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Newark Life

Wooden Wheels Service and Repair combines bicycles and beer with the first microbrewery in Newark

May 23, 2022 11:18AM ● By Tricia Hoadley
By Drewe Phinny 
 Contributing Writer

Robbie Downward, David Ferguson and Chris Denney are enthusiastic mountain bicyclists who have decided to take their love for the sport to another level in the form of Wooden Wheels, a smart, savvy business located at 208 Shoppes at Louvres Drive in Newark.

They debuted the current version of the venerable Newark business around six months ago, with a new location after success at several other locations through the years.

“We used to come up here when our shop was in the (Newark) Shopping Center,” Downward explained. “That was years ago. We were at Fairfield Shopping Center. Then, before that, we were behind Starbucks on Main Street.”

Denney explained that Tom Harvey was the longtime owner of Wooden Wheels until 2017. The current owners then reopened the business in 2018.

Over the past few years, Downward and Denney have found that the popularity of cycling is a natural complement to enjoying a glass of beer, whether it be after a trail ride or while waiting for a bike to be repaired. So a microbrewery seemed like a good idea. The Internet played a factor in their plans.

“With the brewery side of things,” Downward said, “You can’t fight the Internet, so you may as well adapt. In a retail market, we needed to come up with a different way to bring in commerce and the community.”

A microbrewery became the perfect fit for what they were looking to do.

“The community can help us, so we’re trying to do as much as we can for them,” Downward explained. “In Delaware, if you brew beer on site, you can sell it with a brewer’s license and a special-use permit, without having a liquor license and without having to sell food.”

The idea of combining breweries and bike trails is a popular trend right now, the Wooden Wheels owners said. “It’s been happening all over the place, although not so much in our region,” Downward said. “A lot of trail-oriented communities are focused around the local biker and they make money off of it. It’s not a brand new idea, by any means.”

The “Wooden Wheels” name has been a respected one in Newark for approximately forty-five years. Not many businesses are a fixture in the community for that long.

“The last one I remember was Post House,” Downward said. “They were around for fifty-five years.”

Downward said that the Post House was on the list of Newark’s oldest businesses, and Wooden Wheels might be among the ten oldest businesses in the city, too.

Originally, the name was Wood AND Wheels. “It was up in Kennett. Reed Rollins took it over and renamed it Wooden Wheels,” he explained. We kind of changed the name for legal reasons to Wooden Wheels Service and Repair.”

In a world where speeding cars pose challenges for bike travel and recreation, there are those who treat that community with the proper amount of respect and caution. Downward noted that there are a lot of Amish traveling the roads in horse and buggies in the countryside, so people are pretty mindful of those that they share the roads with.

The range of bike rider demographics is as wide as you can imagine. “We’ve got ‘em all,” Downward said. He explained that there are riders on push bikes who aren’t even old enough to be in kindergarten yet, and on the other side of the spectrum there are riders who are in their seventies.

Parties and events are a big part of bicycling as recreation, and the social aspect of the activity is continuously increasing. This past April, the Four Years Party was very successful and more is yet to come. People come together to ride, to socialize, or to work on maintaining the trails.

Downward explained, “We bring different groups of people together. I’m president of the local mountain biking club so the trail maintenance is all volunteer. Groups go out into the local parks and fix trail issues, trim branches, etc.”

For those who would rather experience a smoother ride, there’s an entire paved trail from Chesapeake City to Delaware City. On the other hand, road riding is more demanding for fitness. “You’re always pedaling,” Denney said. “No real brakes, always going, with a lot more variables. It’s a full body workout.”

Wooden Wheels is affiliated with Trail Spinners of Delaware, Maryland and Pennsylvania, which is a member of the International Mountain Bicycling Association. Their marketing literature says it all: “We enhance and protect great places to ride mountain bikes. Our focus is on more trails close to home. By 2025, we aim to partner with 250 new communities for more great local trails.”

As for the beer production, Downward said, “We brew about twenty gallons at a time. We’ll probably brew twice a week, twenty gallons at a time. Two fifteen-gallon fermentors…that’s four sixtels, eight pony kegs of beer. Each sixtel will hold about forty-five beers.”

Besides Downward, Denney and Ferguson, there are two other contributors who deserve a mention for their participation. “Scott Partridge, an ESL professor at the University of Delaware, has an interest in brewing as a hobby. And he’s a customer who was interested in helping us out. Also, Tim Cole is a customer of ours, and he’s letting us borrow his equipment, which is very nice of him.”

All the space at Wooden Wheels is carefully utilized specifically to serve patrons and visitors— From bikes, equipment and accessories to the microbrewery accommodations, which include an indoor seating area toward the back of the store as well as open-air seating on the rear balcony.

Downward and Denny love what they do. They’ve been riding for years and their enthusiasm is obvious. They are ambassadors for a recreational activity that is increasing in popularity, especially in the Newark area. And with the addition of a microbrewery, they are “serving the cycling needs of Delaware and they are keeping the ride alive since 1976…Rider owned and rider operated, always.”

Wooden Wheels Service, Repair and Sales 208 Louviers Drive, Newark, Delaware 19711 (302) 368 – BIKE (2453) Open every day but Monday

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