Railbiking Is Catching On Across the Nation—Here’s Where to Try It Yourself

Sit back, relax and pedal your way along historic railroad tracks

Group of four people riding a railbike while pointing at the camera and smiling
Located in Noblesville, Indiana, on the outskirts of Indianapolis, Nickel Plate Express offers both train rides and railbike tours. Nickel Plate Express

In the 1860s, early settlers discovered a thick vein of coal in north-central Colorado. They set to work mining the valuable fuel and, not long after, officially incorporated their little town, which they named Erie.

Encouraged by Erie’s burgeoning coal industry, in 1871, Union Pacific Railroad agreed to build a spur off its main line, which ran between Denver and Cheyenne, Wyoming. That spur, which became known as the Denver and Boulder Valley Railroad, connected Brighton to the east with Boulder to the west, with a stop in Erie along the way.

For decades, the train transported coal and passengers until, one by one, the Erie mines began to close. In 2002, Union Pacific stopped using the tracks altogether and later sold them to Colorado’s regional public transportation agency.

Now, more than 150 years since the tracks were laid, wheels are once again rolling down them in Erie—only, this time, they’re not attached to a heavy locomotive. Rather, they’re part of a new human-powered contraption called a “railbike.”

For a fee, travelers can clamber aboard the comfortable four-seat, four-wheel bike—which spans the full width of the tracks—and pedal along a 4.2-mile stretch while taking in views of the snow-capped Rockies.

Railbike attractions like this one in Colorado, called Colorado Railbike Adventures, are catching on across the nation. They’re an accessible, beginner-friendly way for people of all ages and fitness levels to get outside and enjoy a little fresh air. At the same time, they’re also breathing new life into long-dormant tracks—and bringing renewed attention to the history of American railroads.

“We’re sitting there going, ‘This is a really huge piece of Colorado history and Erie history, and it’s just wasting away under the grass,’” says Jeff Rummer, co-founder of Colorado Railbike Adventures, to the Colorado Springs Gazette’s Seth Boster. “Part of this is bringing that story back to life.”

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Railbikes themselves are not new. A wide variety of human-powered vehicles—including velocipedes, draisines and handcars—have been rolling atop train tracks for more than a century. However, while these devices were historically used for railroad maintenance, today’s railbikes are just for fun.

Curious about railbiking? Here are five other places to try it yourself.

Versailles, Kentucky

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the Louisville Southern Railroad ferried passengers between Lawrenceburg and Lexington, Kentucky, with a stop in Versailles along the way. These days, however, the tracks are mostly used by intrepid adventurers riding railbikes equipped with electric motors.

Rail Explorers, which has railbike attractions across the country, opened its Central Kentucky outpost last summer. Tours meander past horse farms and limestone hills before stopping to turn around near the Kentucky River gorge.

“You don’t need to be a Lance Armstrong to do this, and that’s exactly why I fell in love with it,” said Mary Joy Lu, co-founder of Rail Explorers, to Spectrum News 1’s Austin Schick last July. “Because the community needs more things multigenerational people can do.”

Noblesville, Indiana

On the outskirts of Indianapolis, you can take a relaxing train ride in a 1956 Santa Fe El Capitan car on the Nickel Plate Express. But if you’re looking for a more active adventure, consider booking a railbike tour instead.

The Nickel Plate Express offers three different railbike excursions ranging from 90 minutes to three hours long—including one at twilight, which includes s’mores around a campfire and lanterns illuminating the bikes.

“It’s a brand-new way to experience this historic railroad, the outdoors and be physically active,” Emily Reynolds, executive director of the Nickel Plate Express, told WRTV’s Ashlyn Wright when the new railbike tours launched last month.

Grawn, Michigan

Wheels on Rails became Michigan’s first railbike attraction when it opened in Grawn, just south of Traverse City in Northern Michigan, last summer. Founder Macie Hefron discovered her passion for railroads while working for the Michigan Department of Transportation’s Office of Rail during college.

“I never saw myself getting into the rail industry, but I did,” Hefron told Interlochen Public Radio’s Tyler Thompson last year.

Choose between a three-mile or six-mile out-and-back ride on an unused stretch of track operated by the Great Lakes Central Railroad. The shorter excursion takes about an hour from start to finish, but does require some more intense, uphill pedaling on the return trip.

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Santa Paula, California

In 1887, crews working for the Southern Pacific Railroad laid tracks for a main north-south line to connect San Francisco and Los Angeles. Even into the 1950s, the line was used to transport oranges and lemons grown in the fertile Santa Clara River Valley.

Today, Sunburst Railbikes is reinvigorating the old tracks by offering ten-mile, two-hour rides through groves of avocado and citrus trees. The tours depart from the historic Santa Paula depot—which was built in 1887, but today primarily serves as office space—and include a stop at Prancer’s Farm, where guests can pick up fresh produce and souvenirs. You can even take the tour at sunset.

The rides, which launched last year, provide a respite from the “larger Los Angeles urban landscape” and “harken back to the quieter times of the area’s rich [agricultural] heritage,” said Melodie Hilton, a spokeswoman for Mendocino Railway, which runs the railbikes, to the Ventura County Reporter’s Nancy D. Lackey Shaffer in April 2023.

Kennebunkport, Maine

In Maine, you can learn all about trains, trolleys, buses, electric streetcars and other forms of public transit at the Seashore Trolley Museum in Kennebunkport. Then, when you’re done perusing the exhibitions, stay on the museum grounds and head to Revolution Rail to hop aboard a railbike for a 3.5-mile ride.

Choose between a two-seat or a four-seat railbike for cruising along the tracks, which were used by the Atlantic Shore Line Railway, an electric trolley line that operated in the early 1900s. (And if railbiking isn’t your thing, you can ride the museum’s vintage trolley instead.)

“I haven’t been on a standard bicycle in many years—and for those, like me, who may have some qualms about getting on a railbike—fear not,” wrote Liz Gotthelf for the Saco Bay News last year. “The wheels lock on the rails, so you don’t have to steer, or worry about balance. Just sit back, pedal and enjoy the ride.”

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