Rail Bike Conversion Is A Success, And A Failure

There is a long tradition of hacking transportation to work on the rails. People have done it to all kinds of things for many reasons. Some are for rail maintenance, others are simply to enjoy the tracks. With as much unused railways as we have, it seems a shame to waste them. This hack turns a bicycle into into a rail bike with the use of some conduit, a cut up razor scooter, and a fork from another bike.  After some tinkering with spacing to make the whole thing a little smoother on the rails, the whole thing seemed like a success. That is, until the front rail guide caught a railway tie and the rider was tossed. Not only that, the impact destroyed his bike frame.

So, does this wreck mark this as a failure? Or is this simply another step in the iterative process we all tend to use. The only difference is if he carries on to build another.

40 thoughts on “Rail Bike Conversion Is A Success, And A Failure

  1. Def not a failure. I could imagine the view from the rails would be absolutely beautiful, esp out in the country.

    I wonder if a mountian bike might serve a better platform with additional roller wheels for inside guides. I would also love to see the damage after the wreck to see what the point of weakness was, for improvements.

    Great idea, recreate!

  2. Interesting concept, but it’d probably be better as a 4-wheel recumbent bike. Larger tires, maybe mountain bike ones will do. Then add guide casters to the insides of the rails to hold it in place.

    Curves in the track should be gentle enough to not cause problems, and the guiding on the inside only could be set loose enough with the wider tires to make it a little more lenient to track irregularities.

    Still, the whole deal would be light enough to pull off the track when you hear/see a train coming up on you. And maybe you could do a quick-disconnect for the guide wheels to keep steering functionality for off the tracks.

    1. Just to reiterate on the article. Used on abandoned/disused railtracks. Using this thing on real tracks WOULD get you killed pretty easily. No way a train is going to be able to stop by the time it’s seen you and you won’t hear them coming until it’s way too late.

      Assuming you hopped off before you became an interesting piece of conceptual art attached to a train front, you’d almost certainly be arrested for even being on the lines, let alot putting something like that on them.

      1. Apparently the wheel is tapered and that does it. Most of the wear is in the centre of the wheel, and the flange just helps on corners sometimes. Curved track thus has extra lubrication and has to be replaced more often than straight track due to the extra contact and wear. I’ve learned something new today.

  3. Would be great if it where possible to put flanges on the eixisting bike wheels to help ride the bike on a single rail only. To use an outrigger I’d try to find a source fore the small flanges wheels that are use on the chassis that allow RR highway capable service trucks ride the rails, or make a facsimile of them. The road beds of abandoned lines probably get pretty hairy. I’d be concerned about poisonous snakes. Or happening onto the weed patch a walking poisonous snakes. Could be an interesting ride in many ways. Here in open country they waste no time in pulling up the rails & ties. Probably worried about Midnight Salvage inc. .

    1. I would think that salvaging rails (especially the welded type) would be:

      a) rather noisy
      b) hard work

      I know when they tore up the tracks near me it took them multiple days for a few miles.

  4. Neat! Reminds me of the movie Frog Dreaming (The Quest in the USA).

    That looks like it needs something on the outrunner to keep the wheels on the rail…. second the need for flanges.

  5. You could print a flanged (or double-flanged for a bit of stability assist) guide wheel with a large-scale reprap (or similar device)… you’d have to fiddle with the dimensioning and the angle of the contact edge, but it would be easy enough to do, wouldn’t wear very quickly, and if it did wear, you could just print another.

    Double-flanging such a wheel might be an issue at switchpoints, but you could reduce the profile of the outer flange, etc… to suit your route.

    To emphasize a prior commenter: don’t do this on live track. The engineer won’t see you in time to stop, and a locomotive’s mass trumps yours every single time. Trains aren’t to blame when someone gets killed on the tracks. Use exempt rails, and double-check that the track is exempt and that the track owner (someone still owns it) is OK with your intended purpose. Respect your surroundings & have fun!

  6. Guide blade did it in when it caught the slight offset or bolt in a expansion joint. Should not have been more than one inch long. It looks like a bike bulldozer, an accident waiting to happen.
    Angled inside skateboard wheels. Guide point behind front wheel pivot. Follow not lead.
    Skinny tires would be better, lowest friction and smooth ride on the iron road.

  7. The railroads banned these decades ago when people couldn’t get out of the way. I guess the “I can make it” must be a dominant gene. Would be a cool way to take advantage of abandon tracks though.

  8. As someone who volunteers at a historic passenger railway that does not have enough volunteers to keep the track neat and tidy (so it *looks* abandoned to the untrained eye), please PLEASE do not do this without explicit permission from the owners of the rail line. Here are a few reasons:

    1. Even if track looks abandoned, it might not be. We have one “active” rail line around here that only gets used about once every three years, sometimes longer.

    2. If there happens to ever be a train on the tracks, they almost certainly will not be able to stop in time, and you probably won’t be able to ditch in time if you’re on a curve.

    3. If the track is truly abandoned, it’s likely out of gauge, making it very difficult to run on without thick wheels.

    4. If it’s truly abandoned and not actively maintained, vegetation and downed branches can sneak up on you pretty quickly. Would not be fun to hit.

