The faithful steed of the urban-dweller

“I had an XL 185 and I’d cruise down the coastal highway. Back then, moped drivers used to get together to drag race at the Faliron Delta – the big bikes used Poseidonos Avenue. We would look in awe at the Samurais and CBs. Drag races also took place further down from Kokkinos Mylos, on the National Road.» Today, Giorgos Tzipis is a civil servant. It is hard to believe that he has experienced the things he describes, until he mounts his 1,000cc Honda Varadero. «Back then, we had no sense of danger. No one taught you how to ride properly, you learned to master the bike by falling off it.» He doesn’t look anything like a tough guy from a road movie. He goes on many trips with his bike and is currently planning a trip to the Netherlands. «I have a reliable bike that can take you anywhere without tiring you out. I can take a passenger and a lot of luggage…» Once upon a time, he was demeaningly dubbed a kamikaze, today he is in a rush to get to work. The term «kamikaze» in modern Greek means, according to the new Modern Greek Babiniotis Dictionary, «a motorcycle driver who drives at great speed and takes part in dangerous competitions.» Kamikazes were once feared in Greece. Back in the 1980s, a nice Greek family would be shaken to its foundations at the news that the son was about to get a motorcycle – Mother would rush to get Father his pills and to light a candle to the Holy Virgin. Now that they have become an entry in the dictionary, they have disappeared, along with their hangouts and their bikes. Katerina Georgoudaki gets around on a small 50cc automatic SYM. She uses it for work and to get around town and even takes it on holiday as she can comfortably carry her tent and luggage. She laughs at the idea of road hogs. «I’m not into bikes, I’m not even interested in getting a bigger one. I have a license for a moped because the exams are easier. I have also gotten used to the automatic. Normally I would like to ride a bicycle, but that’s impossible in this city!» Even practiced bikers seem to prefer practicality over horsepower. The urban landscape has also changed dramatically over the past 20 years, as have habits, values, fashions and attitudes. New necessities have arisen, the main one being not spending half the day stuck in traffic. Athens and Thessaloniki (at least) have long become unfriendly cities to commuters. As a result, more men and women are turning to motorbikes for the answer: a few pounds of metal and plastic that can weave its way through stagnant traffic and park almost anywhere. Alekos Touzis has been riding a moped since he was 17 and he wouldn’t have it any other way. He works as delivery man for a record company. «I have a Crypton 100 which meets my needs both for work and generally. I would love to have a bigger bike, but they are so expensive. Most people think a good driver is someone who rides a big bike. But do you know what it means to try and make three deliveries in an hour, each at a different point on the compass, in the rain or with the sun frying your head? Then you take a break and it all stars over again with a fourth delivery. Don’t even talk about the wipeouts and the risk of having a car run into you.» More and more we are seeing ads for «employees with a motorcycle» posted in the job market. Couriers, a new category of employees, have formed a union and are demanding hazardous work benefits. Couriers almost outnumber taxi drivers in Greece right now. Their bikes are normally Vespas, mopeds and scooters. Their worst enemies are accidents and their battle is against time. Steve McQueen made his great escape astride a motorcycle, and the wild Marlon Brando spread terror through America with his gang of bikers. While the legend of 1960s bikers still lives on, the type of freedom we are looking for today has changed. The modern urban-dweller no longer seeks a place «outside the law,» but, rather, outside the city walls, beyond the five-days-a-week grind. Nature, beaches and a mini-tour of the Peloponnese are what many of today’s bikers, from all strata of society, want. They are not rebels, they are tired. But the symbolic value of the motorcycle itself is still connected to its horsepower. What is funny about this is that compared to modern motorcycles and their superior capabilities, the enduro bikes of the kamikazes of old are mere children’s toys. We no longer search for the best bike, but the best rider. Michalis Zambaras, a photography producer, owns a 1,000cc R1 with 156 horsepower. He started his life as a biker with a moped that he bought secretly at the age of 13. «Normally, you should have a certificate from a cardiologist to own a bike like this. I use it for fast spins, and by that I mean driving over 200 km/hour. I take one-day trips, alone and without any luggage: Evia, Theologos, Loutraki. It’s a bike that seems never to touch the ground and all you do in the city is wreck it. You can’t even speed along the Attiki Odos because they have speed cameras, so you just have to leave the city…» So, where have all the kamikazes gone? Like the gangs of mountain thieves in the 19th century, broken up by the circumstances of modern society, they have wound up in the rubbish bin of urban legend. They have grown up, gotten jobs and now see the thrill of speed as an outdoor activity. They also like to be able to get around fast and effectively – there are few racers to be seen in the areas where today’s bikers hang out. Trendy automatics and stylish mopeds are now in vogue. All that’s left are the bikers of the cinema screen who ride off into the sunset in their cult movies…

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