Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Get On Your Bike

Published in the Fiji Times on Tuesday 4th May, 2010

When I was growing up in Lautoka, I was fortunate to have a bicycle. In fact I had two, although not at the same time. I remember progressing from training wheels with my father holding on, to riding on my own with two wheels. Then as I got bigger and my older sister complained about my riding around town with her bicycle (which had a basket and was therefore handy for carrying around the things boys in Lautoka like to carry around, especially fireworks at Diwali time), my smaller bicycle was recycled into the extended family and I went with my parents to buy a new red Steelmaster 3-speed (my age is now showing) bicycle.

It wasn’t cheap so my father was determined to make sure that I appreciated the gift. I had to ride it home, and anyone who has ridden a brand new bicycle will understand how hard it was to pedal. This difficulty was compounded by the fact that I did not understand how the gears worked and that even though I was too big for my old bike, I was too short for my new bike and so had to either stand and pedal or sit painfully on the crossbar.

It took me some time to grow into this bicycle, both in terms of height to sit properly and in terms of strength to pedal consistently and use the handbrakes. But eventually once I mastered the Steelmaster, it opened up a new world for me. By Class 5 I was allowed to cycle the short distance from our government quarters opposite Churchill Park, to Drasa Avenue School. That included a roundabout and a very steep (for Class 5) hill, the summit on which was my school. Off course that meant that riding home afterschool was fast and furious. I would cycle to visit my mother at work and hire VHS tapes from the video shop across the road from her workplace, to the post office to check the mailbox, to town to pick up small items from the shop or when I was feeling adventurous and energetic, cycle up to the Lautoka Hospital to visit father. There were many adventures had on two wheels.

In Suva, I did try to cycle to work a few times, but the hours and conditions of work in radio and then television meant that cycling downhill to work for a breakfast show and struggling uphill after a grog session or any other session, especially without a light put an end to this attempt. A few years later I tried again with some success. But time was not on my side in terms of choices of bicycle and car for transport and I have always preferred swimming to cycling for any attempt at fitness.

Then on Saturday, I found myself saying a prayer, not just for myself but for His Excellency the President of Fiji and other amateur cyclists at the starting line for the two-wheeled launch of LifeCycle Fiji. Then following Ratu Epeli’s lead, going for a short ride around central Suva. It’s true what they say about riding a bicycle – you never remember exactly what it’s like until you get on and start pedalling and balancing. His Excellency set a good pace and even wearing a sulu-vakataga, I was able to keep up without embarrassing either myself or any spectators. However, as much as I enjoyed the uniqueness of the event, the launch of LifeCycleFiji marks an important milestone in the areas of health and vitality, energy and quality of life for Fiji Islanders.

According to The Sunday Times, “the Life Cycle Fiji Initiative (LCFI) is a joint initiative of the Department of Energy (DOE) and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Oceania to promote the use of non-motorised vehicles as a mode of transport and also to reduce Fiji's fuel bill amongst many other positive social, environmental and economical benefits.”

Cyclists live 10-15 years longer than those that do nothing. According to anecdotal evidence from Cuba, when bicycles were promoted as a viable transport option, in the first five years, those who rode an average of 15minutes a day, added 5 years onto their lives.

Apart from the fitness aspect, the bicycle is the bicycle is the most efficient machine known. On a bike you use the same energy as walking but go 5 times faster. On a bicycle you use up less energy than a car consumes just to power its lighting system for the same distance.

Dominic Sansom and other enthusiasts have been working on reintroducing a cycling culture (introducing in most countries) in the Pacific and are working, “towards creating better conditions for those that want to cycle for transport and pleasure. We would like to see more people cycling for their health, for the environments, to work and school and just because it's great fun.”

While safety is always an issue, the Land Transport Authority is a valuable partner in this initiative. The cost of bicycles could be greatly reduced, and a new niche industry created, if the main frame of the bicycle was to be manufactured here.

With no pollution, no impact on the environment and, “No negatives to cycling,” according to Sansom and the advocates of LifeCycleFiji, cycling is not only fun but the use of what has been voted as one inventions of the millennium, can also save time. Two hours spent in the Nausori to Suva corridor could be reduced to 40 minutes for those who “bike it”. It is about 15minutes from Lami to Suva. And these are areas with hills. Imagine the ease of transport in flat areas of Nadi, Ba and my favourite cycling city, Lautoka.

I hope to join in their Saturday 7am easy rides as soon as I find a good pair of shorts. Cycling in a sulu, while brave, may cause some accidents on the road.

For more information send an email to or visit!/group.php?gid=112726728739464&v=wall&ref=ss

Cycle for fun. Cycle to work and school. Cycle as transport. Cycle for the environment. Cycle for your life.

May the rest of your week be blessed with life, love, peace and the realisation that the revolution starts with one turn of the pedal.

Rev. J.S. Bhagwan is a member of the Faculty at Davuilevu Theological College and the Associate Minister of Dudley Methodist Circuit in Suva. This article is the sole opinion of Rev. J.S. Bhagwan and not of this newspaper or any organisation that he is affiliated with. Email:

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