Greeks Turn to Bikes to Weather Economic Storm

Today on the Network, Reno Rambler links to a Reuters story, via the Huffington Post, on how economic upheaval in Greece has led to a dramatic shift in how many get around.

Thousands of Greeks are turning to bikes to help weather the crisis, and while unemployment is at 20 percent, the bike business is booming:

The number of cars on Greek roads has dropped precipitously as people turn to bikes. Photo: AP/Huffington Post

The high cost of road tax, fuel and repairs is forcing Greeks to ditch their cars in huge numbers. According to the government’s statistics office, the number of cars on Greek roads declined by more than 40 percent in each of the last two years. Meanwhile, more than 200,000 bikes were sold in 2011, up about a quarter from the previous year.

Shops selling bicycles, and equipment ranging from helmets to knee pads, are spreading fast across the capital, popping up even between souvenir shops on the cobbled pedestrian streets of the touristy Plaka district.

“They’re sprouting up like mushrooms,” said [Giorgos] Vogiatzis, who designs and builds tailor-made bicycles in his workshop on the Aegean island of Rhodes.

A former cyclist on Greece’s national team, Vogiatzis opened his business in the mid-80s, combining his love for drawing and mathematics, but only recently watched sales boom from a modest 40 bikes a year to over 350.

“There’s no more money for luxuries and that helps,” said Vogiatzis, who works away furiously with two other staff to meet demand for all sorts of bikes — some lavishly hand-painted in glitter, others flaunting the Greek flag.

A far cry from the shuttered shopfronts in the capital that have become a painful reminder of the country’s worst downturn since World War Two, bike shop owners estimate that at least one store opened every month in 2011.

Vogiatzis laughed: “Every neighbourhood has its bike shop just as it’s got its kebab shop.”

Elsewhere on the Network today: The League of American Bicyclists breaks down MAP-21 funding state by state; Greater Greater Washington has proposals on how to reduce the public stigma surrounding automated traffic enforcement; and Urban Review STL looks at the problem of mobility scooters that aren’t designed for use on buses.