By Colin MacGillivray
THE owner of a Kilmore bike shop has called for Mitchell Shire Council to invest in cycling infrastructure when COVID-19 restrictions ease.
The appeal comes in the wake of a survey released by VicHealth last month that found 76 per cent of Victorians wanted state and local governments to provide more infrastructure for cyclists and pedestrians.
Wheel House Bikes owner Sam Cummins said demand for bicycles had skyrocketed since the beginning of lockdown restrictions earlier this year.
“I’ve seen nothing like it. This is unbelievable,” he said.
“It’s been absolute chaos. We have more than 1000 bikes on preorder due before the end of the year. We can’t build them quick enough.
“I’m up until midnight building bikes because people want something to ride.”
While Victoria’s unemployment rate has increased during the pandemic, Mr Cummins said the demand for repairs and new bicycles had led him to hire new staff at the Sydney Street store.
“There are six other staff in here now, and when I started a few years ago it was just one,” he said.
“I’ve put three extra people on since the pandemic kicked off, which is good with the employment situation the way it is now. It’s not all doom and gloom.”
Mr Cummins said he believed many people had embraced cycling as a way of staying fit and getting outdoors during lockdown.
“All the hobbies were eliminated so everyone’s options were limited,” he said.
“People are at home more and they’re going back to basics.
“Once one person gets a bike, dad wants a bike, mum wants a bike, the kids get bikes, grandma wants a bike and it just flows on.
“There are a lot of people who have slowed down and realised that they missed the bike, or have rediscovered it.
“They might have gotten busy with life, forgot about the bike and put on weight, but with ‘the C word’ now, everything has slowed down and now people are going back to getting outside again.
“People seem to love it, and I think they’ll stick with it too.”
Heart Foundation Victorian chief executive Kellie-Ann Jolly said people were exploring their local areas through walking and riding.
She called for governments to facilitate more physical activity with investment in pathways.
“We need to reduce barriers to activity through building safe, connected footpaths and bike lanes that allow for social distancing, with good links to public transport,” she said.
“While some Victorians may have found their feet in lockdown, more needs to be done to encourage physical activity, like walking and cycling, to help reduce risks for heart disease.
“We call for a whole-of-government approach from the State Government and local councils to build more walking and riding infrastructure to benefit all Victorians.”
Mr Cummins said Mitchell Shire needed more bike tracks to accommodate the surge in cycling and provide a safe space for children and new cyclists to learn to ride away from roads.
He said the current system of bike trails around the shire was inadequate.
“There’s a $3 million mountain bike park in Castlemaine and that’s packed out,” he said.
“There’s potential around here with the hills and the landscape, and you shouldn’t have to put your bike onto a car and travel 40 minutes to ride it when you’re out in the country.
“[Council needs] to put in some decent tracks so people can leave from home and ride, and they could be multi-use tracks with the horse riding culture we have here as well.
“Even when you go to small towns like Cobram and Strathmerton, they’ve got shared trails and they’ve got not even a quarter of the population that we do.”
Mr Cummins said a trail linking the main townships in the shire would allow families to take their children on day trips.
“Most people are recreational riders and you don’t need a 200-kilometre track, but just having five to 10 kilometres of track out of each township where they can be off the road safely, especially with the younger kids.
“It’s difficult to tell kids they’ve got to learn to ride on the streets with 7500 vehicles coming through town. They need a basic, safe track for people to begin on.
“Eventually, down the road, we’d like to see a dedicated mountain biking area.
“We’ve got numerous state forests that are underused – Tooborac State Forest, Tallarook, Mount Disappointment. There’s plenty around, so why not use it?”