Turns out there’s more than one way to “ride the rails” in the Finger Lakes Region. Who knew? Though it looks remarkably similar to something a child might create with an Erector set a rail rider is actually a clever mode of transportation. A recumbent-style bike with two seats, two sets of pedals, two hand brakes, and no gears, it’s relatively easy to ride along the two and a half miles between Havens Corners and the turn-around point. Additionally, the bike’s four wheels resting on the old (from the 1850’s) train tracks make it virtually impossible to tip over or de-rail. There’s a cell phone holder, a metal basket, a water bottle holder, and a small zippered case, for those who don’t typically pack light. Honestly, the only thing we ended up needing was our cell phones for photos and the water.
When we arrived, the bikes were lined up in a long row against each other so naturally I assumed they were linked and we’d be pedaling as one. Not true! Trying to glide off before I had located my handbrake, I careened straight into the riders ahead of me-like bumper cars. Since I was only going about one-mile-per-hour, they were nice about it. Needless to say, I didn’t make that mistake again!
Kathy, owner and operator of FLRR, went over a few safety rules, then we set off. I won’t lie, this is a very cool way to see the region’s farms and pastoral scenery, learn some local history, meet new people, and get some fresh air and exercise too. We had a perfect day weather-wise, sunny but not too hot. There were cows, farmers hard at work, cornstalks waving in the breeze, and rolling green hills everywhere you looked. I’ve always loved biking the traditional rail trails (see Cape Cod Rail Trail or the Black Diamond Trail in Trumansburg) and this put a new spin on an old favorite. The abandoned tracks we were riding on are owned by Finger Lakes Railway these days but were initially used by the Northern Central to transport both coal and passengers between Sodus Point (also a great day trip) and Pennsylvania. The Yates County transportation industry has a rich history, gradually evolving from the steamships, to the rails, followed by today’s roads and highways.
The best fun fact Kathy shared with us was that the Yates County area has more bovine residents than human! It’s also home to one of the largest Mennonite settlements in New York State. In fact, it was Mennonites who helped Kathy clear the tracks and construct the rail bikes. The only parts they didn’t make for her were the seat backs and the wheels. Once we reached our destination, we were able to watch Kathy crank the bikes up and spin them around on this gadget so they were facing forward again.
Though I could have happily pedaled a few more miles, I savored the feeling of being transported back to a simpler time when Keuka was known as “Crooked” Lake and life was less complicated than it often is today. This multi-generational activity would certainly be a memorable way to celebrate a birthday, anniversary, or other memorable occasion. Stay tuned because Kathy has plans for some seasonal activities this fall!
If you’re interested in trying this unique (and socially distanced) outdoor experience, the tours run, rain or shine, four times a day. I’d recommend a reservation, as Trail Riders has received a lot of positive publicity and there are only nine two-person bikes per tour. Visit https://www.flrailriders.com/ to learn more.
A few other helpful pieces of information:
- Bikes can accommodate booster seats and car seats.
- There is no weight limit.
- The ride takes about an hour and fifteen minutes.
- Don’t forget sunscreen, sunglasses, or a hat.
- There are portable toilets at each end of the route.
Looking for an unusual twist on a favorite summer treat after your adventure? Try Spotted Duck Creamery (https://spottedduck.com/) also in Penn Yan; it’s yummy!