In November 2021 we embarked on creating the best well designed rail bicycle device. Pedal powered rail devices have been around since the 1880s, but the modern recumbent rail bicycle did not come into being until the 1980s when hobbyists began building them for abandoned rail line touring. The advantage of the recumbent design is it is safer with a lower center of gravity. Being up high increases the risks of derailment and injury.
The most common rail bike design consists of a frame fabricated from aluminum tubes outfitted with standard bicycle components and lightweight seats. The wheels are made of polyurethane and are lightweight. The wheels are problematic and occasionally break and their improper profile cause the rail bicycle to derail on switches and occasionally while rounding sharp curves. They are not the most optimal design and were intended for hobby use. At under $5000 they are inexpensive to build and for this reason most tour operators use a version of them.
Our railbike machine was designed to be rigid and uses our standard steel railroad wheel with wood centers. Like our handcars we did not spare expense and built them for tough railroad use and are precision engineered and built.
As of February 2023 we are building 13 of them in our shops and we plan to roll the first half out in June 2023. In the meantime we have our prototype machine available for tours with advanced reservation.
Our rail bike uses larger aluminum beams that have round holes bored in them to reduce weight. We also fabricated fenders over the wheels to protect feet and track debris getting thrown up. Our wheels are built just as they were in 1890 with wood centers that are quiet, absorb shock, and provide strength. Each wheel is made from 18 pieces of hard maple and white ash that is pressed into a metal flanged rim that is spun from 1/4 inch steel plate.
Avid bicyclists will recognize the Shimano brand cranks used on the machine, but this is the only major bicycle drivetrain component used. Chain and sprockets are all industrial machine components for added robustness. Bicycle components are engineered for a single rider on a lightweight bicycle and not suited for rail bicycle use. Our machines weigh 400 pounds and carry two riders, a considerable amount of weight.
Designing an easy to use and robust seat slider was challenging. This is the prototype with some minor changes to the production car.
Finished machine. We placed an aluminum floor on the car to protect feet from dangling when rolling down the tracks. It also provides a safe platform for boarding and allows for a connection point for turning.