The story actually begins back in the 70s when young Jack Nielsen, complete with floppy blond hair, tried to do freestyle tricks and race BMX on a Schwinn Stingray, complete with a banana seat and shock fork.
He and his childhood buddies, who become part of the story later on, wanted to be like their motocross heroes so they added knobby tires to the Stingrays, motocross bars and forks.
Jack earned money for the bike parts from his paper route. When Mongoose finally released their BMX-specific bike, he bought a frame on layaway, scavenged parts from other bikes and bought new when he had the money.
Growing up in Racine, there were several BMX tracks and skate parks. Jack took the bike he built himself and regularly busted himself up learning the freestyle tricks. And even though he took 6th in the Expert class, he liked doing freestyle tricks in races even though it was slowing him down.
To take his girlfriend to prom, he sold the BMX bike to pay for repairing the car. And so he went without a bike for four years.
“Bikes are part of me. Bad things happen when I don’t ride. Life goes a little sideways.”
His friends stand by when he hits these lack-of-bike funks, and there’s a lot of friends. There are buddies all over the country, and every one of them has at least one Jack story, stories that make his guardian angels sweat and wonder what they signed on to.
By the late 80s, though, Jack was back doing the bike on his own terms. This time, he rode mountain bikes out at the Kettle Moraine State Park on the hiking trails since there weren’t really bike trails yet. He raced the Wisconsin Off-Road Series (WORS) in just its third year. (WORS is celebrating its 25th year in 2016.)
Not surprisingly, Jack’s drive led him to move quickly up the ranks, earning some top 10s in the elite fields in WORS, Chequamegon, and other big mountain bike events.
On the road, it was a similar story. Jack trained on the road, and his drive fueled him on his way to being a Cat. 2, winning state championships, and Wisconsin Cycling Association series championships.
But Jack’s drive on the bike was fueled by anger and emotion. Off the bike, he’s the most fun, gregarious guy you’ll meet. He’ll be your new best friend after you closed down the bar together.
But on the bike, he’s ferocious, driven, focused. He’s not playing. He’s never a dick on the bike, though; he just wants everyone to hurt as much as he does. So he tries to rip everyone’s legs off. He’ll never sit in a field and just wait for a sprint. He’s the guy who attacks and attacks and attacks.
Nearly 50 now, he still rides, but this time focusing on having fun, riding for the sake of riding, not to drive out the anger demons, not to prove anything to anyone, just ride the damn bike.
“I’m older now. I’m not angry. I just want to be happy and ride my bike and be happy I can still do it. I appreciate the gift of the bike. I celebrate it every time I get on a bike and ride.”
He lives in Racine, WI with his wife Chris, and he works at Racine Unified School District in HVAC.