Why this Prince George’s County native quit his corporate job to work in a local bike shop

Abu Mubarik June 03, 2024
Matt Onojafe, Founder of Jafe Cycling. Photo: MATT ONOJAFE via ia Forbes

Mathew O. Onojafe is a Prince George’s County native and owner of Jafe Cycling who has over the years used his passion for cycling to forge space for black cyclists in his community and beyond.

He is also the founder of the “Jafe Cycling Foundation,” which provides workshops to young middle and high school students and exposes them to cycling with the hope of getting them scholarships, life skills, and employment opportunities.

Onojafe started serious cycling in 2014, and it was around the time he was about to have his son. According to him, the anxiety and emotions of being a dad influenced him to start cycling, as it provided him with an outlet for mental clarity.

“As I would ride the trails, I would think about what type of dad I wanted to be,” he told Forbes. “It also allowed me to reevaluate the role my father played in my life and what he meant to me.”

He continued, “My dad was a ‘man’s man,’” adding that “he is a person that people admire for his work ethic. Watching him made me want to show my son that hard work will get you where you need to be. So, once my son was finally born, I hitched him to my bike and brought him on the trails to ride with me.”

Cycling transitioned from a hobby to a full-time career for him at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. He said he understood what cycling meant and did for him from a mental and physical perspective. Based on this experience, he believed that if he could encourage more individuals in his community to be healthy, it could help them with preventative care when fighting the virus.

“That was my solution to what was going on around us. As an engineer, tinkering with and fixing bikes was natural for me. I would work on my bike as well as a few buddies of mine. Once they started referring more people to me, I knew I needed to monetize this hobby,” he said.

Historically, cycling has not been a sport for blacks due to a combination of factors. They include “systematic exclusionary practices, under-exposure of the sport to Black youth, and financial limitations of underrepresented communities,” Forbes found.

And this is reflected in the history of Tour De France, where no black person has ever won the tournament and less than one percent of blacks compete in it.

Onojafe, who has a Bachelor of Science degree in optical engineering from Norfolk State University and eight years of experience in business development and government contracting, wants to introduce blacks to cycling through his bike shop and foundation.

However, the journey has not been easy as owning a bike shop requires a significant amount of consumable or retail items, he said.

“Having enough inventory to meet demand has always been an ongoing challenge for me,” he told Forbes. “I started Jafe Cycling in my basement. So I would buy one or two of each component. From a pricing perspective, it was hard to get the right margins. To put it plainly, making sure I had enough inventory at the right price was a real challenge in the beginning.”

To fund Jafe Cycling, he used his savings from his past corporate job and also got a personal loan from a former coworker. Those two financial vehicles gave him the initial boost to start Jafe Cycling, he stressed.

Onojafe said he wants the legacy of Jafe Cycling to be about community impact. “Just as we are touching the community of Prince George’s County, I truly believe that we’re going to grow and have multiple shops all across the country! The question is, how can this local bike shop impact its community so that we can get more students on bikes and provide job opportunities and resources like a rec center? I want Jafe Cycling to be a pillar in whatever community it’s in.”

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: June 3, 2024


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