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Travel

Hands-Free Biking

Its German name is Draisine; in English it goes by the term "pedal trolley." But whatever you call it, this bike-plus-bench-on-a-railroad-track makes for one fun, unusual, sightseeing trip.

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No steam, just sweat -- an uncommon way to sightsee

Active tourists looking for a singular outdoor experience should make their way to Germany's little-known Nahe Valley, in the Rhineland-Palatinate region.

Southwest of Frankfurt, close to the French border -- the nearest large town is Kaiserslautern, home to a huge US military base -- the district of Kusel came up with a clever way to get a bigger piece of Germany's tourism pie.

Pedal boats for the earthbound

Draisine

"Draisine" is the German term for pedal trolley

They took a disused but scenic 40-kilometer (25-mile) stretch of railroad track, outfitted it with the terrestrial equivalent of pedal boats, and set up the draisinentour -- a change of pace from the typical bike tour, with the possibility to stop and sightsee along the way.

There's no getting around it: A rail pedal trolley trip is fun, but hard work. The rail trolley runs on four wheels and is pedaled exactly like a bicycle, but one whose wheels are fixed to the railroad tracks. There is space on the trolley for up to four people -- two can sit on the bicycles, and a bench that spans the tracks can hold up to two more adults or three children.

Thunder thighs

Strong quadriceps are a plus -- the trolley is heavy (plus there's all that beer -- oops, gear -- stuck behind the bench. This could be anything from a picnic lunch to a grill, to some real bikes for side trips, to the ever popular beer keg.)

On the positive side, since you don't need to steer, you can give all your attention to the breathtaking landscape, or have a chat with your biking partner, or take a drink -- or just sit back on the bench and let one of the other passengers have a turn at the pedals.

Breaks encouraged

So if you're stuck fast to the tracks, how do you stop and take time to see the sights? The folks at Nahe Valley tourism have thought of everything. For picnics, to rest, or for sightseeing stops in nearby towns, there are stopping stations every two kilometers (one mile) or so along the route. (Riders who stop must first remove their trolley from the tracks, so that others can continue on.)

Rüdesheim: Stadt im Tal der Loreley

Not having to steer means you can enjoy the view

Trolley riders can choose between an overall tour of 20 kilometers or 40 kilometers.

If you'd rather eat out than bring (and carry!) a picnic, there are small restaurants and inns marked along the route.

The entire route goes from the town of Staudernheim, via Meisenheim and Lauterecken, to Altenglan in the Palatinate hills, following the meandering Glan river, and passing through green meadows, wooded hills and romantic valleys. The trip also goes through numerous tiny towns and some larger ones as well, with a chance to visit little museums, churches, galleries, and vineyards en route.

Reservations required

Each day the trip goes in one direction or the other, starting on odd-numbered days at Lauterecken and even numbered days at Staudernheim. Public buses bring you back to your starting point.

While little known outside the region, the trolley tour is becoming more and more popular; reservations -- especially on holidays and weekends -- are an absolute necessity. Booking times can be as long as a year in advance.

A day on a trolley costs 35 euros ($46) during the week, or 39 euros on weekends and holidays. It takes two people over 5 feet tall to operate.

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