An MIT Alumni Association Publication

Engineer Takes Bike Repair for a Spin

  • Slice of MIT

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Neal Carlson SM ’65, EAA ’65, PhD ’69 has always liked to fix things, so when his church needed someone to repair bicycles for its annual auction, he volunteered. “Being reasonably mechanical, I thought, ‘That’s something I can do,’” Carlson says. “It turned out it’s been a very rewarding process.”

For the past five years, Carlson has been refurbishing bikes for an event his church holds every summer in Dennis, Massachusetts. All the bike sale proceeds go to community charities. “My favorite part of repairing bikes is figuring out what’s wrong and then the feeling of satisfaction when I can fix it,” he says. “That’s rewarding, to take a bike that’s almost unrideable and turn it back into a bike that somebody can really enjoy.”

After completing his undergraduate degree at Princeton, Carlson earned his PhD from MIT’s Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics. He began his career at Intermetrics, a small company that developed software later used for the space shuttle. He then founded his own company, Integrity Systems Inc., and spent the next 25 years or so working on navigation, guidance, and control systems.

Once he retired and decided to volunteer, Carlson found it easy to learn bike repair. “I think at MIT, as well as at Princeton, I discovered how to learn things that I didn’t already know,” he says. He repaired about 20 bikes in his first year, and last year repaired roughly 55.

Once Carlson has made the necessary repairs—from fixing brakes and shifters to replacing flat tires—he is delighted to see the bikes find new homes. This summer, he was particularly happy to see a boy get the bike of his dreams at a bargain price. “All of us on the bike crew had a really nice feeling as we watched the boy leave with his new bike and a huge smile on his face!” Carlson says. “It's definitely not all about money.”

Learn more about Neal Carlson’s bike repair work in this MITAA video.

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