Purple bikes ride again

Philippe LeBlond was too shy to chase girls when he was 14, so he "grabbed wrenches and started tinkering with bikes." He hasn't stopped.

Philippe LeBlond was too shy to chase girls when he was 14, so he “grabbed wrenches and started tinkering with bikes.”

He hasn’t stopped. While studying physics at the University of British Columbia, he ran a mobile bike-repair business. After two years there, he earned a diploma in mechanical design at a technical school.

He came up to Whitehorse in the early ‘90s, where he worked at a local shop, then travelled the territory with a mobile-bike service for seven years before settling in Whitehorse.

In the late ‘90s, his “tinkering” led to him to begin the Purple Bike Project. LeBlond takes old bikes, often donated from others, and repairs them.

He began painting the bikes purple because it was his then-girlfriend’s favourite colour. He rents the “Frankenbikes” out “from breakup to freezeup,” usually from April to October.

North of Ordinary magazine recently listed the initiative as one of the Top 10 things in Whitehorse. As well, tourists stop almost every day to admire the geodesic dome made of bike rims in front of his house.

“I see so many bikes going into the dump being thrown out,” the kinetic artist said from his Riverdale garage as he worked on a visitor’s bicycle. “We’re such a rich society. It’s sad to see all these bikes being thrown into the garbage, and all they need is a little bit of work, or a fair amount of work.”

The project has worked successfully because of LeBlond’s efforts. But this season, it almost didn’t last.

Most years, LeBlond has run the project entirely by himself.

For the past two years, it operated out of Cadence Cycle, the bicycle shop he previously owned. This year, he partnered with Raven Recycling, but unspecified “systematic problems” caused him to suspend the project in June.

But like the bikes, it has been salvaged. People will now go to Bringing Youth Towards Equality’s office on Ogilvie Street to rent the bikes, while the Boys and Girls Club on Sixth Avenue will provide storage. Profits will be split between LeBlond and the two organizations.

It fits well with what BYTE already does, said executive director Chris Rider. The project involves “taking things that would otherwise be trash … and turning them into something brand new,” he said.

Apart from Rider, all of BYTE’s employees are under 25. “We all love bikes,” he said.

BYTE employees already work to make their office “green,” and the purple project is that – in more ways than one.

The environmental part is important, but the purple bikes program also helps the self-employed LeBlond pay his bills.

“When it works well, it turns a small profit,” he said, estimating he can make $75 or $100 per bike.

Riders pay a $150 deposit for the season. It costs $10 to rent a bike for the first day. The next two days cost five dollars each, and the next four are three dollars each. After the first week, it costs a dollar a day, up to half of the deposit.

LeBlond will repair damages. Riders must provide their own locks and helmets.

People from across the country have used his bikes – some say they work better than the ones they own Outside. It’s like buying shoes, he said. He needs to keep various styles on hand to give people selection.

Most of the bikes are old mountain bikes, and he professes a particular fondness for old cruisers. This year, “kids from Ontario” have wanted bikes with skinny tires, he said.

It’s not just tourists and transients pedaling purple bikes. Government departments use them as well.

The bikes generate money year after year. Around 80 per cent are returned to him, he said. The oldest ones are about 10 years old. Over a decade, one bike could bring in a $1,000 in small increments.

But with the time he spends working on the bikes, LeBlond knows he doesn’t earn much on an hourly rate. He’s adamant it be called a project not a program – programs receive government subsidies. This does not. It’s entirely self-funded.

“It’s not a socialist project,” he said. “It’s a social project.” But he may apply for funding in the future, he said.

Despite this year’s bumps, LeBlond has no plans to slow the project down. If the past is any indication, the project can only grow.

He began with about 20 bikes. Now, his fleet includes around 90 bikes. He hopes to have over 100.

LeBlond names and numbers each bike. They each have a story, and are all his favourites, like children, he said.

He began naming them after gods from various pantheons – he is especially fond of a bike named Emkidu. But after naming 50 or 60 bikes for gods, he got bored. So he switched to cheeses.

