Cyclists bid for Victorian government safety law to pedal to prosperity

WELCOME RIDERS: Eric Bittner said Tourism North East and Wangaratta Bicycle Reference Group were promoting cycling. Picture: SIMON BAYLISS
WELCOME RIDERS: Eric Bittner said Tourism North East and Wangaratta Bicycle Reference Group were promoting cycling. Picture: SIMON BAYLISS

Cycling enthusiast Eric Bittner was “blown away” when Jim Freeman and a friend stopped by his Wangaratta business Cafe Derailleur during their biking travels across the North East.

They had already ridden from Euroa to Mount Buller, down a four-wheel drive track to Whitfield, over to Bright via Cheshunt and across Lake Buffalo.

A few hours later Jim would be dead, hit by a car while riding on a straight stretch of on Benalla-Yarrawonga Road near Devenish at 4.30pm on March 25. Benalla was planned as his final stop before catching the train back home.

Police have not revealed exactly how the car came to hit the cyclist and the incident was still being looked into by the Major Crash Investigation Unit.

“Ironically, Jim’s death occurred in the same week that the Andrews government refused to legislate the minimum passing distance (a metre matters) law,” Mr Bittner said. 

“We’ll never know if a metre matters would have saved Jim, but you can bet that if Victoria had safe cycling legislation, more drivers would leave a wider berth and the road would be safer for people who pedal.”

Jim was a Melbourne Bicycle Touring Club member who had ridden in tours across the US, China and New Zealand.

He was remembered as a very active and popular club member, attending many rides and always helping others to discover the joys of bicycle touring.

Mr Bittner and his wife moved to Wangaratta in part because of the great cycling on offer and set up Cafe Derailleur as a cyclist-friendly location.

“There are plenty of people in the North East banking on our region pedalling itself to prosperity – we already have the southern hemisphere’s longest rail trail and soon it will be complemented by a new cycling trail linking Wangaratta, the Warby Ranges and Winton Wetlands,” he said.

“So, when bike riders visit our cafe we welcome them, because we know that cycling’s as healthy for the waistline as it is for our local economy. We also want them to be safe so we point out the best rides, roads and routes and highlight other cycle-friendly eating places.”

Mr Bittner has called on the Victorian government to listen to the cycling community and make it illegal for motorists to get within one metre when passing a bike.

“Lives will be saved, parents will find it easier to wave their sons and daughters off to school on their bikes, novice cyclists will feel less intimidated by cars and more encouraged to get moving, knowing it’s safe,” he said.

“More people will join the cycling community and discover its social benefits.”