Riding The Rails By Ebike

As most developed countries around the world continue to modernize their transportation infrastructure with passenger rail, countries in North America have been abandoning railroads for over a century now, assuming that just one more lane will finally solve their traffic problems. Essentially the only upside to the abandonment of railroads has been that it’s possible to build some unique vehicles to explore these tracks and the beautiful yet desolate areas they reach, and [Cam Engineering] is using an ebike to do that along the coast of central California.

Since his vehicle only has two wheels, he has designed a custom outrigger system consisting of a front guide that leads the front wheel and keeps the bike on the tracks, and a rear support arm which allows the bike to lean slightly against the outside rail. Both outriggers retract to convenient positions when using the vehicle as a bike instead of a rail cart, and it’s quite the impressive bike at that. Details are sparse on the bicycle itself but it seems to be a custom frame built around fairly large battery and possibly 2000W or more of power in a rear hub motor. Without the pedals and bicycle drivetrain it would almost certainly make a capable electric motorcycle from the way it performs in the video below.

There are some other interesting details about this project as well, like the use of the drone as a gimballed camera mount on his outrigger which allows for some interesting camera shots a GoPro might not have been able to do as easily. He also goes into a lot of detail about the history of the rail and the central California coast for any history buffs out there. For anyone thinking this build looks a little familiar, it’s actually another iteration of his previous non-electric rail bicycle we featured in the past.

41 thoughts on “Riding The Rails By Ebike

  1. A couple of decades ago, we lived in Pittsburgh, Pa. There were many miles of abandoned rail lines north of us. At that time I looked into building a “rail bike” and found that there was an active community building them all over the country. Most had some sort of a wheel guide and outrigger. There were also miles of lines where the tracks had been removed and the road bed converted to a trail and I chose to use those instead.

    1. Back around the turn of the last century, there were a number of companies making bicycle attachments to allow riding on rails. Sears sold them by mail order. At the time, the rails were about the only decent paths in the country outside the cities; roads were generally unpaved, and almost impassible when wet.

  2. The snark in the opening paragraph is just amazing. Please, tell me about your 15 minute commute times and lack of traffic congestion in “enlightened” areas of the world…..

    1. Gladly. Getting around North Yorkshire between York, Harrogate, and Leeds couldn’t have been more convenient, dropping us right in the middle of town, and buses handled any last three mile gaps. Even day trips down to London and back were much more relaxing than the times we drove. Meanwhile, if you’ve ever worked in metro Dallas, the highway projects never end, and never relieve the rush hour crush.

      1. Last time I was in Dallas, about three months ago, I was stuck in the middle of a traffic jam on a highway that was five lanes in both directions, with two more lanes in both directions of “express” (also stopped) and on each side, two more lanes of frontage road/on/off ramps. There was one guy on a bike on the frontage road, just zooming along past all the stopped cars. Next time work sends me there, I’m renting a bike not a car.

        1. Spent 2 years in Atlanta. The network-nazis did not allow telework nor flex time.* 8 miles from home to work ‘as the crow flies’, 10 via back roads thru neighborhoods, 15 by major roads. Commute by car took 90+ minutes. So unless the weather was horrible I went by bicycle. Almost half of that was along an old rail line, still in use but rarely.
          * Either would have been fine for my position. They were also insanely strict about security even though nothing we were doing warranted it. :-(

    2. Melbourne, Australia. I live 50km from the CBD and I can get there by train in 35min, with no need for parking or fighting in peak hour traffic.

      And it’s not just raw travel time, that half hour on the train I can pay bills or read the news.

      Traffic will always conjest to fill available roads.

      Tell me more about your motorway master race

      1. >Traffic will always conjest to fill available roads.

        This is because of latent demand. It’s not a very good argument, because it is essentially admitting that the present infrastructure does not meet needs – and therefore you should not build more?

        Traffic will stop increasing when everyone who would drive, can. The problems really come from pointlessly concentrating services into city centers, from smaller towns and cities to bigger ones, which consequently develop higher rents and prices so people have to move elsewhere, and then commute back in. This is done in the name of “efficiency”, by having everything in “walking distance” – but really it puts people further and further away, and then you HAVE to travel 35 minutes by train or car, because there’s no services where you actually live.

        1. And, there are some serious downsides when people take “induced demand” as an argument and a justification for attempts at reducing car usage and saving on infrastructure. They only see the traffic as a problem, without understanding what drives the traffic, and what the traffic drives:

          >”Of the approximately 200 pedestrian malls created in the US from the 1970s on, only about 30 remained as of 2012, and many of these became poorer areas of their cities, as lack of accessibility caused commercial property values to decline.”

          1. I happen to live close enough to work that starting the car makes no sense on most days. It’s actually a little bit slower.

            But if I were living like 5 km away, I wouldn’t bother cycling if the car was an option. Half the time I would be wet, frozen, sweaty and exhausted, or all three by the time I reach work, and then the same torture going back when you’re already tired from work. No thanks.

