Tuesday, 3 July 2012
Tour de Lesvos
The poster for the Greek Brevets
The newest form of transport in Greece is the bicycle! Although I have to admit that the bicycle is not the most suitable transport for this country, and certainly not for mountainous Lesvos. A donkey or a car seem more suitable to me for the along the meandering mountain roads. However cycling is gaining more and more popularity.
The very first bicycle was a kind of wooden walking bike, without pedals; this vélocipède was built in 1817 by the German baron Karl Drais. In 1865 a French father and son constructed an improved version: their vélocipède had an iron frame, iron wheels and pedals. Three years later a bike with a chain drive appeared on the market and when, twenty years later, rubber bands were wrapped around the wheels we had arrived at the bicycle that we ride these days. Now, a century later, our modern e-times bring another novelty: the e-bike or the electric bicycle, a bike with a small electric engine that you can use when you have to climb up a steep hill. In other words, an ideal bike for this island.
Real cyclists will not agree: their sport is to climb those mountains on two wheels without any electric help, exemplified by the Tour the France where several mountaintops form the highlight of this most popular race.
So cycling in Greece, a country full of mountains and valleys, is not such a bad idea and these days you see more than one cycling club appearing. Maybe serious cycling in Greece started in 2008, when a Costas Simelidis (The man who brought the bicycle to Greece) founded the group Bicycle Respect and made sure that, especially around Thessaloniki, cyclists were no longer a curiosity on the roads. Greeks were never too keen on bicycles: they thought the two-wheelers a danger on the roads and something for poor people who could not afford another road transport. Now bicycles appear more and more on the roads and Greeks will realize that cycling has become fashion.
In the past you occasionally saw some lonely cyclists labouring through the Lesvorian landscape, their luggage piled high on their frames: typical tourists who, for idealistic reasons, preferred the iron horse above a rental car. Now you more often see cyclists dressed in colourful and streamlined clothes bursting around bends on their racing bikes and more and more bicycles are rented to tourists, especially in the region of Kalloni where the absence of hills or mountains makes it an ideal area to bike.
Because of the crisis more than one Greek would now prefer a bicycle, because it’s a cheap form of transport. But cycling nowadays also means that you care about the environment and in cities where polluting cars are the leading transport, bicycles can provide a solution to the traffic jams.
To get the Greeks acquainted with the new status of the bicycle, more and more cyclists’ days are organized in the big cities. On May 13th in Mytilini hundreds of cyclists meandered through the city and their large number gave the impression that each Lesviot must own a bike.
The tour which is organized on Lesvos for this coming Monday July 9th will probably not have that many participants because the trail will go over most of the island: Brevet Lesvos 2012 is part of a series of brevet tours that are organized through the whole of Greece. On Saturday July 7th is the Brevet Chios and on this neighbouring island the trail will also cover most of the island. Let’s hope that the participants on Chios will reach in time Lesvos, to take up the next challenge on July 9th: 217 and a half kilometres, with plenty of ‘cols’ (mountain tops).
The Lesvos Tour will depart on Monday morning at 08.00 from Molyvos and go through Vafios, Argenos and Mandamados to Mytilini, from there it goes along the Gulf of Yera to Plomari, and along the beautiful road to Melinda – Ambeliko – Kalloni, and then back over the mountains to Molyvos. Only the bare mountains of the west will be skipped. The tour is organized by PEPA (Greek veteran bikers club) and according to the rules of l’Audax Parisien zullen strikt worden gehanteerd.
I presume that all other road users will be prepared for meeting the platoon of cyclists (amongst them some professionals) and that the donkeys who are used to taking their siesta in the middle of the road will change their pattern. The roads of Lesvos are for everybody including those quadrupeds and now also the two-wheelers.
I wish the organisation and the participants success and I hope that this event will grow into an international cycling event. The amateur cyclists who are fed up with the Belgium Ardennes and the French roads will find a super alternative by cycling through Greece, full of astonishing nature, superb views and challenging mountain tops.
(with thanks to Mary Staples)
@ Smitaki 2012