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Riding recycled bike down memory lane

Lynn Lau
Northern News Services

Aklavik (Aug 19/02) - There's a time machine parked in the yard -- it's Wally McPherson's souped up banana-seat bicycle with the biggest handlebars you've ever seen.

NNSL Photo

Wally McPherson takes his homemade recycled bicycle for a spin. - Lynn Lau/NNSL photo

Whenever the 58-year-old needs to take a trip down memory lane, he hops on the big red seat and peddles. Sometimes people stop him for a photo, or to ask if they can take his bike for a spin.

Except for the tubes and the paint, all the components for his unique bike came from the dump. McPherson and his friend William Gardlund put it together two years ago.

"I just wanted to make it look like you never seen one of those in town," McPherson says.

Ever since he got his first bike -- a tricycle actually -- McPherson has loved bikes. He was 10 when his mom bought him that tricycle. It was one of the first in Aklavik, as far as McPherson can recall. "My grandmother sent it down from Fort Simpson by boat. It was hard rubber tires -- no tubes -- so it was kind of a hard ride on the seat. But it was better than walking and I was so proud of it. The other boys all wanted the same thing."

After two summers, the tricycle fell apart, and McPherson was becoming a teenager. He moved on to two-wheelers you could order through Eaton's. "In the '50s, everybody started ordering them -- it was quite the thing," he says. "I'd buy them second-hand for $30 or $40. That was a lot of money back then."

When he went to Yellowknife for high school, he didn't leave his love for bikes behind. In mechanics class, he and three classmates converted a bike and chainsaw into a little motorcycle. "We had the throttle in front, gas in the handlebars," McPherson recalls. "It looked kind of stupid, but by God, it was sure a lot of fun."

Later, as a young man working on the oil rigs of Alberta, McPherson moved on to motorcycles. He even spent some time on a Harley chopper with bikers in Vancouver. Riding a big bike was trouble though. McPherson says he'd always get stopped by cops wondering what kind of trouble he getting into.

When he returned to the North in the late '60s, he stopped riding motorcycles as much. It gets too cold, too fast, he says. He gave up his last motorcycle about 12 years ago, when he couldn't afford to pay for the upkeep.

So it's back to the peddle-pusher variety. In Inuvik, he keeps a 10-speed racing bike to ride when he goes to town. In Aklavik, of course he's got his fine red recycled bike.

It's no coincidence the handlebars are vaguely reminiscent of those big Harley choppers.