Feel the wind on your face and listen to the rhythmic tunk-tunk of wheels on railroad tracks during an easy-going ride on a railcycle.
These neat two-person pedal bikes are a hoot to ride, and railcycles make for a pretty unique and easy-going experience through the woods in Thorndike.
But first, it should be noted that it is generally frowned upon to ride a bicycle or otherwise loiter about on railroad tracks. Because trains.
The railcycles on the Belfast & Moosehead Lake Railroad tracks were designed for the purpose and are used on a section of track that isn’t in use by trains. The good folks in charge are there to make sure you don’t encounter any locomotives.
Each railcycle seats two people (and the $34 cost is for both of you) so you’re encouraged to bring your favorite person to ride beside you.
Rides begin from 37 Gordon Hill Road in Thorndike (it’s the Farwell General Store, a shop filled with a wonderfully curated collection of old goods – spectacles, shoes, books, photographs, buttons, and animal skulls – as well as newer items like note cards and notebooks and the work of local artists and basketmakers; absolutely check the place out after your ride). There you’ll be greeted by your guide, sign a waiver, and get a neon safety vest (safety first!).
Then it’s time to ride.
The railcycles themselves are a blend of recumbent bikes and pedal boats. They have a durable and simple frame that connects two seats to four wheels and are otherwise wide open to the summer breeze and sunshine. Riders sit side-by-side and slide their feet into the baskets on the pedals. There are seatbelts, a brake, and a basket to hold your things, if you happen to bring any things with you. They’re also decidedly not aerodynamic.
That’s fine. Speed isn’t the goal of a railcycle.
Railcycles are about leisurely jaunts on the iron tracks where trains used to tread. They’re for pedaling adventurers who appreciate the scenery. They’re for curiosity and fun – and the joy of getting to tell people about that time you rode a railcycle in Thorndike, to which they’ll all reply, “What’s a railcycle?”
The route distance can vary based on the group but generally is around two miles each way.
The ride out has a slight incline, and while these are train tracks and are relatively flat (this is hilly Maine, after all), your legs will feel that incline, at least a little.
But more than that you’ll notice the rhythmic clunk of the wheels on the tracks and the ongoing woods that break now and then to reveal a creek or farm or cabin as you pass by. There will probably be butterflies and birds and sunshine glinting through the trees. It’s an entirely cool and calming ride. You might chat to your pedaling compadre beside you. You might just breathe.
At some point, you’ll need to turn around.
Turning a railcycle is a low-tech affair. It involves lifting the railcycle and physically turning it around and placing it back on the track. This means whichever bike was in the front on the way out will now be in the back. The way back is also slightly downhill, which means you can coast much of the way.
Eventually, you’ll arrive back at the general store where you started, feeling grand about your rail-riding adventure, and maybe ready to browse the general store and buy an old saw or new notebook in which to air your thoughts.
Railcycles are accessible to lots of riders, even folks who don’t ride bicycles very often. Be sure to wear closed-toe footwear (no sandals, clogs, crocs, or open-backed shoes, either). Pedalers must be at least 10 years old and the weight limit is 250 pounds.
Freelance writer Shannon Bryan lives in South Portland and is the founder of fitmaine.com, where she writes about the coolest ways to be active and get outdoors in Maine.