“It’s always something different. It’s always something good. And there’s always satisfaction in it.”
For more than a decade, 58-year-old Jack Carlson has dedicated himself to one key belief: Every kid should be able to ride a bike. And that includes children with disabilities. But often, adaptive tricycles are expensive and don’t meet the specialized needs of many children. That’s where Jack comes in. To date, he’s given hundreds of kids the gift of joy, movement, and freedom-and he’s just getting started.
As a teenager, Jack started working part-time in a bike shop in his home state of Minnesota. That led him to a 40-year-long career in bike repair, most of which he’s spent at Strauss Skates and Bicycles outside St. Paul. But it wasn’t until recently that he found his true calling as the MacGyver of the adaptive bike community.
One day in 2006, a man walked into the shop looking to buy a bicycle for his daughter. She had a disability, and standard bicycles weren’t meeting her needs. But her father wanted her to have all the same opportunities as other kids her age.
As a single father of three kids, Jack could empathize. So he learned more about the girl’s needs, grabbed some materials, and headed to the garage to shave, weld, and fashion something custom that she could use.
The custom tricycle was a big hit. And quickly, word started to spread throughout the community about “Jack the Bike Guy.” Requests from customers with special needs started flooding in, each person with their own unique challenges for a bicycle. And Jack got to work.
The demand for Jack’s talents was so high that Strauss became known nationwide for its adaptive tricycle services and reasonable prices. A fully customized trike can cost many thousands of dollars anywhere else, but Jack works out deals with suppliers and is known for breaking apart old bikes and various sports equipment to fashion the perfect solution for each child.
“Jack can come up with a solution just by looking at other materials we have around the shop-like an old pair of roller blades,” says Strauss owner Shaun Hastings. “He’s able to recognize that a kid has trouble keeping their feet on the pedal, and he can shave and mount [the roller blades] so that their feet have kind of a saddle to sit into. Jack will go to any length to find something he needs for our kids.”
But despite Jack’s thrift and creativity, the trikes still end up running about $1,800 a piece-a price tag many parents just can’t afford. Jack knew he needed to find a way to help their kids get the mobility and freedom they deserve. So he started a GoFundMe to help more families afford adaptive tricycles for their children with special needs.
“Figuring how to adapt a bike isn’t the biggest challenge,” says Jack. “Funding is.”
When Shriners Hospitals, Gillette Children’s Hospital, or local children’s charities need an adaptive bike, they go to Jack. So every year, he gets requests to build 50–100 trikes and bikes. When people who need help can’t afford it on their own, Jack pulls from his GoFundMe to help.
“We try to make it so that if a customer can pay for half, we’d give them the other half,” says Jack. “And if they really can’t afford it, then we can help them out with that, too.”
Because ultimately, the goal is to give as many people as possible the joy and freedom of riding a bike-no matter their physical or financial challenges.
“All it takes is a little creativity,” says Jack. “Every kid should be able to ride a bike without it costing a fortune.”