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Thanks to @Ken Graham, I just heard of an activity called rail biking. It involves riding a certain type of bike along sections of abandoned railroad tracks. It sounds like a lot of fun, and my husband and I would love to try it.

He's very athletic, and even has a few different bicycles which he uses on a regular basis. I'm not athletic, although I like to go walking. We don't want to invest money in equipment, at least until we know what it's like and whether or not I'm strong enough to handle it.

Is there a way to participate in rail biking without owning equipment or having prior experience? We're planning a family vacation to New York, United States, and are hoping to make it part of that trip.

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    Not in NY, but it's quite popular in Sweden: Gotland, Dalarna, Skåne, among many other places. I've also regularly seen rail bikes abandoned decades ago at old railway stations, seemingly up for grabs. – gerrit Feb 2 '17 at 14:53
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    It's called a draisine. – gerrit Feb 2 '17 at 14:59
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What is great about railbiking (or draisines as some call them) is that there is such a diversity of styles in use all around the globe and have even been employed in the military occasionally. I generally only use abandoned railway lines as they are safer to use than active ones.

It is as easy as riding any ordinary bike (my style). You simply are not permitted to turn your handle bars, for obvious reasons. If you are unaccustomed to riding a bike, than it may take a little getting used to. I live in British Columbia and there is not a whole lot of people interested in this. But it is such great fun.

I ride something similar to this model:

Railbiking

Railbike

Here is another style which you should be able to rent in New York (Thanks to Charlie Brumbaugh). This type of railbike might be little more uncomfortable in the beginning , but is still easy and fun to experience:

Tour the Scenic Adirondacks on One of Kind Railbikes

You can get more information from them here, If you desire a different style of railbike, they should be able to point you in the right direction.

Here is an historical look at South Africa's military using railbikes during the ANGLO-BOER WAR OF 1899-1902:

ANGLO-BOER WAR OF 1899-1902

Military History Journal

What I find great about the solo style I use is that the parts I employ are that they are light, as well as adjustable and thus I am able to go on different size tracks and tracks of different widths between the tracks. For example some abandoned mines use different gauges and widths. Just do not go into a mine for safety reasons.

  • Is yours just an adaptation of a regular bike? I've only ever seen purpose-built rail bikes (and only in Sweden) and never seen the one in your second image (it looks like something built for tourists). There are dozens of places in Sweden to rent such a bike, is it similar in NY? – gerrit Feb 2 '17 at 14:55
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    @gerrit Yes, my bike can be dismantled and can be used as a normal bike. – Ken Graham Feb 2 '17 at 15:50
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    That sounds very nice, I always assumed draisines were heavy monolithic steel monsters. I've asked a question on Bicycles that you may be able to answer. – gerrit Feb 2 '17 at 15:54
  • There's a great article in the Seattle Times from Feb, 2014, about Dick Smart, one of the earliest proponents of rail biking. Forbes magazine even called him the father of modern rail biking. In 1990 he patented a design called Railcycle, which looks like what you ride. He rode it all over, including British Columbia, and has written a memoir called "Biking on Rusty Ribbons of Steel." You may want to check it out. – Sue Feb 4 '17 at 21:19
  • Have you seen this proposed site about railways? I'm not sure if we're supposed to mention new proposals, but I thought it might interest you! – Sue Feb 12 '17 at 0:34
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This is a supplement to @Ken Graham's excellent in-depth answer. It's an expansion on a link he referenced in his second picture, which seems to perfectly fit the criteria you're seeking.

The organization is called Rail Explorers.

They provide guided tours you can take in a safe environment, with no investment or experience necessary. All equipment is included, and tailored to the number and ages of people using it.

The following information is taken from the various pages of their website.

About Rail Explorers:
Rail Explorers is a company that is passionate about sharing the fun and adventure of riding the rails. We provide a unique way of experiencing the outdoors in a safe, relaxed and enjoyable way.

The bikes, called Explorers, are different than true bicycles, and even true rail bikes, such as the bikes that serious riders like Ken Graham use. They have no handlebars, but they do have pedals and breaks.

What is a Rail Explorer?
A rail explorer is a pedal powered vehicle that rides on railroad tracks. They have 4 steel wheels, hydraulic disc brakes, pedals for each seat, and are comfortable, fun and easy to ride. Although the rail explorers require pedaling, the magic of steel wheels on steel rails makes the experience very different from riding a regular bicycle. There is no need to carefully watch the road ahead, there is no need to steer and riding is hands free - making it easy to take photographs and video as you roll along. Choose either the Tandem Rail Explorer (2 seats) or Quad Rail Explorer (4 seats) for your ride. Single rider 'Jumpseats' are also available. (Pictures of the different models can be found here).

Who can ride the Rail Explorers?
Everyone! Rail explorers are suitable for all ages and abilities - the elderly, families, couples, cyclists, non-cyclists, hikers and couch potatoes.

As it says, it really is a true family experience. Children of all ages are welcome in the Explorers with enough seats so that they can be individually strapped in. Infants are allowed, and are strapped to adults using harnesses which are provided. You can even bring small dogs, if they're on a leash!

Each tour has a guide on their own bike in the front and in the back. They travel only on tracks without any trains, and have coordinated with local authorities to make sure no other vehicles are on the road during their hours of operation. Explorers are instructed to spread out, and are not allowed to pile up on one another, or "tailgate." That way you can feel somewhat on your own.

Tours run in all weather, as long as it's safe, and each bike comes with an umbrella! Trips are one-way, but they include a free shuttle bus back to the parking lot.

The company is committed to what they call "Green eco-tourism" meaning the bikes have no emissions; and because they use established trails, no trees, land or wildlife are disturbed to create the opportunity. This is obviously true of all Rail Biking, and another good reason to give it a try.

As @Charlie Brumbaugh found, Rail Explorers currently has a location in the Adirondacks Region of New York. Within the next few months, they'll also be opening another New York location, in the Catskill Mountains, and one in Rhode Island.

At the very least, this should be fun for your family vacation. Since your husband is already a bike rider, though, this might be just what he needs to encourage him to try altering one of his bikes, or purchasing something specifically designed for this purpose. Then he can get the "true" experience. Lists of local rail trails are easy to find on line, but I'm not sure if Rail Biking is allowed everywhere. There are authorities who can be contacted to learn that information.

Here are some fun pictures from people enjoying the ride. Click on them for bigger views.

Family with infant Older Couple Ladies from rear Farther view of couple smiling in the rain Kids with hands in air Child with pacifier

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    If you eventually do this, please add your experience into this answer as an update....Believe me this is such a fun filled activity for the Great Outdoors. – Ken Graham Feb 4 '17 at 0:03
  • @Ken Graham We're hoping to visit our kids and grandkids in New York in July, which is why I asked this. If we're fortunate enough to do this, I'll absolutely report back! The Rhode Island location is only a few hours from our house, so when that opens we might go there instead. – Sue Feb 4 '17 at 19:35

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