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I cross railroads as perpendicularly as is possible, but that's all I know to do. Safety is a priority, speed not so much. Specifically:

  • Is there an optimum speed?
  • Should you pedal through them or coast?
  • Does it depend on the type of bike? (mine is a stock Giant Rapid 3)
  • Any other tips?
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If you have a quick release wheel make sure nobody has tampered with it each time you ride. I had someone do that to my bike in high school and had the front wheel come off crossing the tracks. –  Robin Ashe Mar 18 '13 at 21:27

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up vote 13 down vote accepted

Approach at something close to a right angle. Easiest if the track is square to the road, of course. Only a little less easy if the track on the right-hand side (on US roads) is nearer than the left, so you can, in advance of your approach, swing out into the lane to achieve a square approach. Much trickier the other way -- you must wait for traffic behind to be clear so you can swing out into traffic as you cross.

Approach at "moderate" speed (maybe 10 mph). For a single track coast, for multiple tracks you likely must crank, but not too hard.

Quite important: Raise your butt off the seat and "suspend" your body on arms and legs. This isn't to save your butt (except maybe figuratively) but to assure that the bike doesn't bounce as it goes over the rails, and the wheels maintain firm contact.

As you approach, always study the rails and whatever is placed beside and between the rails. Often there will be a gap between ends of wood pieces, eg, and you don't want to get your wheel too near that gap. Very occasionally there will be a splice in the rails themselves, and that likewise needs to be avoided.

And, as one tour leader once told us, if the rails are wet, crawl across, dragging your bike behind you.

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+1 for crawling in the wet. I've only ever had issues on train tracks when it is wet! –  WTHarper Mar 16 '13 at 23:04
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+1 from me as well. A guy I was riding with broke a few ribs riding across wet train tracks. And crossing any tracks at as close to a 90 degree angle as you can manage is always safest. –  Neil Fein Mar 17 '13 at 3:55
    
what is your opinion on hopping your bike across? –  robthewolf Mar 17 '13 at 8:09
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@robthewolf - Seriously? I know of a guy who got some non-trivial injuries while attempting something like that. (I never did figure out exactly what he was trying to do.) The problem is that even dry tracks are quite slippery, and your tires can squirt out from under you quite unexpectedly. –  Daniel R Hicks Mar 17 '13 at 13:24
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@EvanHaas - It means crawl -- on all fours. Not to be taken quite literally, but one must be very careful if the crossing is wet. Probably best to walk across. –  Daniel R Hicks Mar 18 '13 at 0:25

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