On your bike Greece
By Yorgos Karahalis
Anyone who rode a bicycle through the jammed Athens center a few years ago was either admired or called “the madman of the village,” as an old Greek saying goes.
It’s not like that anymore. “You’re no longer the madman of the village, you are a person inspiring others on how they could live in the chaotic Athenian center using a bike,” said Tolis Tsimoyannis, a 42-year-old bicycle importer and himself a biker.
The boom in Greece’s bicycle market started about four years ago and has maintained its upward trend, with small periods of steady sales due to political and financial unrest in the country.
The crisis itself, the rising cost of fuel and high taxes have motivated Greeks to ride bikes but it has also made people think that as well as saving money, they can also reach their destination faster and get some exercise along the way.
In a city where the majority of the population depends primarily on their own car for traveling even the shortest distances, and who rarely use any other mean of transportation, the bicycle has became a new trend for thousands of Athenians.
“Eighty percent of my customers are new users,” says Gareth Jones, a Briton who opened a fixed gear bike shop in Athens three years ago. Jones says business was going well even though Greeks are coping with an extremely tough economic crisis.
Many bikers’ clubs and “movements” have also appeared in the last years. The massive cycle every Friday night starting from the center of the capital and crossing a big part of the suburbs is not a surprise anymore. Interestingly, this trend has been growing even without basic cycling infrastructure from the state. Often, cyclists ride their bikes between jammed car lanes, pedestrian streets or even in the opposite direction. Elena Koniaraki, a 39-year-old saleswoman who lives downtown sold her car two years ago and is now using a bike to go and return from work. “It’s a nightmare cycling on the main avenues of Athens, I prefer to go through little streets and pavements, it makes me feel safer,” she says.
The growing percentage of people riding bicycles makes it imperative for the state to act and create the facilities which are necessary for the needs of the bikers.
But cycling is also a way of life so all new bikers have to learn how they can adjust their daily lives around the two-wheel vehicle. The first thing to do is to learn the appropriate cycling etiquette and then ask for more from the state, and from the people driving or walking next to them.