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Three children riding bikes.

Bikes for kids in the North

The Harpers are still looking for more bike donations — especially smaller youth bikes, which are harder to come by. Credit: Alison Harper

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When Cst. Tim Harper and his wife, Alison, moved to Kugluktuk, they made sure to bring their bikes. The couple, long-time mountain bikers, took to riding around their remote Nunavut community — attracting attention from the town's children.

"The young kids took a liking to Alison's bike," says Harper. "A lot of kids didn't have bikes, but wanted to go riding with her anyhow — so they would trade off or double up on their friend's bikes, or even just run alongside her."

Alison's Saturday afternoon bike rides soon became a community tradition, but the couple realized that many couldn't afford their own bikes to join in. They reached out to their friend Ron Uhlenberg, owner of Ridley's Cycle in Calgary, to see if he could help.

Uhlenberg donated eight bikes to the community, and soon others from across Canada followed suit. By the end of the summer, 80 bikes had arrived in the community, delivered for free by Buffalo Airways.

"This project has made a tremendous impact in the community of Kugluktuk," says Cpl. Jean-Luc Bedard, Kugluktuk's detachment commander. "It's fostered great relationships between the youth, the Kugluktuk Youth Centre and the detachment."

The bikes have helped connect the community and police. Lost bikes are often returned to the detachment building instead of being stolen, and Harper says he's noticed parents are more willing to talk to him thanks to his connection to their kids.

This summer, the Polar Bike Project is set to expand. There are 70 more bikes waiting to be flown to Kugluktuk, while the nearby town of Taloyoak will receive its own shipment of bikes, delivered from Victoria, B.C., by the Canadian Coast Guard.

Harper also plans to teach kids about bike maintenance, using supplies purchased with money crowd-funded through GoFundMe.

"Last summer, on the day we gave the bikes out, we saw families who had never done anything together all out and riding together," says Harper. "People were saying that there were so many people out riding that it was almost a traffic hazard — in a good way!"

Reprinted with permission from the Pony Express (No. 3, 2016).

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