Basque living in Greece sees cycling as free sport

Spanish teacher Beniat Agiarcha, 24, is from the Basque country. He learned to ride a bike in San Sebastian, where there are plenty of bike lanes. What does he think of Athens traffic? «The roads are worse than those in San Sebastian. There we had bike lanes and not too many difficulties with traffic. I’m not afraid to cycle in Athens. Even though people here in Greece drive carelessly, I feel safe,» he said. In summer he does long trips with his bicycle, but what happens in winter? «I don’t use it much when it rains. I haven’t got the right clothes for it. Besides, it doesn’t rain that often in Athens. In San Sebastian I use it even when it’s raining. I don’t get cold on the bike. The first five minutes are the hardest, till you get moving,» he said. Beniat is not a classic cyclist. He doesn’t wear a helmet and his cycle has no headlight, but he claims he is careful. «Whether I take it at night depends; if I know I’m going to have a drink, I won’t take the bike because I know it’s dangerous. It’s like driving a car,» he said. Do you have a bell on your bike? «No, I whistle. Athenians aren’t used to cyclists. The biggest obstacle is the lack of respect for cyclists. Drivers think bicycles are toys or something for children which should be on the footpath and not on the road. I don’t see it like that. For me it’s like my car.» Asked to choose between a motorcycle and a bicycle, Beniat immediately replies: «A bicycle. So I’m forced to exercise, because otherwise I’m lazy. I see people paying stacks of money to go to gyms while I exercise every day for almost nothing. You have to buy gas for a motorcycle. And a bicycle is better from an ecological point of view.» «It’s a solitary means of transport,» I goad him. «So is a car, if you’re on your own.» Beniat came to Greece a year ago. He recalls spending the first money he earned on a bicycle. Within days, it was stolen. «I thought if they steal a bicycle, which is the cheapest means of transport, from you, imagine what happens with cars,» he said. He does the trip from his home in Exarchia to Peristeri in 20 minutes and he makes sure he locks up the bike with a strong chain.