For the last 32 years, I have lived in the 3rd biggest city of the country (300000 people), Patras. When I started commuting by bicycle there the bicycle infrastructure was non-existent. Bicycle culture, in general, was non-existent. People parked their car whenever they wanted to make pedestrians and cyclists (the few brave ones that ) life miserable, drivers were driving like they own the road, roads were full of potholes and in general everything bike related was dying in this city. Unfortunately even now that I am writing this, the situation hasn’t changed much. Even After some very hopeful years when a group of cyclists ( where I took part as well and did some beautiful things together) the situation looks as bad now as it was when I started commuting by bike there. For some unknown reasons, serious bike culture couldn’t develop in that city. But that didn’t stop me falling in love with bicycle deeper and deeper. Every ride was enjoyable and every drop of sweat was worth it. The hostile streets of this city, the reckless drivers and the steep hills to my house made me a better rider and a more passionate cyclist.
I learnt there that you can do everything by bike even where there is not a single bicycle path to ride safely. I gave countless rides to people (especially to my gf who was loving it), carried unlimited amounts of groceries and even carried very heavy things when I had to move to a new house (twice). I became so accustomed to the streets of the city that I felt safer riding in my city than the average Dutch probably feels when he / she rides in Amsterdam.
But due to work changes now, I am moving to another similarly bike-less, way bigger and way more chaotic city, and continue there to do everything by bike. Moving to a city bewildering enough to scare a Hong Kongese (that city is Athens by the way) made me think about cycling and my life on the saddle though. Why do I keep cycling in cities (and a country)that seems to hate bicycles? Why do I keep commuting to work by bike since I have to deal with sweat, time, stress and fatigue? Why bother really? Well, the answer, I believe is obvious to all the cycling shorts warriors out there that choose the bike in bike-hostile environments. The answer is Freedom. Nothing else in the world can make you feel so free in a miserable modern city. Nothing else can make you feel so happy and autonomous (a great Greek word )just by doing a simple, mundane daily think as commuting to work. The bicycle is so simple, friendly and perfect in every possible way that feels organically part of us. It seems like we found a lost part of us, like a third hand or an eye on our backs! We could even say, It is a more down to earth version of the magic carpet!
Aahh, bikes make me happy even writing about how great they are. They make me feel excited to try them in a new environment like a kid is excited to try his RC car on the dirt country road outside his city! How strange is that!?