Cycling: A lesson for Jamaica’s development

By Dennis Chung

Friday, October 19, 2012    

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LAST Saturday, I was among a group of men and women, who cycled from Kingston to Negril, as a part of an annual charity ride. Respect is due to these men and women who pay to ride, and support charity each year, enduring 158 miles and approximately 11 hours of pain.

We started the journey in two groups, at 4:30 am and 5:15 am, setting out on the route over Mount Rosser via Fern Gully to Montego Bay and on to Negril. There was an immense amount of planning before, as preparations had to be made for the riders with refreshment and one lunch stop, appropriate support vehicles, police escorts, and ambulance support.

This is one of the first areas Jamaica fell down in. We never really determined the route we were going to take to development, and therefore never really prepared and laid out milestones. The result is that we have taken many paths but never seeming to reach because we have never known our destination. We were certain we wanted political independence, but then what.

As we set out, the first real hill we tackled was Mount Rosser. A very important lesson was learned here. Those of us who have ridden that hill before know that you need to manage your energy going up the hill and approach it between seven and nine miles per hour (mph). There were overseas cyclists who went up the hill with a burst, and were soon seen walking with their bicycles up the hill. We completed the hill at our moderate pace.

In similar fashion, Jamaica has never really planned for challenges, and always seem to be reacting. Two examples come to mind. The first is that every year we seem to be caught off guard by nature — rains or hurricanes — simply because our system of parish governance never seems to truly keep the country in a state of readiness. We know that heavy rains come every year, but we do not keep drains cleaned or have heavy sanctions for people who litter. We continue to allow people to build in vulnerable areas after they have been flooded. Or we fail to apply proper town planning and allow businesses to invade residential areas, eventually turning them into slums.

Secondly, in 2008 when it was apparent that the world was going into recession, we never looked perturbed, and acted as if it was going to pass us by. When we started to prepare was when the worst had passed globally, and even today we still do not seem to have come to grips with it. In other words, we knew that the hill was coming but still continued to ride at 20 mph.

The next challenge was going down Fern Gully in the pouring rain, and even more, getting to the end of Fern Gully and meeting the everlasting road works. We were fully aware of the dangers of Fern Gully when it is dry, and when wet it is more dangerous, as you have little brakes. However, if you are aware of the danger, then you ride a certain way — slowly and what we cyclists say as in your drops (holding on to the lower part of the handlebar). Failure to do so will result in what happened to some persons — you fall and suffer serious pain.

What was most discomforting though was the man-made challenge of the road work at the end of fern gully, which is illustrative of the disregard we have for taxpayers in this country. How can we be doing that sort of work in a tourist town (forget about the insignificant citizens for a while) and have the road in that state, and even so for such a long period. We must show our people respect. But I guess they love it as I have heard no complaints.

After a few more hours of riding we made it to Montego Bay, where we stopped to have lunch. We were feeling the pressure of the ride, and wanted to finish, but knew that if we didn’t stop to eat lunch the probability was high that, even though we may finish, we could have done so with much more suffering.

This is a lesson for the world, not Jamaica alone. In perilous economic times, stimulus is necessary. You may be able to make it through but what is the sense of doing so if you are going to make your suffering worse in the process.

With 10 miles to go I was riding behind some cyclists who allowed a gap to open between the group in front. After 148 miles I had little energy to catch up with the group and hit a mental block. Two cyclists (Richie Bowen and Chris Foster) rode up at 25 mph — I was down to 19 mph — and gave me their wheel, which means ride behind them and be protected from the wind to build back my momentum. However, I was not ready to respond until a minute later when Chris Bicknell came at the same speed and gave me his wheel and I went with him. After a few minutes we were tiring and slowing to 21 mph, Billy Perkins went in front and carried us up back to 26 mph.

There are two lessons for Jamaica. We can only develop if we stop the tribalistic approach to politics and come together as a nation, and we can’t join organisations, and expect to benefit, without first being ready ourselves. The EPA, Caricom, and the CCJ come to mind. These are good for us, but only if we prepare ourselves to take advantage of them.

Even with all the pain of the ride, it was fun and for a good cause. The worst part was when I got to Ocho Rios, and after nine hours and 23 minutes in the saddle (total ride time), I, along with other guests, spent two hours trying to check in at Riu, even though we made reservations before. The other experiences at the hotel were very good, but to get to them was a problem.

What really irked me though was when I expressed my disgust and said I was going to write about it, at that time I was asked what could be done to make it better for me. There was no such gesture before to the other guests. I flatly refused the offer as it would have meant that I would have compromised my principles. How could I accept an offer selfishly, when all the other Jamaicans were suffering also? I was insulted that they would think I would have done such a thing, but maybe others have before, and could be the reason why we continue to receive such service in this country.

Dennis Chung is a chartered accountant and the author of “Charting Jamaica’s Economic and Social Development — A much needed paradigm shift”. His blog is E-mail: 





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