Opting to cycle for convenience, economy and because it’s easy on the environment

For private employee Agis Kolyvas, 35, using a bike is a matter of choice. He refutes the argument that Athens is awful and nothing can be done about it. He is prepared to cover any distance by bike, in particular in the spring and fall. As he lives in Aghia Paraskevi he puts his bike on the suburban rail, or Proastiakos, gets off at the center, does his chores and returns in the same way. He believes education and an anti-car culture is required in Greece. There are 2.5 million cars in circulation in Athens, a city that can cater to only 500,000. As he sees it, roads are not a solution and if Athens wants to attract more tourists then current car-use is not going to promote the city. Computer engineer Rigas Parathyras, 29, spent a year on the island of Kos, where he started cycling. Later he continued in Thessaloniki and now in Athens. With the bicycle he does not need to plan ahead and it also provides exercise. The bike also helps him get to know the city better and discover little side streets and stores. He gets annoyed when people try to find reasons why they should not try it. He admits drivers that go too fast are the greatest danger. Particular attention is also required when cycling past parked cars as passengers may open doors without looking. French teacher Annie Kalyva, 40, has been cycling for the past six years. At first she was afraid of cycling in the city and still keeps to pedestrian areas and wide sidewalks. She lives in Exarchia and uses the bike to go to work, to go shopping and visit friends. For Annie it has solved the problem of traveling in the center. She did not used to be environmentally aware but the bike has converted her. When she first started cycling, bikes were rather rare, but now she is never on her own. She does not believe the pollution is an additional problem as you breathe it when you walk anyway. She deliberately takes her dog on her bike to show people that there is another way of life that is more humane. Student Vassilis Christodolou, 24, started cycling in Larissa four years ago in order to attend lectures at his college. In Larissa, when the weather is good, finding a free post to tie your bike to can be difficult but here in Athens traveling by bike is considered to be hardcore. Vassilis has found freedom with his bike and the bike does not pollute. He takes delight in passing everyone when they are stuck in a traffic snarl. He often looks for routes with less traffic because of the pollution and is thinking of getting a mask. He says it is difficult to get uptight when you are on a bike. Greece is very much behind, in his view, and the Transport Ministry should change attitudes and culture. He is optimistic that there will be more cyclists in the future. Giorgos Karababas, 50, lives in Neo Iraklion and goes to work by bike, a distance of 15 kilometers that takes him 45 minutes. It would take the same time by train but often the train is packed. He started cycling at school with a bike that had no gears. He believes that drivers have improved and are more vigilant. He does not believe in cycling lanes, saying a bike should travel on the road. He is 50 but is confident he can continue riding for another 10 years. Evita Sana, 26, can put up with the heat but not the rain. For her, the bike provides a financial solution in particular when going out at night. One has to be vigilant though and have powerful lights. She finds the bike gets you to your destination quicker. She notes that in the past there were fewer bikes than now, and that drivers do not pay much heed to bikes and overtake too fast. She believes bikes should be allowed on the metro and even on some of the bigger buses. This article first appeared in Kathimerini's color supplement, K, on September 23, 2007.