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Canadian riders bring bikes to Cuba, then leave them behind

The ongoing project involving the Niagara Freewheelers has helped many Cuban youth find their momentum in the saddle.

Photo: Facebook, Niagara Freewheelers Bicycle Touring Club

Though the frigid headwinds and sleet-slicked paths of southern Ontario may be compelling many in the region to choose their trainers over the streets, in Cuba, it’s business as usual when it comes to two wheels. Recognizing this, a squad of roughly 30 riders, as the St. Catharines Standard reported—many of them bearing the standards of the Niagara Freewheelers—took to the warmer locales of the Caribbean nation for a 10-day cycling trip.

That a handful of cyclists from southern Ontario would head to halcyon climes to escape winter isn’t exactly newsworthy, of course. It’s what they did with their bikes at the end of the trip that counts.

According to the Standard, the Niagara Freewheelers recently embarked on their trip across Cuba, joining many Canadians—”Snowbirds,” as the term often goes—in a longstanding maple leaf tradition of heading south when winter weather back home does the same. In partnership with a humanitarian aid project called Bikes for Cuba, led by a Sutton, Ont.-based rider named Jeff Reid, the squad brought a selection of road and mountain rigs for schoolkids in Cuba, stoking the joy of the saddle for the nation’s youth.

How did it all start? “While cycling in Cuba,” Reid said, in conversation with the Standard, “I frequently come in contact with local cycling teams in need of decent bicycles and equipment. In December 2009 the school team in Banes originally had only one poor-quality bicycle for all 14 kids to share.”

Seeing this, Reid immediately donated his racing whip and all of his gear to help them, and the project hit its stride when he returned home to Canada.

Flash forward to 2017. For the Ontario-based riders, a proud tradition of helping others while challenging themselves has been long established by now. By the end of last year, Reid’s project saw 340 quality rides, with gear and accessories to boot, donated to school cycling teams thanks to Canadians from many provinces. Bikes haven’t been their only gifts, though. This year, participating riders ferried medicine, collected by medical professionals in St. Catharines, to Cubans in need— many of whom, the Standard reported— were without so much as a bandage or a pair of scissors.

And then there’s the riding challenge itself, with participating cyclists covering distances between 12 and 70 kilometres, including a few solid multi-kilometre climbs.

According to Freewheelers club member Dennis Munn, having made the lives of Cuban youth better with the gift of cycling—something every participating rider knows well—makes every moment of the excursion worthwhile, no matter what the conditions, no matter the grade of the climb.

“The good feeling at the end,” he said, “you know the kind of kids that are going to get these bikes, they appreciate it.” Even if he had no plans to ride, Munn told the Standard, he’d bring a bike regardless.