River Fox Railbikes – Railbiking adventure near Sacramento
Riding historic train tracks on a railbiking adventure with River Fox Railbikes near Sacramento, California. Pairs of riders pedal two-seat, motor-assisted railbikes along the railroad tracks.
On a sunny Sunday afternoon in June, we hopped aboard a railbike for an hour-long railbiking adventure that took us past orchards, farmland, old barns, a sunflower field, and along the Sacramento River. Therese Iknoian and I were riding on 100-year-old R&R tracks with River Fox Railbikes, part of the River Fox Train operation near Sacramento, California.
This is a fairly new operation as the first River Fox railbikes didn’t depart the train station until June 20, 2020. But, despite COVID restrictions, the company was able to keep providing railbiking adventures along this historic section of track ever since. River Fox offers various departure times beginning at 8:30 on Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Wednesday mornings each week throughout the year.
What are railbikes?
Railbikes are pedal-powered carts that resemble recumbent bikes in how you sit and pedal. The specially designed carts feature large rubber-covered wheels for quiet, smooth rolling over railroad tracks. Companies typically design their own versions of a railbike, but each is decidedly similar in approach. Some, like these, offer a motor assist (just like you find on an electric bike) to help with any uphill sections. Of course, in Sacramento, rolling along beside the river, there are no hills! So the assist comes in handy mostly when starting up again from a stop at a crossing.
A bit of local railroad history
The tracks the River Fox Railbikes and the train run on were built in 1922 by Northern Electric Company to transport passenger between Woodland and West Sacramento. In 1941, passenger service ended, and the tracks served diesel freight trains carrying farm produce from the Sacramento Valley to the rest of California. In 2003, Sierra Railroad merged with the West Sacramento / Woodland line and revived passenger service operating as the Sacramento River Train. Today, the River Fox Train (and railbikes) are owned by Mendocino Railway and are a sister company of the famous Skunk Train, which also operates its own railbiking adventure.
These railbikes are light and easy to pedal
Each railbike seats two people and has an electric-assist motor that allows riders to rest in between active pedaling sections — how much you rest and not pedal is up to you. Pedaling the railbikes is relatively easy, making it a suitable adventure for any age or level of fitness.
One person in each cart becomes the designated driver, operating both the handbrakes to ensure you don’t go too fast or bump into carts in front of you, as well as the activation of the motor assist as needed. The track is relatively flat, however, and the distance traveled is only about 10-miles roundtrip. On our trip, there were children and all ages enjoying the ride.
Short and scenic railbiking adventure with River Fox Railbikes
While the out-and-back adventure is relatively short, it is quite scenic, enjoyable and takes you past farms and orchards (and a lovely sunflower field in season) you would not ordinarily see. At the beginning of the route, you ride along rails running along the Sacramento River, veering from the river for the latter part and moving through farmlands.
The turnaround point is rather non-descript. Just a designated point in the track where the lead conductor calls out for everybody to stop. Everyone disembarks and then stands trackside while the two conductors work to turn the railbikes around for the return journey. Unfortunately, there is nothing really to see and no tables or chairs, so on our pretty warm day everybody just huddled in the shade.
Trips go rain or shine, so dress accordingly, including rain gear if needed. And be sure to pack along a camera or smartphone, water, sunscreen, snacks, and insect repellent, depending on the time of year.
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