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Railbikes Are the Latest in Adirondack Outdoor Fun

Photograph courtesy of Rail Explorers

Combine Korean technology, an Australian entrepreneur and six miles of railroad tracks that last had passenger service when the Miracle on Ice was fresh in our minds and you’ve got the latest in Adirondack outdoor fun. Rail Explorers operates every day between Lake Clear and Saranac Lake thanks to an arrangement with Adirondack Scenic Railroad, the nonprofit group that operates tourist trains out of Thendara and Lake Placid.

Alex Catchpool was visiting South Korea when he first saw railbikes in action. At the time he was living in Brooklyn and working in advertising, and it took three years for his Saranac Lake–based Rail Explorers to become reality. This is the first place in the United States where the bright red and black contraptions are available, and the business is a runaway hit with tourists and locals alike.

Four one-way trips each day go between Lake Clear and Saranac Lake, passing McCauley Pond, beautiful wetlands and Lake Colby. You’re not tunneling through the forest but able to see some real Adirondack vistas, traveling at six to 12 miles per hour. The railbike setup is similar to a pedal boat, with upright seats (and seatbelts), pedals that rotate independently and a hand brake. You can pedal as hard as you wish or coast, depending on the grade. The elevation difference between Lake Clear and Saranac Lake is only 80 feet so there are no major hills.

There are tandem and quad railbikes and each excursion runs as a pod so that the four road crossings happen together. At these places there’s no gate and flashing lights but four trip leaders in safety vests who stop traffic. The same crew also stops the group midway through the ride to snap photos of smiling rail cyclists.

The trip costs $25 per person, which includes a shuttle back to your car. We launched our journey with a burger and a beer at Charlie’s Inn, which shares a parking lot with the Lake Clear depot. When we arrived there was no sign of the railbikes, but during our tavern break a group from Saranac Lake arrived, departed in the shuttles and the crew repositioned seats and pedals for the eastbound junket.

You can’t pass the other railbikes, of course, and you should keep a safe distance between your chariot and the jitney in front of you. But that’s about all you need to know. The tracks guide you, the wheels clank and clatter along, and the whole experience is exhilarating. When we arrived in Saranac Lake we listed all the other people we want to introduce to this adventure. You don’t need to be terribly fit (one of my companions on the trip plans to bring her parents, whose ages add up to 176) and kids under 12 are welcome with adults in tow.

One other thing Rail Explorers has done is add another dimension to the rail/trail debate over the future of the Remsen–Lake Placid line. The railbikes are a great way to utilize the tracks, though if they are removed, then the company could head somewhere else with great scenery, an old rail line and an eager audience.

Trips must be booked in advance, and the popularity means that slots fill quickly. To learn more or schedule an outing visit www.RailExplorers.net.

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