The man who put the town on wheels
Name one childhood possession of higher importance than your bicycle. It introduced you to your neighborhood. It was your adventure machine.
Odds are pretty high that if you grew up in or around Burlington, it all began at Neilsen’s Cycle Shop, 24 Cambridge St., near the Woburn Line. George Neilsen was the predominant peddler of pedals for 35 years.
“To this day, I still meet people who know and talk about Neilsen’s Cycle,” says Tracy Lord Fagan, one of Neilsen’s daughters. “There’s always someone who bought a bike for themselves or their children there.” She worked at the store at age 13, advising customers, ringing up sales, putting on tires and changing out the hand brakes.
Working alongside her father taught her the long-term approach to building a business. “My dad would always convince people to buy the right bike for them versus the more expensive bike. That’s why they always came back.”
Dianne Ballon of Lantern Lane was a serious cyclist in high school. After classes, she and her friend Sandy often biked up Route 62 to Old North Bridge in Concord and back, a 20-mile round trip. That required a newfangled thing known as a 10-speed bike. When Neilsen started carrying those, Ballon got a bright yellow Schwinn.
Burlington police expected this new, potent type of bike would be a theft target. So they devised a license plate system — for bikes. “You filled out a form with the make of your bike, serial number and then were issued a license,” Dianne recalls. “You put the license behind the back seat. I’m not quite sure how many stolen bikes were recovered through the new license program, as the thief could just throw the plate away. I do like the looks of it, though. It’s hanging up in my kitchen. It’s not that big, about 6 and 1/2 inches long, but striking with the green and white letters.”
And here it is.
Neilsens! . . . between the Route 128 Drive-In and DuCett’s hardware . . . memories!
George had an old spider bike in the back that I saw several times. I think there was a promise that I could try to ride it sometime, but that never did happen.
My dad took me to his early shop in about 1958. We had an old disassembled 20″ bike that was a wreck. The small shop had chains and equipment hanging everywhere. A couple of weeks later I sped off down Marlboro Road for my 1st ride on a 2 wheel bike. My dad was in hot pursuit because I did not know how to get off! We continued to use Neilsen’s through the years!
I grew up in Pinehurst, and remember my dad taking me to Neilsen’s for my first full-size bike – a used, 26 inch Columbia that Mr. Neilsen had refurbished. I can still see it. The frame was repainted, but the fenders were new and it was in great shape. That was probably about 1954. Mr. Neilsen looked just like the picture above, and seemed like a genuinely good guy. My dad had great respect for him, and that bike was the center of my life for years. Happy years they were. Thanks, Mr. Neilsen.
I’m George’s niece, and I love all the memories I’ve read here. Thank you for sharing, and I will pass this on to the rest of our family.
I spent many happy days in my Uncle Georges’ bike shop! I still have and ride the bike I bought from him in 1974! I miss those days and my Uncle. My mom was George’s sister, Caroline.