Editor’s note: This story originally ran in issue 206 of Dirt Rag Magazine. Like what you see? Issue 207 is out now on newsstands. Click here to subscribe today to ensure you never miss a story.
Located just a mile southeast of the tripoint where Maryland, Delaware and Pennsylvania meet, Newark may be the best mountain bike town you have never heard of.
First settled in 1694, Newark is home to the University of Delaware and just over 31,000 residents. It was once home to a Chrysler assembly plant, which originally was built to put together tanks for the U.S. Army. While the factory shut its doors in 2008, it once was the largest employer for the small city and where the late, great Bob Marley worked for a short time in the 1960s. Yes, that Bob Marley. While Newark has quite a few famous sons and daughters, including former Vice President Joe Biden and bad-to-the-bone rock ‘n’ roller George Thorogood, we are a little partial to Mr. Marley around the office.
Perhaps Newark’s greatest asset is its close proximity to 12,000 acres of public lands. Parks such as Iron Hill, Fair Hill and White Clay Creek house miles of pristine singletrack and horseback-riding routes. Located just 45 minutes from both Baltimore and Philadelphia, this area makes for a great day-trip escape from the big city into the quiet woods. While the area is known more for its horse racing than its mountain biking, locals know that the network of trails within the connecting parks is a seemingly endless treasure of top-notch riding. If racing is your thing, both Fair Hill and Iron Hill host events that are part of the Mid-Atlantic Super Series, and if you are just looking for a group ride, the Trail Spinners host weekly ones in the parks. While the track here is mostly flowy and fast, some more-technical terrain can be found in White Clay Creek State Park. If all-day epics are your thing, legends have been told of 100-mile loops that never repeat the same trail. Speaking of legends, these trails are where Katie Compton, the current and perhaps official owner of the National Cyclocross Championship (she has won it a lot — like, 14 times in a row), has been known to show up for local group rides. While Compton grew up in nearby Wilmington, Delaware, she spent her early days on the trails near Newark honing the skills that have made her a champion.
Whether you are looking for a big breakfast to fuel up beforehand or a post-ride burrito and beer, Main Street in Newark is overflowing with tasty choices. El Diablo Burritos offers lots of ingredients and a burrito big enough to sink a ship or make for two separate meals. Across the street is the Home Grown Café; from brunch to dinner and happy hours galore, it offers bountiful plates of locally sourced food. Just down the road is the Iron Hill Brewery, serving some delightfully crafted beers, and if you are into early starts and sugary beginnings, Duck Donuts opens at 6:30 a.m., offering gourmet doughnuts and coffee.
If for some reason you get tired of all the riding while you are in Newark, there is a robust nightlife on Main Street. From brewpubs to dancing, there is plenty to keep you entertained after the sun goes down. There is also a roller-skating rink, if fun on eight wheels is what you are into. Be sure to swing through Henry’s Bicycle Shop to grab a couple of extra tubes or snacks and to get the local knowledge on the neighboring trail systems.
One thing to keep in mind if you are heading to Newark is that the bulk of the trails in the area are fair-weather-only riding. If it looks like rain is on the horizon or if it has just recently rained, the trails will be closed. If you live on the East Coast and are traveling to Philadelphia or Baltimore and looking for an excuse to get out of the car and loosen up the legs, we highly suggest getting some riding in at one of the many parks and trail networks in and around Newark. If you’re looking for more than a break from being behind the wheel, make a weekend out of it; with hundreds of miles of trail covering all skill levels, you will be sure to find some great days on the bike.