Riders get ready to experience the rails in Portsmouth, Rhode Island

Riders get ready to experience the rails in Portsmouth, Rhode Island. Masks are not required while pedaling the bikes. (Paige Impink photo)

Rail bikes have become a popular activity across the country, taking abandoned stretches of railroad and providing a new generation of riders a way to access some of the most scenic yet hidden byways in America.

Introduced in Las Vegas in 2015 by a woman who had seen the rail bikes on a television show, the pedal powered recumbent machines have steel wheels and provide a fairly effortless way to enjoy an old scenic railroad. The industry has blossomed into several companies throughout the Uni­ted States and Canada which offers these adventures.

We chose our rail riding in Rhode Island, visiting Portsmouth and Rail Explorers. Our mixed group of adults and teenagers was split between a two-seater tandem and a four-seater quad bike. The ride went as planned despite slightly misty weather, but umbrellas were provided and the warm temperature made it no issue.

The whole group was happy to be out and enjoying the sights. Our departures were spaced so as not to tailgate the next crew. The bikes are not a race, rather a pleasant ride along the ocean, through woods and Audubon properties, and some lovely yards.

The pedaling is along the flat, former Old Colony railroad, built in 1862. The rail runs past Narragansett Bay and through coastal woodlands, offering picture-perfect views of Jamestown, the Mount Hope Bridge and Hog Island Shoal Lighthouse.

Other New England companies of­fer different features such as riding along the Merrimack River in New Hampshire, Passagassawakeag River in Maine, or the Connecticut River in Connecticut.

The bikes have a hand brake which gives the user control over speed, though the bikes seem to only go a few miles an hour and why rush anyway? All types of riders were on the rails, from grandparents with grandkids, young couples, families and groups of teens.

Some of the rides are out and back, where a lunch or snack break is of­fered while the bikes are turned around. The ride we chose was six miles in one direction and then we took a trolley back to our start — masks required. The ride and return took approximately 90 minutes.

It was really a nice way to get out, have a unique experience and not have to wear a mask while riding the bike. We enjoyed a fine lunch of fried seafood at Izzy’s in Warwick, but could have easily visited Flo’s for chowder nearby.

Check out some of the different locations for rail bike rides and see about enjoying one of these interesting outings.


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