Shop aims to be the heart of the community

When Ben Jones met Jenn Rowan, he shared with her his love of bicycling.

“He blended it into dates and it was more of an adventure,” said the 39-year-old Rowan, who is originally from Milton. “It was, ‘Let’s go to Mispillion [River Brewery] to get beer - but we’re gonna ride our bikes.’ It even made the beer taste better.”

Jones, now 29, is from Seaford and served in the Marine Corps. He first bought a bike while stationed in North Carolina about seven years ago and started riding it to work.

“I wasn’t sitting in traffic getting pissed off anymore. I was having this grand experience off in the woods by myself,” he said. “By the time I showed up at work, I had endorphins running through my body and felt like I had already accomplished something.”

Jones was biking on weekends too. No fancy Lycra, no counting miles, no tracking his speed – just riding.

“I felt like I had discovered something positive and inexpensive that everyone could do. It makes you healthier and happier,” he said. “There’s a level of happiness that you can’t describe.”

When Jones left the Marines, he returned to Seaford and got a job at Pedal Works Cyclery in Delmar. He’d been tinkering with his own bikes and honed his skills on the job, eventually being promoted to manager.

Jones and Rowan met at Delaware Technical and Community College in Georgetown. They both returned to college to start second careers – Jones in marketing, Rowan in occupational therapy. They married in 2016 and, with Rowan’s three young sons, moved to Milford.

Bicycling became a beloved family activity, but over time Jones noticed something about the industry as a whole.

“It’s so insular and unattractive. You think of cyclists as wearing non-flattering clothes and causing traffic problems,” he said. “I thought a lot of people were doing a really bad job of making [bicycling] look as amazing as it is. That’s where I got the idea for Lifecycle: extremely approachable.”

Jones and Rowan opened Lifecycle in March. They sell both used and new bikes for all ages and body types, accessories, and offer bike repairs and fittings. While they’re knowledgeable about bicycling and good at selling bikes, Lifecycle feels more like a coffee shop than a retail store.

“Because Ben came from a really high performance, Iron Man-type shop, we can do really expensive custom work on $12,000 bikes. We do custom wheel building, fitting, all the stuff you’d find at a high-end bike shop,” Rowan said. “But we’re really trying to be a community hub.”

Lifecycle has had more than 120 events since opening in March. Jones and Rowan host four free “rides” a week, in varying terrain and for varying skill levels. Their most popular to date, in July, was a leisurely, family-friendly “glow ride” (featuring bikes adorned with glow sticks) that drew about 100 riders.

“We rode all through downtown at nine o’clock at night, a nice big pack of us,” Rowan said. “Cars would pull over and wave and want to know what we were doing.”

Often, Lifecycle partners with other businesses, like Arena’s in Milford or Revelation Craft Brewery in Rehoboth Beach. They feature local artists and craftsmen in the shop and at mini-festivals in their parking lot once a month. Sometimes, they have something unrelated to biking – calligraphy classes and macramé crafts – just for the sake of the community.

Rowan and Jones are southern Delaware’s biggest cheerleaders.

“I really want this area to get more attention,” Rowan said. “We really have a gem. We have a lot of outdoor activities all year – you can still get out on your bike in December. I want to expose southern Delaware as a great spot to recreate outdoors, specifically by bike.”

Ambassadorship

Rowan has been given that opportunity.

Lifecycle takes an interest in the ethics of companies whose bikes they sell. That’s why they chose to feature Giant brand bikes.

Giant was founded in 1972 and has always focused on the health and environmental benefits of bicycling. In 2011, Giant launched Liv, the world’s only bicycle brand made specifically for women. Liv is revolutionary in that, historically, bicycle riding was viewed as a strictly male activity. For that reason, bicycles have always been manufactured for the male body.

“Women weren’t allowed to ride bikes when they were first invented. They weren’t allowed to pick their foot up that high. It was unseemly to throw a leg over the bike,” Rowan said. “So a woman getting on a bike was a statement of freedom and independence, long before suffragettes.”

Women were riding bikes, but bikes weren’t being made for them. While men on bikes turned into a sports genre, women on bikes turned into a pornography genre.

“There was a lot of sexism and sexualizing,” Rowan said. “So Liv said, ‘We’re going to make bikes that fit women. We’re going to normalize women in cycling. We’re going to make it more approachable for women.’”

Recently, Rowan was chosen, out of more than 300 applicants, to be one of about 40 Liv Ambassadors.

“They watch you closely. You have to live up to their ethics,” she said. “You have to write reports, show how many people you reach, your community engagement.”

As a Liv Ambassador, Rowan has to host at least eight cycling events a year. Four must align with nationwide themes and four are more locally-oriented. Her first Liv-sponsored outing, an entry-level women’s mountain biking skills ride, will be held Saturday, Feb. 3 at Killen’s Pond.

Sharing a passion

Jones and Rowan take deep pride in doing what they love for a living and in sharing something that has given them so much happiness with their community. They are Lifecycle’s only employees. You’ll find both of them, with their English springer-spaniel Banjo, at the shop daily.

“We had a woman come up here, she had just gotten out of the halfway house and gotten a job and her first paycheck,” Jones said, beaming. “She walked up here, because she had no transportation, and she had this white envelope with the cash in it. She bought a used bike and a lock and a seat cover for like $40. We watched her in the parking lot take pictures of it, and now we see her ride by on her way to work and wave. To me, that’s making a huge difference in someone’s life.”

Lifecycle is open from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on weekends and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. On Wednesdays they stay open until 8 p.m. Mondays they are closed. Get up-to-the-minute information on the shop and events by checking out their Facebook page.