Cadel inspires taste for pedal power on regional rail trail

CYCLING in Victoria has surged since Cadel Evans won last year's Tour de France, but it's not just Lycra-clad speedsters taking to the roads and trails.

Riders of all shapes and sizes are jumping into the saddle and a lot of them are pedalling on the food and wine trails in north-eastern Victoria.

Last year, more than 60,000 people cycled on the north-east's main bike artery, the 100-kilometre Murray to Mountains Rail Trail that includes Wangaratta, Beechworth and Bright.

A new cycle loop that opened several months ago to include the Milawa gourmet district is also drawing more riders to the region.

Tourism and Major Events Minister Louise Asher says cycle tourists yearly spend $362 million in Victoria and $2.4 billion throughout Australia. Victoria is aiming for an increased slice of that spending.

The state government's Cycle Tourism Action Plan 2011-2015 places emphasis on the north-east, saying it is the region with the strongest cycle tourism credentials, including diversity of riding terrain.

Former Australian road cycling champion Wayne Hildred, who runs the Cycle Inn and Cafe Velo in Bright, says: "There has been massive growth in cycling in the last 10 years but since Cadel won the Tour de France (in July 2011) there must have been a 20 per cent increase in this region. [Evans] has tipped it over the edge."

Campaigns by Tourism Victoria and a strong event calendar in mass-participation rides such as the Audax Alpine Classic are also helping increase cycle tourism.

Clayton Neil, the manager of economic development for the Alpine Shire, says last month's Audax event in the north-east had 2500 riders. He says 7000 people, including friends and relatives of the riders, visited the region because of the event.

He says cycling in the region is steadily growing at 5 to 10 per cent each year.

Guy Wilkinson, of Brown Brothers winery says he has seen a steady increase of cyclists in the Milawa food area since the new bike loop opened last year. "The uptake has been amazing," he says.

Brown Brothers supplies free geared bikes with baskets to carry food and drink from local producers to anyone who asks.

Meanwhile, the Amy Gillett Foundation, which campaigns for bike safety, is aiming to create awareness about safe cycling in regional and remote areas of Australia.