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In 2012, Mary Joy Lu became so intrigued by a Korean soap opera scene depicting a strange contraption pedaled on railroad tracks that, 10 days later, she flew to South Korea to meet the vehicle’s manufacturer.
Three years later, Lu and her husband, Alex Catchpoole, brought a fleet of the unique rail bikes to the U.S., and Rail Explorers USA was born. Since then, more than 130,000 guests have "ridden the rails" in Rhode Island, Las Vegas and New York's Catskill Mountains.
Based on pedal-powered rail vehicles dating back to the 1850s, Rail Explorers’ modern, custom-built tandem and quad rail bikes are the global leader in safety and ease of operation. Best of all, the bikes’ steel wheels provide a nostalgic “clickity-clack” sound on the tracks.
Rail Explorers is the perfect family activity because everyone can do it (and, according to Lu, even the grumpiest teens return with a smile). She also notes that each seat has an independent flywheel, so guests don’t need to all pedal at the same time, and multiple rail bikes can be hooked together if families want to pool their "pedal power.
“It’s slightly more adventurous than going for a walk, but not so high adventure where you have to be super fit,” Lu said. “We can have a 2-month-old baby riding in a baby carrier with her mother, and an 87-year-old great-grandmother.”
Rhode IslandClients visiting Rhode Island can have the unique experience of peddling the Old Colony Railroad. The historic tracks, built in 1862, run along the western edge of Aquidneck Island, past Narragansett Bay and through coastal woodlands, offering picture-perfect views of Jamestown, the Mount Hope Bridge and Hog Island Shoal Lighthouse.
"You see these beautiful landscapes at 5 or 6 mph, so it's slow, but you feel like you're really doing something positive for your body," Lu said.
The 6-mile one-way Northern Ramble tour passes through the Preservation Society of Newport County’s Green Animals Topiary Gardens, as well as the Audubon Society of Rhode Island’s nature center. At the end of the tour, cyclists get a lift back to the starting point by shuttle. The Southern Circuit roundtrip route — 3 miles each way — goes from Portsmouth Grove Station to Bayside Station, with an exclusive waterfront picnic area midway that provides views of Narragansett Bay.
There are also special weekend tours. The Fireside Tour, only available on Friday evenings, allows families to pedal on a lantern-lit trip to Bayside Station for a bonfire and s’mores. Brunch tours on weekend mornings include mimosas, bloody marys and Death Wish Coffee — an organic brew claiming to be the “world’s strongest coffee” — along with fresh muffins and fruit. Meanwhile, clients on the Saturday Sunset tour can watch the sun go down over the bay.
Las VegasWith a location just 20 minutes from the Las Vegas Strip, Rail Explorers offers families a chance to see the natural beauty of the Nevada desert, the River Mountains and the Eldorado Valley.
Each of the three Las Vegas Tours — Southwest Ramble, Sunset Railbike Ride and Evening Lantern Ride — takes clients on a 90-minute, 4-mile adventure in the Nevada desert, something visitors to Las Vegas don’t often have the opportunity to do. These tours also combine a one-way rail-bike ride with a return trip on one of the Nevada State Railroad Museum’s historic trains. Plus, entry to the museum is included.
“Travelers want to do experiential things, not just the usual ‘hop on a bus’ type of tour,” Lu said. “In Las Vegas, to be able to do something out in the desert for two hours is breathtaking and priceless."
Southwest Ramble is a pedal-powered downhill ride from the Nevada State Railroad Museum to Railroad Pass, while Sunset Railbike Ride showcases views of the sun setting behind the River Mountains. During the Evening Lantern Ride, rail bikes are lit with lanterns for an unforgettable ride under the stars.
According to Lu, starting this month, daily sunset rides add an extra half-mile of track that takes riders into the foothills of Henderson, where they can see the whole valley of Las Vegas in lights.
The CatskillsThere’s no better way to experience the natural beauty of New York’s Catskill Mountains than by riding the historic rails of the Ulster & Delaware Railroad. The 8-mile round-trip Catskills River Run tour from the town of Phoenicia, N.Y., takes clients alongside Esopus Creek and through the woods.
Additional Catskills tours include the Friday afternoon Beer & Pretzels, which includes special-edition beers from Woodstock Brewing for adults, and soft organic pretzels by Bread Alone for everyone at a private picnic area on Esopus Creek. The family-friendly nighttime Stargazing Tour on Saturdays brings families along the rails by lantern light to spot constellations and enjoy hot cider and donuts.
“It goes back to the golden age of travel, where the journey is the destination,” Catchpoole said. "Everybody is able to enjoy it together, so it becomes a shared experience, which is very important to us."
The DetailsRail Explorers USAwww.railexplorers.net