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Ex‑Marine Squares Things Away at FWB Bike Shop

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Jason Miller
Photo by Alita Feek.

By Alita Feek

 

“Send in the Marines!” isn’t just a catchphrase. The tough jobs don’t get done by themselves—you need the right people, the ones who won’t give up. You need the Marines.

 

So when United States soldiers deployed to Kandahar needed help resuscitating an aging fleet of bicycles—crucial for getting around base—who better to help than veteran Marine Jason Miller, who runs the Bikes Plus bicycle shop in Fort Walton Beach? When one of his buddies at the Naval Air Station in Pensacola told him about the situation, Miller immediately went to work.

 

Bikes Plus opened in Fort Walton Beach in November 2016. Its original home is in Pensacola, where it was founded in 1984. Bikes Plus has since built a loyal following and become an integral part of the Pensacola cycling community.

 

Expansion has been in the works for some time, and with its central location and strong military presence, Fort Walton Beach beckoned. The new Bikes Plus is nestled along a quiet stretch of Racetrack Road, and though it lacks the trendy Palafox address of the Pensacola mothership, it has tons of heart.

 

Photo by Jamie Moncure.

As an avid cyclist himself, the youthful Miller has big dreams for the future. First, he sees Bikes Plus FWB as not just a bike store—sure, they offer bikes, gear and repairs—but as a vehicle to contribute to the local cycling community. While existing groups like Emerald Coast Cyclists have great offerings for Okaloosa County cyclists, Miller sees Bikes Plus as complementing what they do.

 

Miller already leads local Saturday bike rides—fun and casual—and views the next step as setting up some races in the Fort Walton Beach area, giving both serious cyclists and fun‑loving amateurs an organized outlet for competition.

 

“When I look back at how I got into biking, a local shop would set up in a park and have a race,” he says. “There isn’t really anyone doing that here.” Miller is actively engaging with local officials, such as those at Jackson Guard at Eglin Recreation, to bring his goals closer to fruition.

 

Miller says his big cycling goal is 100 miles, and, yes, you read that correctly. When he first mentioned this, my jaw dropped. “Yes, it’s a goal for a lot of people to hit that 100‑miler,” he says. Happily, there is just such an event up the road in Milton, where they host the annual Blackwater Heritage Century Ride. Colloquially known as the Fenner Ride, this event takes place in October and raises funds for local charities.

 

Miller wants to keep the weekly rides fun and casual, but also offer those who are interested the chance to go a little bit farther each week. Any cyclists wishing to build up to the Fenner Ride would “start in the spring and add a little mileage every week so [they] can have that option in the fall,” Miller says.

 

Leading fellow cycling enthusiasts through their first 100‑miler sounds like a big job, but that isn’t Miller’s biggest. The job nearest to his heart is helping fellow veterans, which brings us back to his current efforts to help military members currently deployed in Afghanistan. It wasn’t something he originally set out to do.

 

“Yes, there’s bikes over there, but we never really thought about it,” says Miller.

 

But once his NAS buddy John put the bug in his ear, Miller jumped in, asking why nobody else was doing this. Then it was “Why aren’t we doing this?” Over time, Miller has put together countless boxes of tires and tubes and “pretty much everything else but helmets and pedals” that the folks in Kandahar might need to repair their bikes. The shipping logistics are still coming together, but he hopes to send everything over soon.

 

Helping others is at the core of Our Purpose Sports Foundation, the nonprofit Miller recently founded with colleague Jennifer Jutkofsky. Our Purpose aims to organize events to raise money for worthy causes and to support disabled athletes, with a special focus on veterans of both the military and first responder communities.

 

Although they officially incorporated as a Fort Walton Beach charity just this summer, no grass is growing under their feet—they’re starting with a bang in the Florida Keys for this September. The planned five‑day ride starts in Key Largo and ends in Key West, with the proceeds going to help, in Miller’s words, “get all these other things going,” like continuing to send bicycle parts to Kandahar.

 

Whether it’s shipping bicycle tubes a world away, helping local cyclists tackle their first century, or simply dealing with the nuts and bolts of a new store opening, you need the right person for the job. With Miller at the helm, the future looks bright for Fort Walton Beach’s Bikes Plus.

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