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Riding the rails, safely
August 4, 2014 9:18 AM   Subscribe

Railbikes are pretty self-explanatory. You take a bike, attach an extra wheel sidecar-style, jump on some railroad tracks, and ride. There's no need to steer, so you can look around as you pedal. You stick to abandoned railroad tracks so there's no surprises either. It's not a new idea, dating back well over 100 years to the first bikes, and recently even custom bike builders have devised their own versions. More at Flickr on the railbike tag and in the railbike group. There's even a book about it .
posted by mathowie (20 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
OK i was ready to say I'd totally do this until I saw the pic on the cover of the book.....um...pass (but still very cool).
posted by OHenryPacey at 9:32 AM on August 4 [1 favorite]


You stick to abandoned railroad tracks so there's no surprises either.

My experience has been that "abandoned" tracks are merely "rarely used" tracks.
posted by Thorzdad at 9:34 AM on August 4 [3 favorites]


I was wondering how realistic it was to have to use abandoned railroads to make this worthwhile and safe, but it turns out there are abandoned railroads all over the place. This sounds like a fantastic way to see some out of the way places.
posted by Flashman at 9:35 AM on August 4


My experience has been that "abandoned" tracks are merely "rarely used" tracks

Just when you think there's a light at the end of the tunnel….
posted by cjorgensen at 9:38 AM on August 4


Then it comes to be that the soothing light at the end of your tunnel
Is just the freight train coming your waaaaa-haaa-haaaaa-yeaaahhh
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:41 AM on August 4 [2 favorites]


Flashman: "I was wondering how realistic it was to have to use abandoned railroads to make this worthwhile and safe, but it turns out there are abandoned railroads all over the place. This sounds like a fantastic way to see some out of the way places."

Neat find - I was wondering the same thing. The website is a bit out of date it seems, as this one is actually a rail trail now.
posted by exogenous at 9:42 AM on August 4


You stick to abandoned railroad tracks so there's no surprises either.

Unless the track goes off gauge.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 9:45 AM on August 4 [2 favorites]


Gimme a fat bike and I'll just dribble over those railroad ties like they were asphalt crack filler.
posted by Invisible Green Time-Lapse Peloton at 9:49 AM on August 4 [1 favorite]


I'm going to start referring to these as hobo fixies.
posted by Atom Eyes at 9:54 AM on August 4 [2 favorites]



Gimme a fat bike and I'll just dribble over those railroad ties like they were asphalt crack filler.


I think you're gonna need a fatter bike.. It'll bounce the fillings outta your teeth.

I've got a picture of myself on one of the rail bikes at the C&O Railroad historical museum..
posted by k5.user at 9:57 AM on August 4


I've always wanted to walk the 220km of the E&N between Victoria, BC and Port Alberni. This would be way more practical, but I'd better get busy.
posted by klanawa at 10:13 AM on August 4 [1 favorite]


I have a cabin up in the ADk. I think I saw this guy once. He was with a woman. They both looked older with that look like they knew something I did not. Now I know. They did.

I like the tag line on the first link, "Railbikers have a one track mind."
posted by 724A at 10:15 AM on August 4


Thanks for the abandoned railways link Flashman, it's a bummer they didn't lay the full coordinates out for the abandoned tracks. It's kind of hard to figure out how long each segment is from the single markers on the their map.
posted by mathowie at 10:37 AM on August 4


If you're more into skating than biking there's always the rail pallet. (Most effective going downhill, rather difficult on the ups.)
posted by carsonb at 10:45 AM on August 4 [3 favorites]


You can click and it'll give you the length of the track and where it starts and ends - and lot of them are really short - but the details are pretty vague. Unfortunately for a lot of them, like this long stretch through the Oregon desert, the track has been removed too - I guess that steel has has too much scrap value to just leave out there. Still, this page (I just Googled 'map of abandoned railroads' and it was top of the list) would be a good resource for planning a backpacking trip even if you couldn't ride the rails.
posted by Flashman at 10:55 AM on August 4


At a couple of those links, people mention the 1986 movie, "The Quest," with Henry Thomas. It gets rated 6.3 stars at imdb (taking the ratings system there with a chunk of salt), which is sort of my cut-off point for movies, so I may check it out. I guess it has him riding the rails on a bike.

Neat find.
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 11:24 AM on August 4


rail pallet is awesome! Thank you carsonb. I've now got a project for the fall. Spadina street in Toronto is perfect for that. South bound is downhill and it's on a dedicated, car free, right of way. *giddy.*
posted by ecco at 2:00 PM on August 4


I want one of these so badly it hurts. Great post.
posted by sandettie light vessel automatic at 4:49 PM on August 4


I worked for a while at the Center for Appropriate Trasport, in Eugene. One of my duties was to teach a class for their high school program entitled 'Book Learnin,' in which the students were meant to learn everything one needs from a high school education which doesn't relate to bikes.

At some point, though, the CAT was comissioned to build a rail bike for a retired engineer, and my job as the resident mathematician was to help the high schoolers figure out the right gearing for the bike. The idea was to take a handcar and affix a bicycle and gearing system to it. Because the standard rail wheels are so small, we ended up building a double drive train, which hiked up the gearing twice. Unfortunately, I never got to see the finished contraption in action, but it was a lot of fun to work through with the kids...

(While trying to find a picture of the project, I came across this hilarious blog about a railbike misadventure.)
posted by kaibutsu at 4:55 PM on August 4


"I've always wanted to walk the 220km of the E&N between Victoria, BC and Port Alberni. This would be way more practical, but I'd better get busy.
posted by klanawa at 10:13 AM on August 4"


I was thinking it would be the most fun to make one of these railbikes and then start from the top of the Malahat and cruise down back into town! Maybe we could make a convoy of them for all the Victoria Mefites :-)
posted by drinkmaildave at 11:05 AM on August 6


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