Yes, Rail Bikes Are a Thing & They’ve Been in Michigan Since 1877
If someone walked up to you talking about bicycles that could travel on railroad tracks, it would be understandable if you had some doubts about the validity of that subject. Bicycles? Traveling on railroad tracks? How would that even work?
However, as it turns out, railway bicycles are a thing and at least one version was invented right here in Michigan.
What Are Rail Bikes?
The simplest definition of a rail bike, according to themanual.com, is a,
riding pedal-powered machines along railroads that have no train traffic.
Doing a quick Google search, there seems to be a couple of different kinds of rail bikes out there.
There's the tandem, 4-wheeled rail bike like this one that you can find in New Jersey:
There are also the classic, manual rail "bikes" that you may have seen depicted in movies. 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' is the first one that springs to mind for me:
Then, there's the three-wheeled bike that was recently shared in the Facebook group Pure UP.
The bike, which you can see below, was apparently invented by a Michigan farmer by the name of George Sheffield in 1877. At least, that's according to a 2017 article from Good Times which you can read here.
Outside of that singular article, finding information on George Sheffield and his velocipede rail bike has proven to be rather difficult. However, since his invention in 1877, several, modern rail bikes have been created by those that love to explore abandoned railroad tracks.
People have built them out of metal as this quick clip shows:
Others have created them out of PVC pipes:
But, Are They Legal?
Now, if you're someone who sees a railroad bicycle made out of PVC pipe and thinks, "Yeah. I could totally build that," make sure you check the legality first.
In Michigan, the Railway Code of 1993 states that people being on a railroad track is classified as a misdemeanor and is not legal. I would assume that applies to makeshift bicycles as well. You can read the full code here. Does this mean rail bikes are outlawed everywhere and in every circumstance? Not necessarily. But, I urge you to do your due diligence in understanding any and every law related to bikes on railroads before even attempting to build and/or ride one on a railroad track.
The invention of the original rail bike is a bit difficult to track down. But, at least one version was indeed invented and used in Michigan. In fact, there are a ton of things that you may not realize were invented in the great mitten state.
Here are at least 5: