Rail Biking: Riding the rails on a rail bike with Revolution Rail
Located not far from Lake George, New York, the historic railroad tracks we were pedaling along are now abandoned, meaning there were no fears of having to pedal furiously to outrun a freight train barreling in behind. In the 1930s, the Adirondack Branch of the D&H Railroad brought visitors from New York City and Schenectady, New York, into the Adirondacks. The railway also linked to the village of Tahawus where iron ore and titanium dioxide were mined.
What are rail bikes?
Rail bikes are pedal-powered carts that resemble recumbent bikes in the way you sit and pedal. The specially designed carts feature large rubber-covered wheels for quiet, smooth rolling over railroad tracks. Companies such as Revolution Rail typically design their own versions of a rail bike, but each is decidedly similar in approach, with either two or four-seat versions. Pedaling them is relatively easy, making it a suitable adventure for any age or level of fitness. One person in each cart also operates a hand brake to ensure you don’t go too fast or bump into carts in front of you.
The tour begins and ends at North Creek Railroad Station
Our adventure began at the North Creek Railroad Station, headquarters for Revolution Rail tours, where we boarded a bus for a short shuttle to our tour starting point.
North Creek Railroad Station is famous for being the place where then-Vice President Teddy Roosevelt learned that President William McKinley had died from wounds received following an assassination attempt. Upon hearing the news, Roosevelt proceeded immediately to Buffalo on the fastest train, where he was subsequently sworn in as President of the United States.
If you have time before or after your tour with Revolution Rail, you can learn more about the history of North Creek and about Teddy Roosevelt at the North Creek Depot Museum located nearby.
After a safety briefing, we selected our rail bikes and headed out. The entire tour is approximately six miles roundtrip, with the three miles out heading slightly uphill and the three miles back gliding slightly downhill.
Revolution Rail co-founder Michael Dupee told me that wildlife is frequently spotted along this quiet section of railway (though we didn’t see any on our trip). A trestle bridge crossing over the Hudson River is a highlight as the views up and down the river are spectacular (assuming you don’t have a great fear of high places). It is also the perfect spot, on the ride back, for that ubiquitous “look at me on a rail bike” selfie, if you are so inclined.
At the halfway point, while Revolution Rail guides work to turn the rail bikes around for the return trip, bike riders can relax beside the Hudson River. It is worth noting that trips go rain or shine, so dress accordingly. And be sure to pack along a camera or smartphone, water, sunscreen, snacks and insect repellent.
Other rail biking opportunities
Not heading to the Adirondacks but still want to try your hand at rail biking? Here are some other rail biking companies around the United States and Europe.
Rail Explorers – Catskill Mountains, Rhode Island, Las Vegas
Rail Explorers USA offers rail bike tours in the Catskill Mountains along the historic Ulster and Delaware Railroad, in Rhode Island along the Old Colony Railroad, built in 1862, and in Las Vegas.
Skunk Train Rail Bikes – California
Operated by the well-known Skunk Train, and departing from Fort Bragg, Calif., the one-hour roundtrip rail biking tour follows tracks along the Pudding Creek Estuary and into majestic redwood groves, and you may see osprey, blue herons, and other wildlife. Because of the climb involved on the return, the rail bikes have an optional motorized assist.
Joseph Branch Railriders – Oregon
The Joseph Branch Railriders pedal along an inactive section of the Joseph Branch Railway, with tracks passing through forest and farmland, over creeks and marsh. The Wallowa Mountains serve as a backdrop. The company offers two tours. One is six hours long and covers 26 miles.
Vance Creek Railriders – Washington
Vance Creek Railriders offers rail biking tours on the historic Simpson Logging Company Railway on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. Explore the lush, mossy, fern-filled forests on a 14-mile round-trip rail bike adventure.
Flekkefjordbanen – Norway
This company offers rail biking tours at Flekkefjordbanen on a railway line that saw service until 1990. Tours run every day in the summer.