"I decided to climb out of a tank and get on a bicycle," said Alexander Nachyovkin, a reserve colonel in the Russian army. He hopes his new Velomotors factory in the military town of Kubinka , an hour's drive from Moscow, will eventually produce 1.5 million bicycles a year. Velomotors is Russia's only domestic bicycle 'designer', assembling parts shipped from China but Nachyovkin wants to start making frames and components too. Russian companies can get their hands on cheap raw materials, including military grade aluminium and titanium...

From swords to ploughshares, Russian tank commander opens bicycle factory

The Velomotors factory opened last week and is sited between a tank museum and a military research institute, reports The Moscow Times.

The ‘Stels’ bikes produced by the Velomotors factory are scheduled for domestic consumption, but with one eye on the enlargement of the EU and the eventual need for even cheaper factories than those in the former Eastern Bloc countries currently assembling bicycles, Nachyovkin wants to export his bikes to Europe.

In its heyday, the Soviet bicycle industry produced around 5 million cycles annually, said Andrei Myatiyev, a private Moscow bicycle collector.

According to The Moscow Time’s the country’s four largest bicycle factories produce 450,000 bicycles per year. Another 750 000 are imported from Belarus. The rest of the market is made up of cheap Chinese imports.

Velomotors’ rivals believe Nachyovkin will flood the domestic market with cheap bikes to stifle competition.

"With the quality of the bikes they produce, they’re not going to be successful in Europe any time this century," said one of the rivals, un-named in the piece in The Moscow Times.

Being based in an army town, Velomotors is staffed by many former soldiers.

"I served in the tank regiment here, and most of the company’s managers are friends of mine from army days," said Nachyokin.

The company’s deputy director used to be the local tank regiment’s chief of staff, while the head engineer used to design computerized tank-training modules.

Many of the 150 factory workers are from military families garrisoned in Kubinka.

Velomotors’ prices range from $26 for its cheapest children’s model to $233) for its most expensive aluminum-framed MTB.

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