Because of the financial crisis and the cost of gas reaching new record highs, cycling has gained enormous popularity here in Greece in the past year. Just one year ago, there were only two bicycle shops near my suburb; fast-forward to today and there are more than six new shops which have popped-up nearly overnight!
Everywhere you look, there are cyclist of all ages, and riding all types of bikes, from department store bikes (aka Walmart) to high-end top of the line models costing thousands of Euros. Along with this wide range of bikes, are their riders; everyday people commuting to work or daily shopping in plain clothes, to riders who look like they're in the Tour de France or Giro Italia!
Unfortunately most riders have one thing in common... their total lack of even the basics of road safety. Lane-splitting, running red lights, riding backwards onto incoming traffic, weaving between lanes for no apparent reason and the worst of all... wearing dark clothes with no lights or reflectors at night!
Driving in Greece is a dangerous experience; if you know someone who has visited Greece, just ask them! In the past couple of years, law enforcement on the road has nearly ceased to exist because of cut-backs and strikes, and drivers have taken full advantage of this and regularly cause serious traffic violations. Also because of the state of the economy, people are frustrated and road-rage is evident everywhere... add bad cyclist to this mess and what you have is absolute chaos.
Just this evening, I was riding on a particularly dangerous stretch of road, a two-lane per direction boulevard where the lanes have been shrunk in width to accommodate a tram line for the Olympics back in 2004. Because of a dip in the road, the oncoming cars headlights were partially blinding me, and I just barely noticed a dark figure some 20 yards in front of me on an old 10-speed weaving about in the lane. After letting some of the traffic pass me, I reached the cyclist and politely asked him why he didn't have any lights on the bike, and why wasn't he afraid of getting hit by a car or bus. The answer I received was to "mind my own business", "stop harassing him" and if I didn't like it to "take the bus instead"!
I've read a lot of post here at BF about encounters with cars, pedestrians and other cyclists, but are things this bad in other countries as well? My commute is around 15 km both ways in a urban environment, and although I do see cyclists that are shining examples of how we should all be, they are less than 10% of the majority.
Sorry for such a long post, and if you've read it so far, thanks for reading this and letting me let off some steam!
... a U.S. ex-pat living and surviving in Athens!