Aside from groceries, the first thing I wanted to buy in Astana was a bike. I knew it would make me feel more like myself than anything else could. Cycling has been my main mode of transportation for the last five years and I do long-distance rides on the weekends, as well as the occasional bike tour.
Before moving, I checked with my boss that decent bikes could be purchased here and he confirmed that sports stores sell them in the summer. Packing and moving all of my possessions within two suitcases was already such an arduous process that I decided to leave my bike with a friend. The bike was a very expensive purchase, has some customizations, and I know I’ll pick it up in the next year or two, so I opted to keep rather than sell it.
I had read in expat blogs and heard from faculty here that Limpopo is the best store for anything bicycle-related in Astana so I headed there within the first week and purchased the biggest cyclocross bike available. It’s still smaller than I would prefer but it’s okay.
I was really surprised at how difficult it is to find a road bike and then someone informed me that it’s best to have a mountain or cyclocross for cycling the steppe. Also, the constant construction and road/sidewalk structure in general (or lack thereof) makes for some rough riding that’s better handled by a sturdier bike.
The biggest difficulty in riding within the city are the inconsistently sized, and sometimes gigantic (up to 2 feet high!) curbs. Even cyclists who are skilled at hopping curbs can’t manage some of them. One such cyclist I ride with recently hopped a high curb with a sharp corner and his tire popped with an explosion steppe dust. It was unfortunate but magnificent to see. My technique is to stop at the edge of curbs and waddle onto the road, then waddle back up over the curb on the other side.
There are also random obstacles like missing bricks, fallen trees, and open manholes.
Astana: City of Obstacles
You don’t see a lot of cyclists here but they’re around. I think many people are hesitant to buy bikes since they’re expensive and only usable for 5-6 months of the year. I paid $365 for mine, which was a sale price, since it’s the end of cycling season. The city just implemented an inexpensive bike sharing program last month, which may boost cyclist numbers.
Astana also has a very famous cycling team and on my way back from the grocery store, I occasionally see some of them leaving the training centre. They like to be a little flirty, which is fun, since those opportunities are few and far between here (as I expected).
There are a group of us from the university who cycle every weekend around the city and steppe. I’d never done any off-road cycling before and I really enjoy it. The steppe is flat in altitude but very bumpy, rocky, and full of sandy patches that always make my heart race while my back tire slips. Sometimes you see really cool things on the steppe such as dead falcons, a guy training eagles to hunt, and locals herding sheep. The plains of grasses look like an ocean and remind me of home in the nicest way.
In Vancouver, I always did my bike rides solo. Road cycling generally needs to be done in single file and is more chaotic because of traffic and different cyclists having different approaches about which rules they choose to follow. It’s not only necessary to cycle with others on the steppe (for obvious health and safety reasons) but it’s also easier to be more relaxed and social on treks.
Despite liking my new bike, I’m going to ask one of the professors here from Vancouver if he’d be willing to bring mine back with him at Christmas time. When I decide to leave KZ, I plan on cycling from Almaty to Istanbul (or some similar route) and I’d like the bike I’m most comfortable on for those long distances.