By Bob Mellin

Imagine gliding along on ribbons of steel, through breathtaking open space, enjoying the pristine air, the abundant wildlife, and the silence. Your ride is as smooth as glass --and there's no traffic. Your hands are free to take pictures or en joy your lunch. Your path is never steep. Where there's a hill, you go around it or through a tunnel. Where there's a river, you go over a bridge. Breath deeply -- relax, enjoy . . .

No, you're not dreaming. You're RAILBIKING!

A hundred years ago, dozens of patents were granted for various contraptions which adapted a common bicycle to ride on railroads. The 1908 Sears catalog offered a railbike attachment for $5.45. But this unique form of cycling never caught on, largely because no one wanted to share the rails with the trains which were far more numerous and active in those days.

But over the years, times have changed and train traffic has diminished. Today over 80,000 miles of track lie abandoned throughout the United States, and another 2,000 miles of rails are abandoned everyyear. Cycling on rail roads no longer has to be ille gal or dangerous.

A new book called "RAILBIKE- Cycling On Abandoned Railroads," written by experienced railbiker Bob Mellin, provides an overview of the history, current status, and predicted future of cycling on the rails. Safety issues are discussed in detail and suggestions for exploring the vast network of abandoned rails are presented. A companion book entitled "RIGHT-OF-WAY - A Guide To Abandoned Railroads" is also available to guide in locating abandoned tracks. State-by-state maps identify abandoned rails and some of the history of the lines and the companies that operated them is included.

"RAILBIKE" also contains stories from a dozen railbikers from around the world who share their experiences and describe what cycling on the rails means to them. Each has built his own railbike. Some from existing plans or drawings, and others designed their own from scratch. Reading about the railriding experiences of these veteran cyclists provides a feel for just how special this sport really is. While all of the riders share an obsession for RAILBIKING, this unusual hobby means something different to each of them.

The "RAILBIKE" book also has a chapter on design and takes readers through the trial- and-error process of develoas own strengths and weak nesses and it seems that each railbiker has a personal preference as to the design he or she chooses.

A chapter is devoted to looking at what's happening today in the world of RAILBIKING. This includes a glimpse at the high-tech rail cycles entered in the Human Powered Vehicle Championships held last year in Laupen, Switzerland. Also discussed is the current effort to develop a commercial railbiking facility on the 100-mile Tillamook Line on the Oregon coast.

To foster the development of the sport of railbiking, a group of rail riding veterans have formed an association to promote the safe and legal growth of railbiking. Membership in RAILBIKE INTERNATIONAL is open to any one who has an interest in riding the rails. Goals of the association include the preservation of abandoned tracks, the establishment of public railbike facilities, and the development of railbike parks for the blind and handi capped. In addition to a quarterly newsletter which provides information about upcoming events and the continuing evolution of the sport, RAIL BIKE INTERNATIONAL provides networking information to members so they can team up with other enthusiasts in their area.

Today's railbikers feel that the sport's time has come. They are working to expand access to this country's abandoned railroads -- a resource which can be enjoyed by us all. They are quick to claim that onace you've tried railbiking, you'll be hooked! "RAILBIKE - Cycling On Abandoned Railroads" is available for $16.95 + $3 shipping from:

Balboa Publishing
20 Willow Avemie
Fairfax, CA 94930