovely parks.  Part of the ride is quite pleasant.

Wherever we go, we lock our bikes.  (Except for school, since the school is gated and the bikes are safe.)  I take care to lock both the back and front tires, to lock the tires to the frames.  I even bought a U-lock though I haven't used it yet.  Everywhere we go, I notice that I lock our bikes much more securely than anybody else!  This city is not quite a cycling city, and so bike theft doesn't seem to be very strong here.

I look forward to the day this city is more bike-friendly.  With a mostly flat terrain and good weather for 50% of the year, as well as a not-wealthy population needing inexpensive transportation, this city is a perfect place to become a bike haven.  Though maybe that's just my wishful thinking.

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