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.