Dirt Biking Is a Family Affair Around the Delaware Region

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For these families in and around Delaware, dirt biking is a multigenerational activity that everyone can enjoy.

Dirt biking
Adobe Stock | master1305

When 6-year-old Candace Pinckney hits the throttle on her four-wheeler, she knows that 50 cc engine will take her wherever she wants to go, whether that’s over a dirt hill or around her family’s property. It’s a powerful, exhilarating feeling.

“Candace loves the acceleration, the speed,” says her dad, Mike Pinckney, of West Chester. “When she’s riding, it’s totally different than riding a bicycle because she can go anywhere. It’s that freedom now that she doesn’t just have to go down this hill and then stop and then go around. The ability for her to go wherever she wants is a new freedom for her. We go all the way down the driveway, and she gets to explore all the property that they never get to see. I think for her, it’s just being able to enjoy outside even more.”

A child dirt biking
James Brant Jr. cruises his aunt and uncle Brit and Mike Pinckney’s backyard. Courtesy Joe Del Tufo

Before she turns 10, Candace will likely graduate to two wheels—a dirt bike—following in a family tradition that spans three generations. Her little sisters Emerson, 5, and Adele, 3, both ride equipped in their own safety gear, with baby brother Rhys not far behind.

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Motocross bikes are a niche but growing hobby, a $9.1 billion industry, according to market reports. But for families like the Pinckneys, it’s a way of life that allows them nearly unyielding access to the great outdoors.

Candace’s grandfather James Pinckney began racing motorcycles in 1973 before transitioning to dirt bikes full time. He owned and operated a bike shop called Cycle Adventure on West Chester’s Beaumont Street for 20 years.

To James, biking was about getting out in nature. “And a good dirt bike will go almost anywhere. You can squeeze through places with a dirt bike that you can’t with a quads and an ATV. It’s the freedom to go almost anywhere.

“There’s no speed limits, there’s no stop signs, there’s no traffic lights. You see a steep rocky mountain feature… the bike’s capable, but are you?”

“For a time, all our family vacations were just packing up the trailer and riding dirt bikes through the trails for the weekend.”
—Jon Talley

As he started his own family, they settled in Unionville and soon began allowing young son Michael to take his Honda XR80 all the way to nearby Sweeney’s Gas Station and back. “We were very fortunate,” Michael says. “We were on a cul-de-sac. Our house had 3 acres; one neighbor to the left of us had 4 acres, and the neighbor to the right of us had 5 acres, all surrounded by woods and farm fields.” He adds: “Of course, all of those are houses now.”

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In Delaware, continued development and the erosion of farmlands has made it tougher for riders to find trails to blaze. There are no public lands available for off-road motorcycling in Delaware.

The Delaware Enduro Riders (enduro being a type of long-distance, cross-country racing) are a strong local presence, but the group doesn’t host any races of their own. Instead, its members, like Jon Talley of Kennett Square, are active competitors in races held by the East Coast Enduro Association and other clubs on the East Coast. Diamond Motor Sports in Dover and Power Sports East in Bear are both officially endorsed local outfitters, and good bets for First Staters looking to start their dirt bike journey.

Talley, like the Pinckney sisters, was on a dirt bike seat by the time he was 4. His parents, Jack and Dawn, had their first date at a street race. “For a time, all our family vacations were just packing up the trailer and riding dirt bikes through the trails for the weekend,” he says.

He acknowledges the local community prefers to keep things relatively tight. Loud bikes can attract unwanted attention, legal liability and uninvited guests, so many prefer to keep their hobby “on the down-low,” he says.

From left: Adele Pinckney, Candace Pinckney, Bri Brant, Ethan Brant, James Brant Sr., James Brant Jr., Jim Pinckney, Mike Pinckney, John Anderson, Emerson Pinckney, Brit Pinckney and Rhys Pinckney. Courtesy Joe Del Tufo.
From left: Adele Pinckney, Candace Pinckney, Bri Brant, Ethan Brant, James Brant Sr., James Brant Jr., Jim Pinckney, Mike Pinckney, John Anderson, Emerson Pinckney, Brit Pinckney and Rhys Pinckney. Courtesy Joe Del Tufo.

“Not everybody has access to a couple acres to ride on,” he says. “There are not many public places left. We’ve had the emergence of the helicopter parents, all types of things. These days, you sort of have to know a family friend in order to become hooked in the sport.”

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Blue Diamond Mx, a dirt-biking track near New Castle, closed down in 2015 due to a lawsuit following a rider’s injury.

The Snake Creek Mx Facility in Harrington, however, maintains a popular and family-friendly profile in Central Delaware, and Piston Poppers, a raceway in Parkesburg, Pennsylvania, has been a staple to the local community for over 50 years.

But the future of the sport carries on, mostly through the strong family ties that run through it.

Bri Brant, of Wilmington, whose sons James, 11, and Ethan, 9, both ride, says her family started out with a four-wheeler ATV before converting to a Razor brand electric dirt bike for James when he turned 9.

Kennett Square’s Jon Talley with dad Jack Talley and brother Luke riding more than 12,000 feet high on Colorado’s Napoleon Pass. Courtesy of Jon Talley.
Kennett Square’s Jon Talley with dad Jack Talley and brother Luke riding more than 12,000 feet high on Colorado’s Napoleon Pass. Courtesy of Jon Talley.

“I just want them to be outside and getting dirty,” she says. “And something they can do with their friends that they can bond over, it’s so special.”

The advent of electric dirt bikes could be the next frontier for the sport: They’re much quieter, don’t involve gasoline or endless tinkering and fixing, and they’re lower to the ground, “so when you fall off, you don’t have far to fall,” Brant says.

Beyond the mechanics, being part of a dirt-biking family has boundless intrinsic value to Brant and her boys. “James has taught so many of his friends to ride his bike and four-wheeler,” she says. “He’s really become a good teacher. …He’s very patient and he is really good with the younger kids.

“It’s something to be proud of. It builds real skills. It provides a real sense of confidence when you can ride something like that, and let’s face it, your friends think it’s cool.”

Related: What to Do in Rehoboth: A Day Trip Guide to This Atlantic Coast Town

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