By Aleksandra Bliszczyk
Whittlesea resident Neale Luscombe, who has MS, went on a bike ride with his youngest son Bailey, 12, for the first time last week thanks to a new three-wheel recumbent bike. He is now advocating for more accessible trails to help everyone exercise.
Mr Luscombe was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, a disease affecting the nerves between brain and body, in 2007 and stopped working in 2012 after his ability to walk deteriorated.
“I’d been looking for things to keep me busy and I’d been keeping sort of fit with swimming at Mill Park pool,” he said.
Afters the pool closed for renovations, in 2019 he began looking into bikes that could support his body with the help of members of the Whittlesea Trailblazers Facebook group of cyclists. But when the pandemic hit, lockdowns put the whole process, which requires custom fittings, on hold.
Nearly two years later, Mr Luscombe’s custom trike has finally arrived, giving him a new sense of freedom and more opportunities to bond with Bailey.
“It was an amazing, amazing feeling,” Mr Luscombe said.
“There’s been plenty of opportunities on my mobility scooter but that is not the same as riding with [Bailey].
“Being able to talk to him about where we can go, which way we want to go; just making those sorts of decisions that you don’t have that freedom to make when you’re not mobile … was so good.”
Mr Luscombe has been using a new bike path – laid conveniently close to his front door – to get to a loop trail on a nearby estate without having to go on any main roads.
“At the moment I’m not that keen to roll down the white line on the side of the road, but there are other trails that are acceptable and it makes a huge difference to people moving around,” he said.
“It just makes you feel so much safer, and to be able to ride with children as well, moving paths away from traffic would be so much safer.”
He said there is a strong need for more safe, paved paths around the City of Whittlesea, especially as residents have been restricted to exercising within five kilometres of home for much of the past 18 months.
In July the City of Whittlesea council announced several walking and cycling trails would be linked, with new paved trail sections at several locations including the Edgars Creek Trail, the Yan Yean Pipe Track and Hendersons Creek Trail.
The Northern Regional Trails Strategy, a partnership with neighbouring councils, is also proposing 96 new trails across northern Melbourne. The draft strategy is due to be released in December 2021.
The Whittlesea Trailblazer group has also strongly advocated for more paths, including the Rail Trail from South Morang to Mernda to be extended further to the Whittlesea township.
“People need community paths to move around, get out there and have a better sense of wellbeing,” Mr Luscombe said.
Mr Luscombe said he has already felt his mental health improve, and that being able to get some fresh air and exercise safely was particularly important for those with limited mobility.
“It’s really helped me – staying active, it’s really important,” he said.
“It made me realise I’d been missing that sort of stuff.”