SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The World Famous Skunk Train and sister company River Fox Train (previously Sacramento River Train) in Northern California offer a unique experience — ride the rails of Sacramento and Redding via bicycle, take in the sights and exercise at the same time.
"The railbikes have been very steady and busy since we opened to the public on June 5th and we expect that to continue," said River Fox Train. "It's great to be able to offer this type of outdoor activity during current circumstances, especially since the train is not operating at the moment (due to COVID)."
The coronavirus has made acceptable outdoor activities difficult to come by. Railbikes offer a great, physically distant option… but only for those who can afford it.
Avid explorers have taken to social media to voice their frustrations after both companies recently upped their prices for tandem railbike rides.
ABC10 has previously covered both River Fox Train and Skunk Train and the interesting outdoor adventures they offer. At the time, both services were listed as $49.95 per person, for a two-person bike.
That price was recently changed to $250 for a two-person bike.
"We initially opted to have an introductory price as we launched the new railbike experience and worked through the details, but the activity has always been valued at the $249.50," River Fox Train said. "Our sister company, the Skunk Train, also launched with an introductory pricing and is now running the railbike experience for the same price as River Fox Train."
Robert Pinoli, Vice President of Mendocino Railway which operates the Skunk Train, echoed these points.
"We’ve been undercharging for this highly unique experience," Pinoli said. "Mainly because we were innovators in this field (even building the railbikes ourselves), so we weren’t sure what to charge in the beginning."
However, users on social media were quick to notice the price hike.
Though the companies say this is what the experience has always been valued, Mary Joy Lu, CEO and owner of the first commercial railbike company in the U.S., Rail Explorers, commented on the high price.
"I think they are working on a different matrix that I don't even understand," Lu said.
Rail Explorers price its two-seat tandem rail bicycles at $85, while the four-seater quad bikes are $150.
Lu says this pricing is "sustainable." With four locations, three in operation currently, the company has seen no need to increase their prices, even during the COVID-19 pandemic.
So what makes River Fox Train and Skunk Train different from the competition?
Skunk Train's railbike ride is a seven-mile roundtrip, at an estimated 90 minutes. The two-person bikes use plastic wheels and have an electric-assist to allow riders to rest in between active pedaling.
Similarly, Sacramento's railbike experience twice as long at 15 miles, but the company estimates the time to also be 90 minutes. These bikes also have electric-assist.
“Our railbikes are the first-ever available in the Greater Sacramento area and provides an experience you can’t get anywhere else in the region," River Fox Train said. "We are one of, if not the only company in the country, providing a railbike experience with a patent electric motor that allows riders to pedal with an optional electric assist."
V&T Railway Commission in Carson City, Nevada will also be offering railbikes in August.
General Manager Elaine Spencer says that their route takes you through the Carson River Canyon, traversing an area that is otherwise inaccessible.
To make V&T railbikes possible, Spencer researched different railbike companies to find a good price point — $45 per seat for two-person bikes. It is advertised as a 90-minute trip with electric-assist, just like Skunk Train and River Fox.
Though she is unsure why Sacramento companies are charging a higher amount, Spencer says, "the value is in the adventure itself."
Spencer has actually ridden on Skunk Train's railbikes, and found the area to be "unique."
Rail Explorers, with its competitive pricing, is one of the only railbike companies in the U.S. to use steel equipment. Trips are similarly advertised at 1.5 to 2.5 hours, depending on location. They also offer themed tours, like a Brunch Tour for four people including food and mimosas, at a still lower price than Skunk Train's two-person experience.
Despite criticism on social media, Skunk Train and River Fox Train are sticking to their base price point of $250 per bike for two people.
Skunk Train plans to offer a premium package as well, which includes a charcuterie box and beverage of choice per person, plus some branded swag for $395.
"The early morning trip at 8:30 a.m. we will offer at $195 per bike to give the bargain hunters something," Pinoli said.
River Fox Train has also offered a discount of $100 to those wishing to engage in the outdoor activity amid the coronavirus, since it is so suitable for physical distancing.
"River Fox Train couldn’t be more excited to now be offering this new world of adventure in our own backyard. Visitors get to connect with nature in a truly unforgettable and safe way as our guides take small groups along our private, isolated railway that we use when train excursions are not taking place," the company said.
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