      2. How far from the train station would you realistically travel by foot? A mile, two miles? Going that far will take you another 35 minutes, unless you “cheat” and hail a cab – or wait X minutes for the bus to go by.

        What it means is, all the services that you would use have to be within a short walking distance from the train station. It’s actually a very small circle of maybe half a kilometer in radius. Within that circle, everything you can buy or use has a big markup in price, because they know you won’t go seeking lower prices elsewhere – it costs you more to go elsewhere, in time or money.

        Meanwhile, the “motorway master race” can go where they want and do business with anyone they please, and they don’t wait and pay extra to have goods delivered because they can carry it home.

    3. Gladly! Barcelona have one of the most comprehensive metro lines, per population density. With an average frequency on peak of 2-3 minutes (valley fr: 8-10 depending on line) I can cross my city point to point in less than 40 minutes. Is so ridiculously good I never felt the need to get a driving license; though it also helps that Spain has a well developed public transport network, including a very decent rail service – though a bit too centralized, going from Barcelona to Madrid, city center to city center, in just 150 minutes is awesome! – and mixed zoning meaning everything I need is literally around the corner (even my job is just 10 minutes away by metro, or 25 if I decide to just walk there).

    1. The difference between power lost to rolling resistance and air resistance grows in proportion to V^2 which means, by the time you’re doing 25 mph, whether you’re losing 1% or 2% or even 10% of your power to the wheels matters relatively little.

      Which raises the question, is there a minimum speed where your efficiency starts getting worse if you drive any slower? What would be the reason?

      1. Air drag is proportional to v^2 which turns the power demand into Pd = Cd*v^3.

        Meanwhile, the rolling friction coefficient remains constant, so the power lost to the wheel is just Pr = Cr * v.

        Suppose the rolling resistance is something small like 0.01 and the drag coefficient is fairly good, something like 0.2. (actually, a person upright on a bicycle is like a barn door against the wind) Further suppose that you’re carrying 100 kg of mass. At v = 1 m/s you’re using 9.8 W to turn the wheels and 0.2 W to fight air resistance. At 10 m/s (23 mph) the situation is 98 Watts for the wheels and 200 Watts for the air resistance, so your margin of savings is about 1/3rd of the total power budget.

        So, a choice of better wheels could get you up to 50% further down the road, but it depends on not going too fast, and keeping your aerodynamic profile fairly small.

    1. The only problem with this practice is that it’s officially trespassing on private property and can get you arrested. Even if the rail line is abandoned, if it’s owned by the railroads they frown on people using the rails or right of ways for travel because of the litigious nature of the US and the danger of injury from slip, trip or falling if walking or from an accident due to unmaintained rails.

    2. Abandoned rail lines are private property still owned by railroad company or government. It is called trespassing. Been there. Done that. You can’t even walk across them! You’ll get caught eventually. Especially now that lines are derailing and gaining noteriety in the news. It will be a hefty fine. They’ll want to make an example of you. Good luck though!

  3. On rail tracks where you don’t have to worry about traffic, bends, starting and stopping, hills , etc. might by the ideal place to try out a faired recumbent or more exotic stuff like a prone recumbent

  4. There are thousands of miles of rail trails in the US. The towns that these go through love the business from cyclists and hikers. When the railroad shut down, lots of business was lost. Rail trails have revitalized many small towns. I’ll be riding some rail trails next month, on my trip to DC.

  5. I’m kinda thinking that rail lines, “abandoned” or not, are still owned by the various railroad companies, and are thus private property. Riding the rails would be trespassing in that case, and how you will be treated if you are caught might come down to the particular railroad cop (yes, that’s a thing) who catches you.

    1. Came down here to mention this. My uncle and I were taking the ATV on some country roads, decided it would be fun to pop on the tracks since no trains ever came around. Well a train did come around and we couldn’t get the ATV off the tracks. He was charged with trespassing on the railroad and damages (I was still 12 or so at the time so nothing for me). Nothing probably would have come of it had the train not hit the ATV, so probably not an issue for the bike. Just beware as you go about this stuff folks.

  6. This was one of the best videos I have ever seen on the Internet. awesome. the video was well captured and documented, It’s got an awesome adventure tale, love to know more about that wicked bike, and there’s rebel written all over it.

  7. I think a good option would be to build as light a frame work as possible using Aluminum and give it 4 wheels, put a rechargeable bat bank, mount a solar array on it for some shade and cover in rain. If you have to, use a setup that gives you a peddle option. After all, a set of metal wheels on a rail is about as close to frictionless as you can get, if weight is an issue and removing the cart from the rails is also an issue, you can put a set of leveraged bike tires on it so it can be moved off rail.

  8. Me being from Northern CA originally (Redding), it’s very cool to see all those familiar views. Your Ebike set-up is awesome, I wish you many miles of cool and safe riding.

  9. Incredible ingenuity. I’m curious about the leaning factor. How many times did the outrigger lift off the opposing track while adjusting your weight?
    I would love to take this on the tracks that run from Santa Monica to Chicago (old 66 follows these rails). Alas, they’re “live” tracks but since you can see for miles out there it seems like it could be done.

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