Bicycle Rails to Trails

Bicycle on rails to trails

What are “Rail-Trails”?

Rail-trails are multi-purpose public paths created from former railroad corridors. These paths are flat or gently sloping, making them easily accessible and a great way to enjoy the outdoors. Rail-trails are ideal for many types of activities–depending on the rules established by the local community–including walking, bicycling, wheelchair use, inline skating, cross-country skiing and horseback riding.

If you plan a long journey or even a day ride on one of these rail trails by bicycle, make sure you realize that just because a trail is flat does not mean you can coast. Quite the contrary. Because the trail is mostly flat or gently inclined, this means you must peddle the majority of the time. Not that it’s difficult or strenuous, but the peddling is continuous. And the scenery is worth every turn of the wheel!

The whole premise of rails to trails is that these paths were once train tracks. Train tracks follow rivers and mostly flat areas. These areas are scenic by location and design of nature. The trails often run along steep cliffs or mountains on one side and streams or rivers on the opposite side of the trails. No matter which season, the scenery is beautiful. Most of these trails are compacted gravel, which makes it a natural choice for wider tires. However, I have bicycled the KATY trail two times and both times I bicycled using my road bike. I never had any problems with my tires.

The wonderful aspect about most rail-trails in the United States is there are bike rentals near the trail heads and food is available along the way as well as lodging. Below is a picture of the Katy Trail Bed and Breakfast. I have stayed there while bicycling the KATY trail and like every B & B on rail-trails, they love to have cyclists stay and enjoy their home cooked food and soft beds.

Rail-Trails Parks Across the Nation

Currently, there are over 2000 rail-trails parks in the United States featuring 23,000 miles in all 50 states. There is an across the nation rail-trail park being planned from Baltimore just inside Washington D.C. to Washington State. This trail is called the Great American Rail Trail and the link to the route and information is here: GreatAmericanRailTrail. This trail will travel through 12 states including the District of Columbia. Currently, just over 50% of the trail is completed.

If you are using your own bike and bicycling trails often, I recommend a softer seat. The added ounces don’t matter compared to the added comfort of sitting and peddling like you do on a rail-trail.

Also, you should invest in bicycle shorts and padded gloves. You don’t realize how much you need gloves until you’ve been on a bicycle for several hours. The palms of your hands really take some wear and tear when you are leaning on them as you peddle.

Bike shorts add the cushion and make all the difference at the end of the day! And if you are biking for 3 or 4 days, a couple of pairs of bike shorts are a must. But that’s another article. And, do not forget a helmet. Even though the trail is flat and looks benign, a helmet protects your brain and freak accidents can happen even in your driveway. If you are going to get on a bike, put the helmet on first.

My best bike rides have been on rail-trails in different states and in my own. The scenery is spectacular, and every bend holds a new surprise. I cannot wait for the Great American Rail-Trail to be completed so we can literally bike across America without any cars. What an adventure!

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