Pictured from left are (front row) Bryce, Joe, Eric Paulsen, Kaj, Grace, and James.

Kids learn the science of biking


May is Bike Month


Eric Paulsen grew up riding bikes and learning how to fix them. His father eventually bought him the tools, figuring it was cheaper than paying for repairs.

Knowing how to fix his own bike led to jobs in bike shops that were a big step toward adult independence. Then, he became an elite repairperson for Trek Bicycle Company, where he also worked as a prototype technician.

“That meant I got to ride all the new models,” he said with a grin.

Now, as a science teacher at Cotter Schools, Paulsen spends most of his time teaching traditional science, computer science and robotics. But his passion for bikes led him to start the Cotter Bike Lab to teach kids in middle school how to maintain and repair bikes.

In several weekly sessions, 19 students, roughly half girls and half boys, learn about shifting, braking, torque and the mechanics of bikes, among other topics. Then, they get a project bike. They take it apart, replace parts, fill new tires, clean it up and eventually take it out for a spin to test their work.

They get to know all kinds of bikes — cruisers, road bikes, trail bikes, racers and even a Malaysian bicycle rickshaw, donated by the family of an exchange student. As one student studied the brakes on her tandem bike, another replaced the inner tube in his bike’s tire and considered how the rust might affect it, while a third showed off a cruiser that had been found in a ditch — he’d replaced the bent handlebars with a set donated by a faculty member.

“Learning to fix a bike is a hands-on activity and a real world skill,” Paulsen said. “Kids learn to solve problems and be tenacious.”

After donated bikes are successfully repaired and cleaned, they are donated to Winona’s Volunteer Services to give to people who need them.

Students who gain skills at the Bike Lab could also step in and get a job at a bike shop.

“I’d love to do that!” said one of the students.


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