Melbourne cyclists stopped by police over lockdown rides

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Late last week the Victorian government introduced tighter restrictions for those who are exercising during the coronavirus lockdown. According to the new rules, residents of metropolitan Melbourne and nearby Mitchell Shire can only go “the minimum distance to achieve [their] exercise needs”. Meanwhile, it’s “unreasonable” to do “outdoor recreation where that type of exercise can be done closer to home.”

The new stance has created something of a conundrum for Melbourne’s cyclists: what is a reasonable distance from home to be riding? Is it 10 km, 5 km, or 1 km? Or must cyclists simply stay within their suburb? No explicit guidance has been given in this regard.

This past weekend, several cyclists around Melbourne were stopped by police mid-ride and questioned about how far they were from home. Here’s how those interactions went down.

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Kate Perry rides for Specialized Women’s Racing in Australia’s National Road Series (NRS) and is one of the country’s strongest domestic riders. On Sunday she rode out from her home in Richmond and, with one other cyclist, headed 30 km out into Melbourne’s hilly north-eastern suburbs. The pair were riding single file when a police car drove past, pulled over in front, then signalled for Perry and her companion to stop.

“We got pulled over in Eltham and asked where we were coming from and why we were out that way,” Perry told CyclingTips. “The officer was reasonable. I mentioned I was training and that I rode for a women’s NRS team and he was like ‘I appreciate that but you can’t leave your suburb.’

“Then [he] gave us a warning (nothing official) but told us to head home. I thanked him and said … that I had read up on all the recommendations and it was pretty unclear. [I] assured him I wasn’t disputing the matter but just that it was really hard to find concrete information on what was allowed and what wasn’t.”

Perry has said that she’ll now “keep it local” when riding on the road, but that she’ll mostly do indoor trainer sessions for the time being.

“I would just appreciate some black and white rules because even though he said ‘[stick to your] suburb’, at no point had I read that anywhere. And I did my homework. So if it’s that hard to find the rules then how is the average person supposed to know?”

Perry added that it wasn’t just cyclists the police were stopping — motorists were also being asked where they’d come from.

Theo Arvanitakis was pulled over on Sunday as well, while riding Melbourne’s most popular climb: the 1 in 20 in the Dandenong Ranges east of the city.

“The police [were] parked at the top stopping cyclists asking where they rode from,” Arvanitakis told CyclingTips. “I rode from Nunawading and was simply doing repeats up and down the 1 in 20. No stops, no cafe.

“I tried to explain it was just 13 km from my door to The Basin [the bottom of the climb] and 20 km max to the top. They didn’t care. They said it was not reasonable; [that] I should just ride the local roads in my suburb.”

Arvanitakis explained to the officers that he was out training, that he was riding on his own, and that there was no explicit direction on the state government website about exactly how far he could ride. “They didn’t care,” Arvanitakis said.

“While I was trying to plead my case they pulled over another guy, he was from Kilsyth [roughly 15 km away]. They said OK for him. They took my details as well as the Kilsyth rider’s and issued me with a warning and [stated] a fine might come when it’s reviewed.”

Brendon Green was also stopped on the 1 in 20 having ridden out solo from Mitcham roughly 15 km to the west.

“It wasn’t a long exchange because I didn’t really want to push my luck,” Green told CyclingTips. “But they just asked where I was from and if I knew I was supposed to be riding around my neighbourhood. I asked what kind of distance was I allowed to go from home but they didn’t have an answer. So it’s still a bit of a grey area.”

Like Perry and Arvanitakis, Green was only given a warning. He suspects the police set up on the 1 in 20 knowing it’s a popular road among cyclists, but doesn’t think they were there long.

“A friend of mine headed up maybe 30 minutes after me and said they were gone,” he said. “I guess they were just looking to get the word out to riders and it’s probably worked.”

Meanwhile in Little River, on the other side of Melbourne, Luis Lopez was stopped by Australian Defence Force personnel. He’d ridden the roughly 15 km from his home in Werribee. The exchange only lasted about 10 seconds.

“[He asked] where I lived,” Lopez told CyclingTips. “I said Riverwalk Werribee and that I came onto the freeway [at the] previous exit.” Lopez explained that he was returning home and at that point the officer “let me continue”.

Cyclists should avoid long rides out of town for now.

So what can we learn from all this? How far should cyclists ride from home? Judging by the experiences of Perry, Arvanitakis and Green, 20 km from home is probably too far. Perhaps 15 km is fine, at least judging by Lopez’ experience, and from the plight of the Kilsyth resident mentioned by Arvanitakis.

CyclingTips reached out to Victoria Police to clarify how far from home cyclists are allowed to ride. A spokesperson told CyclingTips that Victoria Police wasn’t able to divulge the details of operational matters and suggested that the specifics of the restrictions were a question for the Victorian government’s Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). CyclingTips has sent two requests for comment to the DHHS but hasn’t yet received a reply.

In the absence of a hard-and-fast directive — such as the 1 km radius imposed by France — it will be up to individual police officers to determine what is a reasonable distance from home for a cyclist to be riding.

For the time being it seems prudent to stay as close to home as you can while cycling; ideally within your suburb as police suggested to several of the riders quoted above. If that sounds restricting, here’s a challenge you can do to make it more interesting.

And while we’re on the subject of restrictions, note that from 11:59pm on Wednesday night, it’ll be mandatory to wear a mask or other face covering when leaving the house in Melbourne or Mitchell Shire. What does that mean for cyclists? According to the DHHS:

“If you are doing strenuous physical exercise you do not need to wear a face covering but you must carry one with you. Strenuous exercise includes activities like jogging, running or cycling but not walking.”

A “face covering” can include a mask or a neck warmer, or anything else that can reasonably be used to cover your mouth and nose.

Did you get stopped by police while out riding on the weekend? Let us know in the comments below.

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