Underexposed is a series dedicated to showcasing trails around North America that fly under the proverbial radar for most riders. PEARL iZUMi athlete Brice Shirbach has seen firsthand what sweat equity can mean among mountain bikers and its impact on the places we call home, and this series will look to help open eyes and shift our attention to some of the brilliant riding that exists in places both unexpected and unheard of.
The State of Delaware holds a handful of superlatives among the United States. It was the first of the 13 original colonies to ratify the U.S. Constitution. It is the second smallest state in the country next to Rhode Island. It is the sixth least populous, while also being the sixth most densely populated. It has the lowest mean elevation of any state in the nation, with the highest point found at Ebright Azimuth, a scant 450 feet above sea level. It’s reasonable to assume that while Delaware might lay claim to some interesting factoids, one thing it probably doesn’t show up on is your “must ride” list.
Tucked away in a crowded but somewhat anonymous corner of the mid-Atlantic, Delaware is well known for a few things, and bikes aren’t really among them. However, that is not to say that it shouldn’t be on your to-do list. Quite the opposite. Northern Delaware alone is home to a slew of top-notch trail networks, including White Clay-Middle Run, Iron Hill, and Fair Hill. My personal favorite among them is Brandywine, a beautiful stretch of old-growth forest in North Wilmington that straddles the PA State Line, and is split between Brandywine Creek State Park, and the First State National Monument.
The terrain at Brandywine is varied, with close to 300 vertical feet of elevation from its highest point to its lowest. While there are some sections where the organics in the topsoil are bountiful, the defining characteristic of the trails here would be the rocks and roots that call this place home. It might not be ideal for beginners, but for intermediate riders and up, it’s a veritable playground where nature has done most of the work. There are groups around including the Delaware Trail Spinners and the up and coming Brandywine Mountain Bike Collective who are developing relationships with land managers, as well as a burgeoning volunteer scene as more and more people begin to recognize the kind of resource that Brandywine represents in what is an otherwise overcrowded and over-developed corner of the country.
There’s a small sign marking the aforementioned high point in the state. I know because it sits at the entrance to my neighborhood. Here’s the thing: I would never go so far as to say that the trails at Brandywine are world-class, or are even particularly destination-worthy, whatever that means. You won’t find a massive jump line, or steep and deep backcountry, or even much in the way of wide-corridor flow trails. My job is such that I get to experience any and all of that throughout the year. That doesn’t mean that I don’t love where I live, or love being able to pedal down the street and onto these trails. Not at all. True story: after my wife gave birth to our second child, we realized that our modest townhome wasn’t going to cut it. We needed to move, but we weren’t looking to move far. After taking some time to look at a fairly sizable radius in the region, we decided on North Wilmington. Of course, there were a number of boxes we needed to check as a young and growing family, but I’ll let you take a guess at what the deciding factor was. Here’s a hint: the bike lanes run from my neighborhood right to them.