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Ride the Rails … On a Bike

There you are, driving along California’s Highway 126 between Santa Paula and Fillmore. As you approach a railroad crossing, the lights start flashing, the bells start clanging, and the crossing arm comes down.

Seems like a loud train should be along any second, but instead of railroad cars chugging by, a group of rail bikes quietly zip by … and, yes, they’re riding on the train tracks!

A Sunburst Railbike pedal-powered experience. Photo By : Katie Budge

That could be you whizzing across the highway thanks to Sunburst Railbikes, which got rolling in March of this year. The pedal-powered experience is akin to its sister railroad companies, Skunk Train in Fort Bragg and River Fox in Sacramento. However, don’t let the “pedal” part scare you off. These two-seaters have adjustable electronic pedal assist to keep you effortlessly moving down the tracks, no matter your fitness level (or – shhh, don’t tell – even your desire to pedal at all). 

Departing from the historic Santa Paula Depot, the Sunburst Railbike experience runs out and back through the scenic Santa Clara River Valley. The railroad line itself was built in 1887 by the Southern Pacific Railroad for both passenger and freight lines and was used for local citrus transportation until the 1950s.

Towards the start of the 17-mile ride, a brief stop will be made at
Prancer’s Farm. This family-owned farm stand offers fresh fruit and snacks for sale, a petting zoo of rescued animals, and – depending on the time of year – maybe even a pumpkin patch or Christmas tree farm to explore.

From there, the ride continues through the valley’s bucolic citrus and avocado orchards, as well as the grounds of
Norman’s Nursery. A fourth-generation wholesale business founded in Pasadena in 1946, it now supplies plants throughout the Western United States.

Pedaling past citrus orchards. Photo By : Katie Budge

Eventually, the three-hour journey will continue into Fillmore before turning around, but all the recent downpours washed out the bridge into town. Until that’s repaired, stop just before town with time to enjoy a picnic while watching the operators turn railbikes around for the westbound return. Throughout the trip, over a dozen official rail crossings are traversed. At each one, rail operators will sound their “horn” – an electric drill outfitted to sound just like an actual train horn. And yes, thanks to operator radio controls, the tour will stop traffic on Highway 126 not just once, but four times – twice both ways. Don’t forget to wave as all those cellphones appear out of the car windows!

The horn is sounded – an electric drill outfitted to sound like a train horn. Photo By : Katie Budge

The Sunburst Railbikes experience runs Thursday thru Sunday at 9 AM or 1 PM, and the company has recently added a 10-mile, 90-minute Railbikes by Sunset ride on Saturdays and Sundays. Both are $249.95 per two-seater bike. For reservations and more information, visit

Know Before You Go

Sun Railbikes are open-air, so wear sunscreen, secure hats and appropriate clothing for the three-hour trip.

Footwear Closed-toe shoes are best for pedaling, strolling around the farm stand and walking at the turnaround stop.

Food and Water None provided, but you are welcome to bring a picnic and/or purchase snacks from Prancer’s Farm.

Storage Limited to a basket on the front of the bike, but you can also bring a backpack that securely straps over the back of the seat.

Local History Enhance a ride with a stop at the Agricultural Museum, located across the parking lot from the Depot and open 11 AM to 5 PM Thursday thru Sunday. Entrance is free (donation requested) to see the exhibits and collections explaining the area’s rich agricultural history.

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Ride the Rails … On a Bike

Seems like a loud train should be along any second, but instead of railroad cars chugging by, a group of
rail bikes quietly zip by … and, yes, they’re riding on the train tracks!