Riding The Rails, In A Literal Sense

the rail bike with its front wheel

Hundreds of miles of railroad tracks are scattered across the US and other countries. Despite how they look, many aren’t abandoned. But in the case of a genuinely abandoned track, having a railway bike to explore the rail seems quite intriguing.

[Cam Engineering] lives in central California and wanted to see what life was like on the track. His system consists of a front alignment wheel made from a rubber longboard wheel with locating disks on either side. He also has a boom on the side that can extend as an outrigger. Ultimately this offers a reasonably stable ride, evidenced by it gliding along the track smoothly with no one to balance it. However, the front wheel does have some issues, as when the track goes through the pavement, there often isn’t enough clearance for the wheel. Additionally, because of the bond wires attached to the rail, he already had to make the front wheel a little wider than needed. The whole thing folds up, making for a compact and snazzy ride.

This isn’t the first rail bike we’ve seen, and we hope to see many more. Video after the break.

74 thoughts on “Riding The Rails, In A Literal Sense

    1. I mean, it’s true, there’s a lot of track out there, but I’ve heard it’s all pretty much in terrible condition from being pounded with freight with only minimal maintenance.

    2. There are over 90,000 route miles of track in the US. quick comment this is a stupid and dangerous idea of riding the rails. I have cleaned up many trespasser bodies over my railroad carrier

  1. That’s actually a pretty cool idea! Hopefully for the hacker’s sake few other riders in his area will do the same … would probably be a hassle to meet another, or try to pass somebody.

    But it makes me want to check out an old railway that I think I can see from a highway near my house. I’m pretty certain it hasn’t been used in decades.

          1. There’s no demand….

            Most are left over from the pre interstate era & became abandoned when their owners went bankrupt….

            Maximum speeds are low (originally designed for steam trains) and the freight carriers aren’t looking to expand beyond current footprints…..

            There’s no demand for passenger rail at all – but especially slower-than-freeway-speed rail – unless you are north of Virginia and east of PA.

        1. Please do not do this, as someone who has owned my childhood home that had a railroad through our property it is terrible. We had to move because it became dangerous and unnecessary people were stealing our stuff. I’d rather have the train thanks. At least it operates on a schedule.

    1. What happens if a train or another bike is coming in the opposite direction at a curve, at a high rate of speed? By the look of the track on the video, the railroad is maintained and looks like trains could show up at any time.

    1. I think that would only work if the handlebars were locked straight, but the increase in friction would make the experience more miserable than the road crossings currently do.

      1. Why not add some sort of right hand spring pressure to keep the front wheel tight against the rail utilizing the flange as a stop? Might be a problem at switches or crossings but could be negated by a larger flange

    2. The important thing for this design is to keep the front wheel both positioned and pointed along the track (the rear wheel will just follow the front). To deal with the road crossings that have pavement on the outside of the track, he could have made the left follower wheel a larger diameter than the right. That way, when the right wheel pushes out, the left will still want to stay in the groove between the pavement and track.

      To have only inside flanges, you’d need three things: a front-wheel front follower, a front-wheel rear follower, and a front-wheel outrigger/follower. The three points of contact would position the front wheel and prevent undesired turning (just left and right contacts would position the wheel, but not prevent turning).

      But don’t take my word for it. I’ve never made one of these things, though I have thought about them when there was a (not abandoned) railroad track that was the shortest path between my apartment and the university I attended at the time.

      1. Rear wheel tracks inside front wheel track on curves , look at your car tracks in snow when you turn. RR curves have large radii so may be minimal difference.

        RRs own their ROWs and you can’t use without their permission. I’m a land surveyor and have to get permission to enter. Some are quite strick. Proceed with caution.

      1. Oh im on that idea already and its fun zipping on down the railroad tracks powerd my a 50cc bicycle motor you can buy tue whole motor kits for around 200.00 on up you get 200 mpg and its street legal in my city

  2. Ages ago (20+ yrs) my friend made a railway bike out of just a sort of triangle-shaped outrigger with one wheel on the end to keep the bike itself riding on the middle of the other rail. You could just fold it up or down. It is hard to describe but worked really well with minimal practice.

  3. The front wheel would be able to steer off its rail to the left like that, and the inside flange on the outrigger wheel wouldn’t offer enough resistance to prevent it. If the outrigger wheel were attached to the front wheel instead of the rear, then that might work.

