NOTE: As explained elsewhere on this site, I was a member of a mountain cycling club, the OCD, which has now ceased to exist as an independent entity (it has merged with Audax UK). The notes provided here reflect this, being biased towards mountain cycling. (Since much of Greece is mountainous this is fairly appropriate!) The information provided is partly based on a guide produced some years ago for the OCD. The original guide contained material contributed by several OCD members including Sue and Tony Clarke, Hugh Jones, Paul Krebs, Norman Stillie, Danny Berry, John Mackle, and Mary Sanderson as well as me. I have updated it here from my own experience.
There are hardly any Greek cycle tourists. There are some racing cyclists and some country people ride ancient heavy machines, but that's about it. Perhaps rather surprisingly, this doesn't necessarily mean that Greece is a dangerous country for cycling. It's true that Greek driving is idiosyncratic but, paradoxically, I feel rather safer when riding there than in Britain; I get the impression that Greek drivers are sufficiently surprised to see you that they give you a wide berth. That said, however, traffic is constantly increasing in volume, as it is everywhere, and some routes which used to be pleasant a decade ago are now intolerable. Traffic in Athens is horrendous and so is the pollution (as shown in this picture).
Notice, incidentally, that the rule for roundabouts is different from that in Britain. When you are on a roundabout you must give way to people coming onto the roundabout. That is, give way to traffic on your right even when you are on the roundabout.
If you see a notice saying that photography is prohibited ("forbitten"), take this seriously. Greek police and military people are very touchy about such matters. I was once nearly arrested for having sat down beside the road and looked at a map, even though there was no notice there; unbeknown to me there was a military camp hidden in the woods nearby and I was repeatedly asked whether I had taken any pictures. I had to return half-way down the mountain to the camp site for questioning and it took a lot of argument to avoid having to return to the nearest large town.
Roughstuff can be pretty rough in Greece but at least it's generally dry in summer. No doubt many people will think it requires a mountain bike but I've ridden many miles of it on a touring bike without mishap. But be warned that you can get into some pretty remote areas and if you do run into trouble you may have to walk quite a long way for help. One OCD member, John Mackle, was in the Peloponnese in May 1989 when he broke his down tube. Luckily he wasn't hurt but he had to walk for 18 km, which took 5 hours, before he reached a forest track where he met some Germans in a hired car who rescued him; before that he had only seen one Greek farmer and a goat, both on a moped.
Don't be put off by this, however; Greek roughstuff can be very rewarding, taking you through magnificent country with almost no traffic. But you need an up-to-date and reliable map, since surfaces may be anything from good dirt to stony. In general, a good unsurfaced road is preferable to badly deteriorated tarmac.
What kind of bike? As noted above, I use a touring bike exclusively. (In fact, I keep it in Greece, which saves worries about transporting it back and forth.) If you prefer a mountain bike, that would be fine too.
It is possible to hire bikes in some places, but I have no idea what they would be like. If you take your own bike you should bring an adequate range of tools and spares with you. Away from Athens, any repair shops you may find will probably be pretty rough and ready.
The main exit is via motorway (not cyclable) but maps show a road going NE from the airport towards the coast which should be possible.
Alternatively, you could use public transport to Athens (and on to Corinth if you are going to the Pelopnnese). There is a district (suburban) railway which takes bikes. A correspondent, Judy Allfrey, has kindly sent me the following letter she has received.
Dear Ms AllfreyNote that the Metro, which also goes to the airport, does not take bikes. This is the letter that Judy earlier received from them (emphasis added by me).
Thank you for your inquiry.
The transport of bicycles aboard our trains is allowed free of charge in the space provided for handicapped passengers, provided the space is not in use at the time. Also, please keep in mind, that any oversized item transported should not interfere with the comfort of the rest of the passengers on board our trains.
Dear Mrs Judy,
in order to preserve a safe, clean and pleasant environment, persons entering the Metro installations must note that activities such as carrying annoying objects (bulky or oversize objects, bicycles etc.) are prohibited anywhere on the system.
Thank you for communicating with us.
Attiko Metro Operation Company
Note added 20 March 2006: I have received the following message from Judy.
Just to confirm, I have just come back from Greece and the suburban train took bikes without any problems both from the airport to Athens and from Corinth (where it goes from the "new station" outside the town) to Athens/Athens airport.
Nick Crane's "Cycling in Europe" has an excellent chapter on Greece. It was revised in 1988 and is published by Oxford Illustrated Press.
Mark and Ju have an impressive diary of their world tour, including a section on Greece in winter.
Maps: These are mostly poor by U.K. and French standards. But things have now improved quite a bit with the publication of the ROAD series, which cover the whole mainland and also Crete at a scale of 1:250,000. These maps are pretty accurate (though I have found errors) and show contours.
None of the maps I've seen show the heights of passes, which are really what you need rather than peaks. One way round this, if you can read Greek script, is to get the Auto and Touring Club (ELPA) road atlas, which is quite good in itself and has a gazeteer which lists the height of every town and village in the country. (ELPA is the Greek equivalent of the AA or RAC in Britain—it 'elps you when you break down, you see...)
Another reason for learning the script is to read road signs, particularly if you intend to do much roughstuff. On the main roads the signs are bilingual but in the remoter parts of the country they aren't and may even be hand-painted on bits of board! There are difficulties in converting Greek place names to Latin script, and even in Greek there are variations, with many of the names existing in "demotic" and "katharevousa" forms.
Note that Greek words of more than one syllable have an accent (nowadays, always an acute). This shows where the stress should fall in pronouncing it; it's important to know this when asking the way, or you may not be understood.
Dogs constitute an important hazard, especially in the north-west (Epirus); those in the Peloponnese seem to be more placid. There are lots of strays, which may be aggressive, and in the country districts the sheep are usually guarded by two or three large dogs and these are potentially dangerous. Not long ago an English walker was severely mauled by sheepdogs when he unwisely tried to photograph a flock, and more recently one of my wife's cousins was badly bitten while walking in a suburb north of Athens. A course of rabies inoculations would probably be required after a bite, though there is said to be no rabies in Attica.
I've generally found that loud shouting, supplemented by stone-throwing, is the best tactic to adopt when threatened by dogs; I also carry a Dazer ultrasonic dog repeller; sometimes this seems to be effective, sometimes not. A friend who has cycled extensively in many hair-raising parts of the world, including eastern Turkey, tells me she has found the Dazer to be excellent. Greek dogs appear to understand English swearing.
Accommodation is generally easy to find cheaply in remote and rural areas and is basic but clean and comfortable. As late as the end of June most hotels seem to be nearly empty, and away from the sea it is possible to find room even in July and August.
Restaurants are to be found in many small towns but standards are poor in international terms. A French guide has claimed that Greek cuisine does not exist! But two younger OCD Members have been well satisfied, finding the food good value and cheap.
The Tourist Police (in spite of their rather sinister-sounding name) are helpful in finding accommodation and in other ways. They have offices in most of the large towns.