Swiss cycling

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Tour de Suisse

With the Tour de Suisse on this weekend, it’s worth taking a quick look at Switzerland and cycling. It’s probably Europe’s best kept secret for cycling and here are some random things about riding in the country.

  • The country is full of mountains including some of Europe’s highest passes.
  • It shares borders with Germany, France, Germany, Austria and Italy. Oh and Lichenstein too.
  • It’s a “confederation” of 26 cantons and each one of these is pretty independent from the other.
  • Switzerland has a big network of cycling paths and most of the time these are very rideable and not a secondary consideration. You’ll find pros training on them as well as locals riding.
  • The roads are even more ridable with generally the smoothest tarmac in Europe.
  • Every Swiss bike has to be taxed and labelled, mainly for insurance reasons as proof that the rider has valid insurance which is sold with the adhesive tax label. This scheme is coming to an end though.
Cancellara

Swiss role: one of the nation's most popular sportsmen

  • Fabian Cancellara rivals tennis player Roger Federer as the country’s favourite sportsman. He fronts ad campaigns for example.
  • Ferdinand “Ferdi” K├╝bler won the Tour de France in 1950 and is the oldest Tour de France winner alive today. The called him “the Cowboy” because he liked Stetson hats.
  • Several non-Swiss pros live in Switzerland, from Cadel Evans to Robbie Hunter. The weather and roads are good but so are the low income taxes.
  • It’s home to the UCI, the sports governing body. The UCI’s HQ in Aigle has a velodrome, a restaurant open to all and even lodgings for cyclists. It’s also home to a development cycling team.
  • It’s the land of BMC and Assos and it’s visible on a Sunday morning. For sure not every weekend rider is obliged to support these Swiss companies but all the same you’ll see plenty. If you think these brands are pricey you are right but that’s partly because the Swiss Franc is one of the world’s strongest currencies. For a local a BMC frame doesn’t come cheap but not eye-wateringly so.
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{ 14 comments }

Rider Council June 12, 2011 at 3:28 pm

It’s also where the Sound of Music was filmed.

rouleursteve June 12, 2011 at 6:20 pm

Moved to Switzerland in 2009 with no regrets- except for the fact that every ride ends with a 10km climb home… Some amazing climbs here never used in races and lots still to explore.

AA June 12, 2011 at 9:39 pm

It reminds me of Japan, a very tidy place where everything works.

Danniella June 12, 2011 at 10:19 pm

Thought you might have mentioned the public transportation: airports, trains, buses are all linked so that when you aren’t on your bicycle, you don’t need to have a car. And the trains and buses TEND to be bike friendly. Also: I’ve been to and eaten at the UCI Aigle Velodrome cafe (its on the local bus route), used their free wifi and tried to pretend that I ‘belonged’ while I swivle-scanned the faces of the other patrons to see if they were famous. Or infamous.

Beth June 13, 2011 at 12:13 am

Inner Ring: I have a somewhat unrelated question for you (again): I always really like the pictures you use for your illustrations to your blogs. Do you download them off the net, and if so, from where? Do you have to pay royalties or anything, and how does that all work? I am not thinking of becoming a blogger myself, but am interested in the nuts and bolts of doing it.

Nathan June 13, 2011 at 1:29 am

I spent 10 days in Switzerland last year. And everything does work, no one colors outside the lines (except for the omnipresent grafitti) and the cycling was amazing. Like vacationing in a gated suburban community.

Stefan June 13, 2011 at 10:22 am

AA: I don’t think the Swiss would currently be particularly pleased with the comparison to Japan – but I agree.
Next to Aigle maybe the 333m oval in Oerlikon is also worth a mention, where the Track World Championchips have been held 7 times, mostly in the first half of the last century. Now the city constantly wants to tear it down and build something “useful”, like more houses, swimming pools, shopping areas, etc. A new idea pops up every 10 years.

Will June 13, 2011 at 1:45 pm

Good post.

Hopefully some helpful additions:

The official Swiss cycling web site is brilliant and details with maps, advice, hotels, etc to help people plan tours. In English plus Swiss Languages.

http://www.veloland.ch/en/welcome.cfm

For Touring, there are 9 National routes and 3 national MtB routes. They are all perfectly signed (one can’t get lost) and choose roads/paths that are a dream to ride on.

In the higher mountains, many post buses (public transport) will often have bike racks and can help the more tired in the group up mountains. On the link above one can even search bus schedules that will accept bikes.

Regards

HW June 13, 2011 at 8:42 pm

Can only confirm Will’s suggestion about public transport: buses travel to the tiniest villages even at high altitude; lots of them take bikes, no problem at all. Also ski-lifts have racks to take your mountainbike to beautiful trails up above. Very friendly people, as long as you’re willing to pay the ‘Switzerland-premium’ ;-)

KingKongnito June 13, 2011 at 10:59 pm

I lived in der Schweiz for a year and I hated it. It is something about living in a place where people don’t have an inner hate, or even skepticism, towards authorities that is really annoying.

But I agree that it is a wonderful place for vacation, all kinds, and I will probably go back there for vacation many times. And it is great for cycling. And the food is awesome (if you like cheese)

It is expensive though, but so is where I’m from.

Rider Council June 14, 2011 at 1:03 am

thank jaysus someone spoke up! God damn beautiful place but it’s up there with thee most boring places to live in the world after Luxembourg and Austria. Ironically the price for tax free efficiency is paid with a proverbial existential bale of hay on every corner. Having said that, today’s stage made the Crostis look like an exit ramp on the the M1. Damn exciting stuff.

thierry June 14, 2011 at 2:31 am

One word for me: Marvellous
for mtb and for road

wak June 14, 2011 at 3:37 am

Lived in Geneva for a year. Agree about it being beautiful, great cycling and boring to live. Very, very regulated (if your trash bag is not the correct color, you may get a fine). There are a huge number of guns in circulation in Switzerland, part of being in the Swiss militia. Firing ranges near, I believe, Nyon scared the *$^#*# out of me as I rode by one day.

CommutesandClubRuns June 14, 2011 at 9:54 am

Moved to Switzerland for work earlier this year and agree with all of this – both the positive and the negative. Yes, it’s an expensive place, but the cycling is great and hugely varied. Road surfaces are very good – even the concrete paths through farmers’ fields, which means that you can easily get away from the boy racers on 4 wheels (saw a Vauxhall/Opel Astra yesterday with 4 exhausts, tinted windows and Ferrari logos on the hubcabs). French drivers are more cyclist-friendly though – Swiss car drivers do not seem to like cyclists in/around towns – it seems cyclists are expected to drive out of town to start riding their bikes out in the countryside, and then to drive home again. The Swiss are not sure what to make of someone who commutes to work by bike in all weathers…but that may be because I don’t ride a BMC or wear any Assos…

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