To a cyclist, there is nothing sweeter than the smell of a small bike shop. Walking into Lifecycle bike shop in downtown Milford, the smell of new, rubber tires is overwhelming.
"Can you smell it?" co-owner Jenn Rowan asks. "Working here every day, we lose that. It's great when we hear people say it."
Still, there is a lot more going on than bike sales and repairs at Lifecycle – a whole lot more.
Owners Ben Jones and Jenn Rowan are all about advocacy and awareness. They want people to experience the joy and freedom they get from cycling.
Jenn said getting on a bicycle four years ago – thanks to Ben – opened up a new world to her. She got back in the saddle after he found an old bike in a dumpster and restored it for her.
"I felt so happy. I can't describe the amount of joy I've had from that bike," she said. "It's freedom and liberating. We've found the secret, and we want to share it with people."
"It's a sense of freedom you don't get in a car. It's so open and free," Ben says.
On the night of a nighttime glow ride they sponsor, Milford's downtown was filled with more than 400 people attending a sold-out theater production and a movie in the park. "You've got to provide outdoor play activities. People want to play outside and get together. People and families will come," Jenn said.
A dream becomes reality
Jenn had worked in the healthcare field for more than two decades, and Ben was fresh out of the U.S. Marine Corps, including a year spent in Afghanistan. Little did they know their paths would cross, at of all places, Delaware Technical Community College in Georgetown. Ben was pursuing a marketing degree, while Jenn was changing career paths to become an occupational therapist assistant.
The couple is a rarity these days – both are true Sussex County natives. Ben grew up in Seaford, and Jenn grew up on a farm between Milford and Milton.
They met, fell in love and got married. But there is a lot more to their story.
Stationed at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, Ben said he was tired of fighting traffic and bought a secondhand bike to ride to his job on an off-road trail. He was hooked on cycling, and it was around that time that the idea of Lifecycle took hold.
He left the Marines after five years, and by that time had taught himself how to repair bicycles. When he moved to Milford, with Jenn by his side, he opened a bicycle repair and refurbishment shop in his basement. Three-and-a-half years later, the stars lined up for his Lifecycle bike shop dream to come true.
The year 2017 was a watershed for the couple. Within six months, they not only got married, they also opened the bike shop at the former location of the Medicine Shoppe in downtown Milford. It wasn't long before Jenn left her job and joined her husband full time at the shop. "The shop took off, and there was no way Ben could keep up," she said. "It's been ideal for us."
They hit the ground running, sponsoring or becoming involved in 130 cycling-related events from March to December. Those events include some unique ones, such as their nighttime glow rides, Sunday Funday rides, Joy rides, women's rides, group rides and trail rides. "Our goal is not just a bicycle retail shop but to brand ourselves as a community hub for people to play outside – and hopefully they'll play on a bicycle," Jenn said.
She said they get great joy from seeing workers at local plants in the Milford area who now ride to work on one of Lifecycle's used bikes. "In the summer, the door is always open, and we hear them shout hey to us," she said.
Ben said it's important not to discount the value of bicycles as viable means of transportation. He said a woman just released from a halfway house made her first stop at the shop to purchase a bicycle. "We see it locked up all over town now," he said.
During the winter, the pair hosts a series of workshops showcasing local people with talents, including holiday bicycle wheel wreath-making, calligraphy, and iPhone photo and bike-packing classes.
Cycling becomes family's identity
They sell Giant and Liv – cycles for women – at their shop, and there's a reason for it. The couple said those companies focus on giving back to the community, something Jenn and Ben buy into 100 percent.
Jenn, who has three sons, ages 15, 12 and 10 from a previous marriage, said the bike shop is their home away from home. Her three boys get off the bus at the shop at 10 S.E. Front St. and do their homework at a desk in the back of the shop. They also help around the shop, and as a family, they take bike rides and camp.
"Cycling is giving us an identity as a family," Jenn says.
Ben takes care of the books and is the wrench man; he also teaches bike maintenance classes at the shop, Abbott's Mill Nature Center and Delaware Tech. Jenn is the creative side of the team, handling marketing and social media.
Ben says they work with people from all walks of life to find or build a bicycle they can ride in comfort and safety, including adaptations for people with handicaps.
"If it's possible, we can do it here. We try to make dreams come true," Ben said.
Jenn is a 2018 Liv Ambassador, part of a team of female riders representing the Mid-Atlantic region. She will not only promote the brand, but will also help develop a women's cycling community through rides and clinics. Her first event was the Feb. 3 Winter Warmup at Killens Pond State Park, one of many nationwide rides that weekend, and the first in southern Delaware.
Looking beyond the local area, Ben said programs such as World Bicycle Relief are dramatically changing lives. "It's amazing what the impact a bicycle can be to someone in a Third World country," he said.
"In America and First World countries, bicycles are called child's toys, a rich man's obsession or a poor man's last choice. That's funny because that's the entire gamut of society in a single context," he said.
Jenn says they will continue to reach out and share the joy they get from cycling. "Sussex County needs it. Southern Delaware needs it to nurture a sense of community and also because of the amount of vehicular traffic," she said.
Go to facebook.com/lifecycledelaware for information on the shop and scheduled events.