Cycling in Switzerland
Tiny country, huge trail network
Many countries have national cycle trails, and some are even well signposted and easy to use. Few are as all-encompassing, user-friendly, inviting and ambitious as the Switzerland Mobility network of trails. BikeRadar takes a look at this small country with a big choice of cycle routes.
Switzerland Mobility was conceived to provide signposted and easy-to-use trails across Switzerland for walkers, cyclists, canoeists and even inline skaters, be they multi-day tourists or those looking for an easy single day ride. It has resulted in a huge network of national and regional trails that offers something for everyone.
There are nine national multi-day routes for touring cyclists and three for mountain bikers, plus 55 regional cycle trails and 14 regional off-road routes. Some 95 percent of the ‘cycle’ routes and almost 100 percent of the ‘mountain bike’ routes are free of motorised traffic.
For independent cyclists, it’s simply a case of turning up with your bike, having availed yourself of the great Swiss train system and picked up a route map (although the signposts are so comprehensive you’ll rarely need it), and off you go. By using the suggested itineraries at www.schweizmobil.ch, it’s easy to plan a route and organise accommodation along the way, whatever your budget or preference.
Luggage carrying on the ‘mountain bike’ routes is limited to use of a beam rack or rucksack, since the trails can be variable, with sections of technical and narrow singletrack. The ‘cycle’ routes are aimed at everyone from leisure cyclists to committed tourers, with most being best suited to a touring or hybrid type bike rather than a dedicated road bike. Roadies, however, can enjoy the 485km undulating Alpine Panorama Route 4, or the Alpine Passes Tour, both of which are fully surfaced.
For those who would rather not have to carry their own kit, Switzerland Mobility work hand-in-hand with a company called SwissTrails who can arrange for a greater or lesser degree of support, varying from simply transferring luggage each day to booking accommodation, arranging bike hire or even masterminding the whole holiday.
The website for Switzerland Mobility is as comprehensive as the trail system itself, giving a brief overview of each route before offering more in-depth day-to-day itinerary details and a route profile with height gains, grading for difficulty, public transport recommendations and information on accommodation along the way. There is also information on bike shops, points of interest and possible route variations.
Maps of each route are available to view on the website, and can be printed at 1:200,000 scale, in sections. Full maps are available via a link to an online Swiss bookshop, as are detailed guidebooks to each route, although currently only Aare Route 8, Lakes Route 9 and Alpine Bike Route (MTB) 1 are available in English.
Each of the routes has its own character and fitness requirements. Some, like the Alpine Bike Route 1 (mountain bike) and the Graubunden Route, are not for the faint hearted, with plenty of long climbs and descents and/or tricky conditions to contend with. These offer alpine passes to try your hand at, jaw dropping scenery and a guaranteed lung and leg workout every day. Other routes, such as the Mittelland Route 5, from Lake Constance (Bodensee) to Lake Geneva, are graded as easy, with little in the way of height change or challenging trail conditions.
Routes vary in length, but most take between seven and 10 days, with suggested stage lengths being about right. Each stage could be treated as a linear day ride, easily joined up by train. If it still looks too much like hard work, you can even hire an electric bike!
National Cycle Touring Routes
1 Rhone Route, 320km, 7 stages
2 Rhine Route, 430km, 9 stages
3 North-South Route, 365km, 8 stages
4 Alpine Panorama Route, 485km, 8 stages
5 Mittelland Route, 370km, 7 stages
6 Graubunden Route, 152km, 4 stages or 128km, 3 stages
7 Jura Route, 280km, 6 stages
8 Aare Route, 305km, 7 stages
9 Lakes Route, 505km, 10 stages
National Mountain Bike Routes
1 Alpine Bike, 665km, 16 stages
2 Panorama Bike, 455km, 14 stages
3 Jura Bike, 355km, 9 stages
If you’re bringing your own bike, travel within Switzerland is easy. The vast majority of trains will accept bikes, as long as there is space. It’s worth checking the relevant pages on the SBB website for details on individual services though, just in case.