    5. Freezing and loads running over rails can make them brittle where they eventually split. Unless it’s properly maintained and inspected, you might just end up with chunks of rail in front of you where you can’t stop.

    6. Rails are slippery. Take it from experience – they’re slipperier than you think, even in good conditions, and even if you already think they’re slippery. Not good to step on.

    7. Old wooden ties tend to splinter into large sharp chunks. I’ve been on maintenance of way duty for a few weeks now replacing ties – they do not degrade well.

    8. You’ll drive the railroad’s rules enforcer(s) crazy if they ever catch you. If it’s a volunteer, it will not be a fun day for them. For larger railroads, railroad police are generally full-fledged police with power to enforce rules if necessary, and there can be consequences for trespassing.

    Now, with all of that said, I know people who take light-duty vehicles out on the track I volunteer to help maintain all the time. I’ve ridden them before – it’s quite fun. There are even certain days where no full-size trains are allowed on the tracks so light-duty vehicles have free reign. But they’re only out at times that have already been okayed by the railroad.

    Contact your local heritage railroad – they’ll probably be quite friendly to it, possibly even in exchange for you turning wrenches on a railroad car for a while. There are a lot of them around – I’d say just about anywhere in the USA, there’s probably one that’s within half an hour to an hour. A lot of them still have steam locomotives.

    Sorry for the rant, but this kind of thing scares the wits out of me to see. From the perspective of someone who works on this stuff for fun, please PLEASE don’t startle us when we’re running. None of us need heart attacks from seeing you out the front of the cab. :)

      1. Glad someone found it interesting!

        One other thing I forgot to mention is that, to be out on the tracks, railroads are required by the FRA to file a clearance form beforehand. Even for light-duty maintenance equipment, we have a maintenance equipment clearance form to fill out. You might not just be getting yourself in trouble for being out there, but if they don’t pursue trespassing charges, the owning railroad might get in trouble themselves for not enforcing the rules if they discover you out there.

        Just ask – if they’re small, they’ll in all likelihood be more than happy to have you out there and teach you about how to operate safely.

  9. I’m a railbiker. I’ve been doing it since the mid 80’s. I have built many with varying degrees of success. All the above comments are typical of what I’ve heard all along including the ranter above who call us “bootleggers.” He is technically correct with his points but folks like myself detest rules and guidelines and love pushing boundaries for the simple sake of adventure. Folks like our ranter love predicability and safety and create rules and regulations to make themselves so. You won’t see them base jumping from buidings and towers, that’s for sure.

    First, don’t ride welded rail that is shiny. Trains really move on this rail and traffic is very frequent so don’t even think about riding these rails. If you find rails that have bolted plates holding sections of rails together you have found a potential place to ride. Rails like these have speed limits of 15 MPH for trains and are usually single lines going through rural areas. This will add a margin of safety from rail traffic but is still no guarantee that you’ll be totally safe.

    If you bootleg, you must be prepared to be busted for trespassing. It is illegal to even walk along the rails let alone ride them with a homemade contraption. Abanonned or not, it is still private property.

    Get to know a seldom used rail line and notice the rust. I think I am able to tell the frequency of rail traffic by “reading” the rust. It took years to develop this skill so get started.

    Building a bike: You will fail as the above crafter did, many times if you are on your own without proven plans (Google Bentley Railbike for the easiest, no weld plans). The bike will get wrecked and you most certainly will get pretty banged up from the crashes of failure. Wear a helmet and gloves. I went over the bars more times than I can count. It hurts. Steel rails, oak ties and ballast stone are not a forgiving surface to fall 6 feet on to, let alone the speed at which you were riding added to the impact. You will crash. You will get hurt. Know that. Expect that.

    A train stays on the rails because of its great weight and how the wheels are profiled. A bicycle conversion can’t use these advantages. You must rely on your intelligence, creativity and craftiness to devise the solutions. There are dozens of ways to solve these problems. Some of the ways will work, other will kinda work and others will fail miserably.

    You can see my bike and a story of a 80 mile ride I took in ’01 here:


    This bike was my most successful but it still would derail and crash once in a while. I have a new one on the drawing board now that will be better and hopefully, not derail, which is the objective of all railbike builders. As I said, crashing hurts and provides inspiration to improve your design. I have seen many different successful designs and they are all on the internet to inspire you to develop your own.

    Good luck kids!!!

    1. How do you handle riding over frogs. Would you have to stop to take a diverging turnout or are are your wheels wide enough to ‘pick’ the switch point? We have a 17 mile section of welded rail that has not seen traffic for 11 years cause the paper mill closed. I would love to ride the rails.

  10. It would seem to me that using an existing approach might be advisalbe. Designing a rail-riding vehicle could be based on the design of actual railroad maintenance vehicles. Some of these are quite small, and human-powered (often by two people pushing and pulling (and/or lifting and dropping) a simple mechanism that performs the motive force.

  11. I’ve seen these things on and off for years..I’m looking at it when a SHTF event occurs. To get into remote mountains away from roads. And most people. Also faster to get out of s gridlocked city. Twitter/X/ UnimatrixOO1

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