He may start naming some after elements on the periodic table, he said. The number of elements alone should make sure the project continues for a while yet.

Contact Meagan Gillmore at


Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Whitehorse and Carcross will be among seven northern communities to have unlimited internet options beginning Dec. 1. (Yukon News file)
Unlimited internet for some available Dec. 1

Whitehorse and Carcross will be among seven northern communities to have unlimited… Continue reading

Willow Brewster, a paramedic helping in the COVID-19 drive-thru testing centre, holds a swab used for the COVID-19 test moments before conducting a test with it on Nov. 24. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
An inside look at the COVID-19 drive-thru testing centre

As the active COVID-19 case count grew last week, so too did… Continue reading

Conservation officers search for a black bear in the Riverdale area in Whitehorse on Sept. 17. The Department of Environment intends to purchase 20 semi-automatic AR-10 rifles, despite the inclusion of the weapons in a recently released ban introduced by the federal government, for peace officers, such as conservation officers. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Environment Minister defends purchase of AR-10 rifles for conservation officers

The federal list of banned firearms includes an exception for peace officers

Yukonomist Keith Halliday
Yukonomist: The K-shaped economic recovery and what Yukoners can do about it

It looks like COVID-19 will play the role of Grinch this holiday… Continue reading

Fossil finds at Mt. Stephen. (Photo: Sarah Fuller/Parks Canada)
Extreme hiking, time travel and science converge in the Burgess Shale

Climb high in the alpine and trace your family tree back millions of years – to our ocean ancestors

Black Press Media and BraveFace have come together to support children facing life-threatening conditions. Net proceeds from these washable, reusable, three-layer masks go to Make-A-Wish Foundation BC & Yukon.
Put on a BraveFace: Mask fundraiser helps make children’s wishes come true

From Black Press Media + BraveFace – adult, youth and kid masks support Make-A-Wish Foundation

Colin McDowell, the director of land management for the Yukon government, pulls lottery tickets at random during a Whistle Bend property lottery in Whitehorse on Sept. 9, 2019. A large amount of lots are becoming available via lottery in Whistle Bend as the neighbourhood enters phase five of development. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Lottery for more than 250 new Whistle Bend lots planned for January 2021

Eight commercial lots are being tendered in additional to residential plots

The Government of Yukon Main Administration Building in Whitehorse on Aug. 21. The Canada Border Services Agency announced Nov. 26 that they have laid charges against six people, including one Government of Yukon employee, connected to immigration fraud that involved forged Yukon government documents. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Charges laid in immigration fraud scheme, warrant out for former Yukon government employee

Permanent residency applications were submitted with fake Yukon government documents

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
City hall, briefly

A look at decisions made by Whitehorse city council this week

Karen Wenkebach has been appointed as a judge for the Yukon Supreme Court. (Yukon News file)
New justice appointed

Karen Wenckebach has been appointed as a judge for the Supreme Court… Continue reading

Catherine Constable, the city’s manager of legislative services, speaks at a council and senior management (CASM) meeting about CASM policy in Whitehorse on June 13, 2019. Constable highlighted research showing many municipalities require a lengthy notice period before a delegate can be added to the agenda of a council meeting. Under the current Whitehorse procedures bylaw, residents wanting to register as delegates are asked to do so by 11 a.m. on the Friday ahead of the council meeting. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Changes continue to be contemplated for procedures bylaw

Registration deadline may be altered for delegates

Cody Pederson of the CA Storm walks around LJ’s Sabres player Clay Plume during the ‘A’ division final of the 2019 Yukon Native Hockey Tournament. The 2021 Yukon Native Hockey Tournament, scheduled for March 25 to 28 in Whitehorse next year, was officially cancelled on Nov. 24 in a press release from organizers. (John Hopkins-Hill/Yukon News file)
2021 Yukon Native Hockey Tournament cancelled

The 2021 Yukon Native Hockey Tournament, scheduled for March 25 to 28… Continue reading

Most Read