Building, repairing and accessorizing dirt bikes and their riders are still at the core of Mitch Wylie’s Canton business.
But like any good entrepreneur, he knows how to adapt, and these days the SD on his Route 44 shop has gradually transitioned from its official Strictly Dirt name to take on the meaning of Street & Dirt.
“(Dirt) is still our roots but we’ve evolved,” Wylie said.
There are several reasons for the transition. One is there’s simply fewer dirt bike riders in the area than there were when Wylie was growing up.
“There used to be a lot of riders,” he said. “There were a ton of us.”
Another factor is changing land use in the Farmington Valley and elsewhere.
“We’ve lost so many riding areas to lawsuits and developers,” he said.
In some cases riders or their families have sued landowners for injuries sustained while riding. Wylie said it is a dangerous sport and that people need to understand that and take responsibility for themselves. He said Connecticut should follow the lead of states that don't allow someone to sue a landowner.
"You get hurt," he said. "That's part of the deal."
In some cases, dirt bike riders have also clashed with surrounding neighbors as noise, dust and other factors become an issue. In Granby it's been an ongoing issue and an exploratory committee is gathering input from residents.
It’s also an increasingly expensive sport, especially on a competition level. He said he could outfit someone for trail riding for $1,500 to $2,000. For motocross, Wylie said, be ready to have $15,000 — roughly half of that for a bike and much more for insurance, equipment, entry fees, gas money and more.
The shop still features numerous dirt bike accessories and parts, and he still sells and builds motorcycles and some All Terrain Vehicles but now also takes care of street motorcycles as well, especially when it comes to repair.
The shop repairs Honda, Kawasaki, Suzuki, Yamaha, Harley Davidson and KTM.
In addition to custom bikes, those are brands he and his two employees know best, Wylie said.
“I like selling what we work on,” he said. “I found out a long time ago, it’s better to specialize.”
Growing up, Wylie inherited a love of motorcycles from his grandfather Joe Serafin, who rode and took his grandson to motocross races.
Later, a neighbor who was heavily into motorcycles further developed his enthusiasm.
Along the way, he got into riding and racing but never considered it a career.
By the mid 1980s, he was pouring concrete at construction sites, but in August of 1986, the driver of a car “T-boned” him while on a motorcycle, Wylie said. He ended up underneath the sign at Vincent Funeral Home, thankfully not dead but badly injured.
After a month in the hospital and some recovery time, Wylie worked at a local machine shop, D.A. Bristol Co., and later as a mason, but the physical nature took its toll and he took a break and spent some time in California.
After returning home, Wylie dug out those old race bikes and began buying others, fixing them up and selling them.
When he had some 40 under a tarp at his house, his dad Bob told him it was time to open a shop.
So in July 1991, he did just that and moved into a first floor space at a building in one of the former Collins Co. factory buildings.
Six years later, he moved to the current location at 309 Albany Turnpike, partially attracted by the presence of heat and a restroom.
While the business has changed somewhat, Wylie still sells dirt bikes, parts and accessories. As much as possible, he carries and uses American-made products and parts.
And now, he'll happily help both street and dirt riders.
The store is open Tuesday, Thursday and Friday from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., Wednesday from 9:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Strictly Dirt Inc.