Thursday April 24th 2014

Out Going

Bike riding on the railroad: Rail bikes in Thorndike

By: Shannon Bryan

While Mom might’ve been wrong about plenty (“That’s just the sound of God bowling, sweetheart. Really!”) she was right about one thing: Playing on train tracks is dangerous. (Seriously. Don’t play on train tracks.)

Of course Mom never considered the existence of rail bikes.

In her defense, did any of us ever consider the existence of rail bikes?

They do exist, these two-seater, pedal-powered contraptions of ingenuity and joy. And several of them are docked not too far away on the former Belfast & Moosehead Lake Railroad in Thorndike.

The rail bikes are owned and operated by Brooks Preservation Society, which is dedicated to protecting, preserving and celebrating historic structures and artifacts in Brooks and surrounding communities. The organization purchased the rail bikes in 2007 from a company in New Hampshire as a way to get people involved in the use of the tracks.

And for anyone rightly wary of riding a bicycle on railroad tracks, rest assured. The tracks are isolated from train operation.

Two trained volunteers go out with each group, and tours last approximately three hours, with time to stop and eat lunch, explore and relax. There are two route options. The rail ride to Brooks is a shady two-percent grade going east, which means that the return trip is mostly downhill (weeeeee!). The ride to Unity is up and down, with less shade. Both routes require some muscle. Both come free with fresh air, sweet scenery and the rhythmic thud-thud of rail ridin’.

Rail bike enthusiasts (who are sometimes train enthusiasts, sometimes bicycle enthusiasts and always enthusiasts of the unique and outdoorsy) can pack a lunch and take to the tracks, shirking Mom’s advice for a whole afternoon.

Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for children. Children under 10 are not permitted to operate rail bikes but can be riders. Tickets are purchased at a funky shop called Garden Variety in Thorndike, just across the street from the old depot where the rail bikes are docked. The shop has some munchies, cold beverages and a host of neat antiques and strange odd-and-ends. Oh, and homemade ice cream sandwiches.

For more information about the rail bikes or to reserve: www.brookspreservation.org or 207-568-3523 (ask for Diana).

Check out some Rail Bike video:

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