Picture a cartoon car ambushed by a strong wind — driver and passenger left trucking down the road on a bare frame and wheels. That's a decent approximation of what it's like to ride a rail bike.

Belfast & Moosehead Railroad, a group of local railroad enthusiasts and owners of the only rail bikes in Maine, recently pulled their fleet out of storage and will be offering guided 9-mile round-trip tours this summer leaving from City Point Station in Belfast.

The novelty vehicles use polyethylene on a simple aluminum frame, spaced so that they lay into the train tracks. Each bike has two padded plastic boat seats and two sets of pedals on flywheels to accommodate different pedaling speeds. Because it rides on the rails, no steering wheel is necessary. The riders provide the power and there's a hand brake for downhill runs and road crossings.

The whole package is light enough that two reasonably fit people can lift their ride and turn it around at the end of the run.

Belfast & Moosehead Lake Railroad got the rail bikes in 2008 and ran them for several years out of Thorndike, 15 miles down the tracks from Belfast. At the time, B&ML President Joe Feero recalled hearing of rail bike parks in Germany and maybe elsewhere overseas.

"Back when we started there was nobody else doing this," he said. "As an industry it's gotten a little bigger." Still, he said, the next closest rail bike operation is three states away in Newport, R.I.

This year, the organization moved the rail bikes to Belfast where new member James Thomas now oversees the excursion program under the title of "conductor" or "guide." Trips start at City Point Station, just outside downtown Belfast, which recently became accessible by foot or bike from downtown via a new rail trail.

Rentals are $40 per bike. Thomas noted that the cost is for the vehicle, so it could be split with a stranger if necessary. Alternatively, a lone rider can pair up with Thomas for $20.

The bikes leave City Point Station in a loose convoy at intervals of about 200 feet with Thomas leading the way and travel 4.5-miles into neighboring Waldo. The route crosses Wescott Stream twice, passes a transmission corridor a stone's throw from an osprey nest, and offers plenty of peeks into the woods of Waldo County.

In accordance with railroad standards, the route is mostly flat. But a 2-percent grade in stretches is enough to give riders a light workout — Thomas figures a person could burn 500 calories on the 9-mile round trip — and for the harder stretches there's the reward of going downhill the other direction. The bikes can go up to about 15 miles per hour and can even glide.

"It's great for people to get off the couch and get some exercise and fresh air," he said. "And it's fun."

The bike tours start June 17 and run every weekend through October, which takes in the foliage season. Trains will run on the same corridor at alternate times. Feero said the goal is to augment the train excursion business with the rail bikes.

"I think it fits ecotourism and all that kinds of stuff, and for us it's a different audience," he said. "if you don't like the trains and all that, you have a way to get people interested in preserving railroads."

Thomas showed more of an entrepreneurial giddiness about the program.

"I think once word gets out that we're doing this, it's going to take off and there's going to be a waiting list," he said. "That's my hope."

Belfast & Moosehead Lake Railroad's rail bike tours run from City Point Station, Oak Hill Road, Belfast, every Wednesday, Thursday and Friday at 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. starting June 17 through October. A grand opening party with live DJ, refreshments, raffle and more will be held at the station June 17 from 1 to 4 p.m.