WOODBRIDGE, VIRGINIA, USA
Sometime in the winter when I knew that Ride the Rockies would not work out for this year I decided to ride across Switzerland. Over the Alps.
I did not want to “bikepack,” which is to carry all my clothes with me on my bike. I found and had been following the tours at BikeSwitzerland.com. They looked (and look) great but was a little more time and money than I wanted to spend.
I asked my friend, Ben Zahler, if he knew how I could do this self-supported and he found Eurotrek, a company based in Zürich.
Both companies offered a self-guided tour over the Alps via Panoramic bicycle Route 4. The cost differences were significant. BikeSwitzerland offered a couple extra days and a little extra riding from Geneva to the start in Aigle. Plus a return to Geneva.
Cost was a factor but so were logistics. BikeSwitzerland started in Geneva whereas Eurotrek started near Zürich. My base of operations would be in Zürich at my friend, Corinne Kolb’s, apartment.
Both companies offered rental bikes. I never considered renting instead I flew with my own bike. I do not know what Eurotrek charged. But BikeSwitzerland offered my Trek Domane with Di2 shifting for 600 CHF.
I booked this trip with EuroTrek. They made all hotel arrangements and transported my luggage daily from one hotel to the next, otherwise it was self-supported.
I flew my bike to Zürich. From Washington, D.C., American Airlines charged me $200. Returning, the same airline charged me 84 CHF ($87.50). I have no idea why the price difference. I liked the price coming back.
Day 1 was from St. Margrethen to Wattwill (Lichtensteig). The course was lumpy, even mountainous. Actually it had the most climbing of the seven days although it lacked an iconic mountain pass. I did not pre-load my map to GPS and could not always follow the Rte 4 signs. I also developed saddle sores (which I never get) and feared the worse.
Day 2 was from Wattwill (Lichtensteig) to Linthal. This was the shortest day. It started with a climb (once I could find it) and ended with 30 km of flat farm roads or trails. It was the perfect remedy for saddle sores.
Day 3 was from Linthal to Beckenreid via a ferry at Gersau. It was the best ride of the trip. It featured a hard climb out of the box over Klausenpass. But the rest of the day was super easy. A great descent of Klausenpass followed by the nice trail along a lake I have been one.
Day 4 was also nice but had the opposite profile of Day 3. This one had the lake riding first and ended with a climb up the Glaubenielen Pass down into Sörenberg.
Day 5 was from Sörenberg to Thun. I began the day by riding back up the mountain to the Sörenberg tram to the mountain overlooking Interlaken. Then, given a choice of adding an extra 12 km to Thun, I took the long way. I beat my luggage in then went swimming in the River Aare.
Day 6 was Thun to Gruyères. It felt more like a slog. I got lost in Fribourg. It was hot. Beautiful scenery but nothing breathtaking like Day 3.
Day 7 was Gruyères to Montreux. Somewhere I must have missed a Route 4 turn and just took the main road to Aigle. That was fine.
And that was it. Post trip I found that Eurotrek had GPX files I could have downloaded but I did not know to ask.
Only after the trip did I realize that perhaps a solo trip across the Alps was a bit risky. I mitigated some of the risk by carrying a hand pump with gauge and an extra tube. But a broken spoke or chain or worse, an accident, would have done me in.
As I updated my trip on Facebook I started adding Cycling Tips for Switzerland. The “numbers” were random, of course but here they are:
Tip #38 for cycling in Switzerland … Leave that finger at home. Number of times I’ve been buzzed (0), yelled at (0), thrown at (0), blown smoke on (0), honked at (0), had tires squealed at (0), cutoff (0). You just don’t need it as part of your cycling kit in Switzerland.
(This would end in Zürich on my last day when a woman pulled an impromptu U-turn in front of me causing me to take evasive action. I did not use a finger.)
Tip #19 for cycling in Switzerland … If you see a house at the top of a mountain and think “isn’t that nice, I wonder how they get up there?” rest assured that after 60 minutes of sweating profusely you will pedal right by that house
Tip #1 for cycling in Switzerland … In small villages and big cities and in the countryside too, you will find the freshest water available for free. Don’t stay thirsty, my friends.
Tip #23 for cycling in Switzerland ... Be cool, wear a helmet. Most do. Gone is the time they knew you were American because you were the guy with a helmet.
Tip #29 for cycling in Switzerland … lose weight
There’s not much I would do differently. I was glad to have my own bike and starting two days after I arrived was perfect although I could have got my bike ready in one day. Well, there is one thing. I would not start on a Thursday or Friday because those days mean that Day 3, Klausenpass would be on a weekend day and I now know that is a popular “driving road” for sports cars and motorcycles.
It was a great trip which I highly recommend. And see Tip #29.