Hop aboard one of the rail bikes offered by Rail Explorers in Boone, Iowa, and explore the Des Moines River valley. This is a fun and laid-back way to see the countryside in the Midwest.
On a gorgeous, blustery day, Genevieve Dean (of Des Moines-based AdelmanDean Group) and I drove about an hour from Des Moines to rural Boone, Iowa—home of the latest U.S. Rail Explorers site and its first division in the Midwest. Wearing knit hats and gloves, dozens of people gathered near the tracks with small coolers and totes anxiously awaiting the start of our afternoon tour with Rail Explorers: Boone IA Division.
The crowd mounted railbikes with multiple pedals and small motors before we received instructions for traveling along the 12.5-mile Scenic Valley Trail in the Des Moines River Valley. Genevieve took control of the motor and hydraulic disc braking system. We synchronized our pedaling while the antique train yard receded behind us and early fall foliage shone brightly. Genevieve and I awaited instructions after boarding our railbike.
The Ride Begins
A rhythmic click-clack noise accompanied us as the steel wheels on our railbike met the train track. My feet momentarily slipped off the pedals several times when I became distracted by the scenery, and I was grateful Genevieve had taken this trip before. Although this railbike experience is considered a hands-free ride, I felt more comfortable when holding the handles that were installed beside my legs.
A chilly breeze grew stronger as we crossed and admired the stunning view at the Des Moines River Bridge and the Bass Creek High Trestle, which was 750 feet long and spanned 156 feet above the water. Although the railbike trail featured no guardrails, the trip felt completely safe.
After an hour of pedaling, everyone briefly left the railbikes at Rose’s Landing Turnaround. We then shared snacks, drinks, and brightly colored Adirondack chairs beside the river. Rail Explorers staff deftly turned the railbikes for our return trip as a bald eagle soared by. Two hours after we began the journey, everyone dismounted in the trainyard. My legs gently vibrated from our effort as we returned to our cars.
The Boone Railbike Experience
Offering views of the Des Moines River Valley, Rail Explorers: Boone IA Division partners with the adjacent Boone & Scenic Valley Railroad and the James H. Andrew Railroad Museum to offer this unusual tour experience.
Railbikes in Boone accommodate two to four people. Continuous pedaling keeps the motor’s custom REX Propulsion System running throughout each trip while minimizing physical exertion among riders. The design of each railbike incorporates a basket for bags and backpacks, cameras, phones, or water bottles. And pet lovers can even bring along their small to medium dogs.
Tour options include daily rides, sunset tours, and lantern rides, plus bookings for private and special events. Reservations are highly recommended for all railbike trips. Tickets for this inaugural Midwest season sold out almost immediately after sales began.
However, you do take your chances regarding the weather with advance ticket purchasing. That’s because rescheduling or canceling individual trips due to weather will only occur if Rail Explorers consider it unsafe for guests to ride the rails. However, the company does provide umbrellas and rain ponchos for all participants.
How Rail Explorers Began
Pedal-powered rail vehicles date back to the 1850s when railroad maintenance workers used handcars and ‘rail bikes’ to travel along the tracks.
The current U.S. phenomenon began in September 2012, as Mary Joy Lu watched one of her favorite TV shows. During the show, she became intrigued by a strange contraption that people were pedaling along railroad tracks.
Lu became so excited about these modern railbikes that she visited South Korea within 10 days after the show aired to meet the vehicle designer and manufacturer. In 2015 Lu, her husband, Alex Catchpoole, and other early Rail Explorers employees returned to Korea to learn more about this unique vehicle and business.
Rail Explorers Starts in the US
The young company then imported a fleet of railbikes to the US, marking the first time they had been seen outside South Korea. Lu and Catchpoole started offering tours in 2015.
There’s also been an eco-friendly component to this tour experience from the beginning. With their electric motors, Rail Explorers vehicles create zero emissions. In addition, these tours have little to no negative impact on the environment and the ecosystems through which they travel.
It’s part of the company’s commitment to maintaining socially and environmentally responsible operations and management. The company website states, “We define sustainability through the triple bottom line: social, environmental, and financial, or People, Planet, Profit.”
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A New Touring Experience
Since 2015, 350,000+ riders have enjoyed this unusual outdoor tour experience. Current Rail Explorers divisions operate in Boone, The Catskills, Cooperstown, New York, and Rhode Island. Las Vegas will soon host a new division. Let Wander With Wonder be your guide when planning your next outdoor activity or outdoor adventure. We also have more great things to do when you visit the Midwest.