by Valentini Anagnostopoulou
ATHENS, Sept. 23 (Xinhua) -- For the seventh year running, Athens Bike Festival welcomed thousands of cycling lovers of all ages at the Technopolis cultural complex in the heart of the city.
From Sept. 16 to 18, some 30,000 visitors checked out some of the latest bicycle models, test rode them, and explored a more active lifestyle.
Athens Bike Festival is held every year during the European Mobility Week, a European Union (EU) awareness-raising campaign that aims to promote the use of public transport, cycling, and walking as part of a more environment-conscious and healthy way of living.
The festival program included photo exhibitions, presentations, cycling games, shows, workshops, a film screening and thematic bike rides, while younger fans of cycling rode their bikes on two tracks especially set up for children. The slow-cycling game called "the slowest wins" offered contestants the challenge of striving to balance on their bikes for the longest time possible without moving -- or falling -- in order to win a state-of-the-art bike.
Over the last years, an ever-growing number of Greeks have turned to cycling as a cost-effective means of transport, but also for the active lifestyle component. As a result, many people have seen a developing industry in bicycle manufacturing that could provide them with a creative way out of their personal financial dead-end.
Such is the case of Mandy Aggelaki and her family. Her husband, Giorgos Panagis, used to work in the car industry, but recently lost his job. Now he manufactures and sells wooden hand-made bicycles, with the help of his wife and their three children, that were on display for first time at the Athens Bike Festival.
"It all started as a hobby. Seven years ago, we manufactured our own bicycles and then our children's," Aggelaki told Xinhua. "All five of us would go for a ride and people would stare at us. They liked the idea of a wooden bicycle. So, we thought that maybe it's time to make a profession out of it," she added.
Over the last year, the Panagis family went on to design and manufacture more bike models for all ages and now they're on a mission to get people acquainted with the notion of a wooden bicycle. "People are still afraid to buy a wooden bike. They all have the same questions: is it durable? What does it take to maintain it? We try to get people to ride it and show them that this is a different kind of bicycle, but still a high-endurance vehicle," Aggelaki noted.
She claims that once people try it, they love the elegant touch and the airy feel of the ride, as the bikes are very light and smooth.
Nevertheless, faithful to its history and purpose, Athens Bike Festival 2016 was not all about entertainment, but also about raising awareness of crucial ecological issues.
The "Solar Ride", organized every year by Greenpeace Greece, is a bike-ride dedicated solar power.
Hundreds of cyclists ride through the central streets of Athens every year to spread the message that "the Greek sun is our biggest national asset", as pinpointed Dimitris Ibrahim, campaigns director at Greenpeace Greece.
"It is one opportunity that we have not used as a country to fight the recession and to make a fundamental step out of the crisis," Ibrahim added. In fact, despite its abundance of renewable energy resources (sun, wind, geothermal) and, although remarkable progress has been achieved over the last decade, Greece remains below the EU average of renewables' use share.
According to Eurostat, only 16 percent of the country's gross final energy consumption comes from renewable sources; the remaining 84 percent of its energy needs are traditional, expensive or environmentally-harmful energy sources, such as lignite and natural gas. The EU's strategic 2020 target -- and also a legally binding one -- is to produce 20 percent of its energy from renewable sources. Will debt-ridden Greece be able to attain the EU goal and use the renewables as a way out of the crisis?
"Our vision and our dream is that every single household in Greece has access to solar power," Ibrahim stressed, highlighting the importance of structured measures and incentives in order to achieve this target.