A Brief History of Railbiking

The beginnings of railbiking are shrouded in the fog of time and come from a non-digital world. 1he first pedal-powered rail vehicles were undoubtedly n1ade almost as soon as bicycles and railroads existed in the early- to mid-l 800s. Most likely the first were products of necessity; a way of getting from one spot on a line to another without having to have a locomotive, which was in short supply. In my mind's eye, I can just imagine the reaction to an early pedal-powered rail vehicle. A co-worker or spectator walked up to examine the contraption, considered for a moment and said something like, "You know if you just ... " This is, in fact, still the response of many who see a railbike for the first time and immediately 'know' exactly what would 1nake a 'better' railbike design! 

In the USA (and probably everywhere else), railbikes were initially used to provide transport for track exa1niners and other workers for relatively short distances. Railbikes were also used to provide telegraph-line inspectors and workers access to the lines that often followed the railway from city to town to village between which telegrams were sent. From these humble beginnings, railbikes developed. 

There are scores of patents in the US Patent Office for railbikes and related hu1nan-powered rail vehicles. The earliest known railbike patent was issued in 1869 (reissued in 1880) and consists of a three-wheeled vehicle with cranks attached directly to the axle of the drive wheel, like a child's tricycle with flanged steel wheels. 

An early account of a railbike in the news comes from the 1880s when George Sheffield was commuting home from work on his railbike one day and found a broken rail. He flagged down the scheduled freight train, avoiding a serious derailment. Sheffield ended up buying the Aspinwall/Perry patent and went into business manufacturing railbikes for use by anyone who would buy one. Other inventors and manufacturers also produced production models for use by telegraph workers. The Sears Catalog offered a railbike attachment for just over $5US. 

At the same time, tinkerers and inventors built many railbikes without ever getting a patent. Some different variations included ann-powered 'velocipedes', handcars, and many others. Telegraph workers in areas with sufficient prevailing winds were known to put up sails on their railbikes and travel for miles without pedalling. As bicycles began using pneumatic tires and roller chain, these were also incorporated into railbikes. As with bicycles, the railbike design went into decline with the advent of the internal combustion engine, although there were some who continued - and continue today -tinkering with them. 

In the USA, railbike designers, 1nakers and advocates in the '1nodern' era (the 1970s and on) include William Gillum, ,who organized the A1nerican Railbike Association; Dick Smart, who designed and patented the 'Railcycle' in 1980, , which uses a magnetic guide system; Bob Mellin, who organized Railbike International in 1996 and wrote and published the book, Railbike! Cycling On Abandoned Railroads, as well as many others. 

There is more and more interest in railbiking as time goes on. One of the major reasons that it has not taken off is concern from the railroad owners that railbiking will encourage trespassing on railway lines. There are argu1nents on both sides of this issue, but it is my belief that railbiking can be operated (even on an active rail) through the development of specific regulations for safe operations, self-regulation by railbikers themselves and cooperation between railroad rights of way owners and railbike groups. Railroads understandably are concerned about liability issues, but there is no practical reason why such issues couldn't be effectively addressed. I have conducted tour operations on 'active' rail with specific procedures for making sure communication is mandatory by all participants, both mechanized and human powered. 

In any case, railbiking is already here and has been for probably 150 years. Organization of the activity would ease the concerns of railroads and other entities and provide safe conditions and fun for generations. 

Most important periods

600 BC

Ancient Greece is regarded as some as the first railway to ever be constructed. The Diolkos was a paved trackway near Ancient Corinth which enabled boats to be moved overland across the Isthmus of Corinth. The shortcut allowed ancient vessels to avoid the dangerous circumnavigation of the Peloponnese peninsula. The scale on which the Diolkos combined the two principles of the railway and the overland transport of ships remained unique in antiquity.

1817

The first invention of transport making use of two wheels arranged consecutively, and thus the archetype of the bicycle was named as a draisine, the eponymous term is derived from German Baron Karl Drais. A term draisine is also used to describe a light human-powered rail vehicle for the maintenance of railway infrastructure and for touristic purposes. In conclusion, draisine is the word that connects two greatest inventions in the world, the railway and the bicycle. 

2011

The economic crisis in Greece led to the suspension of all passenger and freight services on the metre gauge railway system in the Peloponnese. The total length of the SPAP SPAP (Greek: Σιδηρόδρομοι Πειραιώς-Αθηνών-Πελοποννήσου or Σ.Π.Α.Π.) was to 731 km. At this day and age, Greece relies on a standard gauge. So even if the crisis is ever comes to the end, the restoration of those old lines, most likely, will not be conducted.

2012

We started the Railbiking in Greece project. It was that time when we were actively interested in abandoned railways especially the bunkers at Skiron's Rocks. Many must have had the idea of riding on rails, well at least for the founder of the project it was always a dream. At that time he started experimenting with some scraped materials and bicycles, however, because of the small budget, the project had slow growth. Finally after 5 years of hard work the 7th generation railbike was ready.