ATHENS, Greece - Unlike many unemployed Greeks, former road racer Giorgos Vogiatzis is positive about the future. According to Vogiatzis, who builds tailor-made bicycles in his own workshop, many Greeks are ditching their cars and buy bicycles.
As reported by the Greek statistical office the number of cars on the road declined by 40% in the past two years. On the opposite bicycle sales boomed by more than 25% to 200,000 units in 2011.
For bicycle-makers it is not all bad news
The dire economic situation forced thousands of businesses to close, thrown one in five out of work and eroded the living standards of millions. But for many bicycle-makers like Giorgos Vogiatzis, it is not all bad news. The number of shops selling bicycles and equipment ranging from helmets to knee pads is growing fast, especially in the capital Athens.
Major social move
The rising popularity can be regarded as a major social move. Until a few years ago cycling was snubbed as a sign of poverty or just plain risky. Even former Prime Minister George Papanadreou regarded cycling as not being macho enough. However, the low status bike is winning new fans every day even from middle-aged commuters who relied on their cars in the past.
Complete lack of infrastructure
The ‘new’ cyclists face a complete lack of infrastructure in Athens. The few cycling lanes are often dotted with pine trees or parked cars. Cycling is always seen as too risky on Athens busy road. But things are changing rapidly and the bike boom even prompted Athens mayor to start working on a public bike hire scheme similar to those in other European capitals.
New market situation
For Vogiatzis and other people in the Greek bicycle business, the new market situation means a thriving business. In the past Vogiatzis sold some 40 bicycles annually, now over 350.