  4. From the video, these railheads ook a lot wider and flatter than Europen ones, which are narrower, slightly rounded and slightly tapered inside. The rear wheel would most certainly slip off here!

    1. There are different sizes of rails. Large thicker, heavier rails for heavy train traffic and lighter versions for lighter traffic. IIRC, they are referred to their weight per foot of rail length, 127 for example, would be a 1 foot length of rail that weighs 127 pounds.
      Seldom used sidings would use a lighter rail.

  5. Great idea. I walk tracs whenever I can. Its good there also turned into bike paths. There’s many where I live. But otherhand real shame that this country gave up on railways for transportation. Just keep on making cars and whatever roads we have we will make bike lane and bus only lane and 4 dozen 200 unit apartment buildings.

  6. I’d be pretty leary of driving on any railroad tracks. I think it may be trespassing even if the track is “abandoned”. Someone likely still owns it even if it’s disused. That may be the state, the railroad, or the original land owner.

    1. The railroad that the video was filmed on is definitely not abandoned . More than likely it is a secondary track. I would guess there is a local that uses it once or twice a day.

  7. A lightweight rack on the outrigger could hold your backpack, adding stability and taking the load off you.

    (Also, agreed with other commenters about a front outrigger allowing for proper matched inside-edge rail locating)

  8. I can already see the headlines because of idiots getting run over by trains because they didn’t make a point of using deactivated rails.

    It’s all good. The gene pool needs a little cleaning anyway.

    1. It’s a good thing there’s no such concept in media as “absent-minded professors” because clearly only smart people can recognize unused rail lines, but dumb people would totally make their own bicycles. Definitely no crossover-potential.

  9. Yeah but be careful of the active tracks, but this may be a good enough reason for some to ride them🤦. You can get a trespassing on railroad property or if a train is barreling towards you and in haste you get your foot stuck in the tracks, it could be a real bad day for that person.

  10. Brilliant concept & execution. Clearly this isn’t for every railway line, but would work very well on many. Cycling from my ranch to the village could be suicidal (narrow roads & no shoulders) but the railway line is straight, flat and has one slow train per week. Where can I buy one of these?

    1. … and the second train that one week kills you. Unexpected trains can be incredibly sneaky, and the rust on the tracks renders an emergency brake almost useless (it is like old summer tires on a perfect layer of ice).
      I am an engineer driving on such tracks regularly, and I am really tired of saving trespassers life only for getting yelled at because my train can not be there, there never is a train, and I should just shut up an let them walk in front of the loco.

      There is a takeaway here for everyone: choose your assumptions so that nothing happens when the assumption was wrong. Examples:
      A train might appear -> on right, no problem; on wrong, no problem.
      No train will appear -> on right, no problem; on wrong, minced meat. So always assume trains even on abandoned tracks.
      Same goes for flying metal splinters in ihe shop (safety glasses), ignoring red lights, and all kind of behaviour, where you can make your habit being your best friend or your worst enemy for the years to come. On project design this means a reasonable consideration of failure modes and possible use cases other than the main use case.

      1. 17 years, one train a week, Thursday afternoon., 2:30 PM, 15 mph, westbound, 3 mile line of sight in either direction. Same train returns eastbound 1:30 AM Friday morning. I don’t ride at night because the rattlesnakes are more active and less visible. And yes, I Iook both ways before crossing the road.

        1. That is pretty much the same what they all say after they got hit by the maintenance (or other special) train … if you can ask them afterwards. It is really ugly for the train driver always having to care for people who may or may not be out of the way in time. There are enough other things to care about.

  11. Caught a YouTube in the past. Some guys bicycling on rails in Argentina. Three points of contact. Bike tires on one rail and an outrigger from bike to other rail. Stable and lightweight.

  12. This is Santa Cruz, California isn’t it? The tracks filmed look to be the Santa Cruz Branch Line owned by the county from Soquel to La Selva. That track is actually very much not abandoned, though locals treat them as such due to not having any regularly scheduled traffic. Nice idea though regardless

  13. I remember when these bike first came out back in the 1980s with a couple of boyscouts converting a set of Beachcruisers into railbikes. They carried their camping gear on the outriggers which swung behind when not on the tracks. Was a lot more rail to ride back then. Rode a few myself and hope there’s trails left to find, explore, and enjoy.

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