Biking in Switzerland

"Passing" through the Southern Alps

All cyclists know the time-proven principle promising that what goes up must come down. We whisper it like a mantra when battling backcountry climbs and fighting exhaustion on gravity-shirking pushes up mountain passes. For many, it is the knowledge that single-digit average speeds on an upslope will be increased by better-than-normal acceleration on the down. It is the promise of reward that makes tolerable the burn in the thighs, the drum of the heart, and the rasp of the lungs.

For fans of high-country biking, there are few better places to indulge in climbing games than Switzerland, that notorious and tiny, cuckoo- and chocolate-filled, neutral nation surrounded by the great sea of the European Union. Stretched like an amoeba across the craggy spine of the central Alps, Switzerland is a land famous for its upper reaches.

Hikers, bikers, boulderers, trekkers, alpinists, ice climbers, skiers, and more all flock to its landlocked, tectonically elevated terrain, and take advantage of the solid economy, the fabled efficiency, and the well-built infrastructure (as well-oiled as the famous clocks and watches) to gain easy access to upper-air challenges. Sure there are other mountainous countries in Europe and elsewhere in the world, but few promise comfort and hospitality on the level of what you will find in Switzerland.

For road cyclists in particular, the magic of Swiss engineering has brought high-elevation passes and long, long climbs into the realm of the possible. Superior-quality highways—many open all year round—sweep through switchbacks, slice through narrow divides, and curve along precipitous contours on their steady assaults of passable saddles. And, fortunately for the climbing devotee, many of Switzerland's most exciting bikable high roads are grouped in the southern part of the country in the complex knot of high peaks on (or not far from) the Italian border.

From the high roads of western Switzerland's Valais to the tight cluster of killer rides in the central area around Andermatt, and the legendary high passes of eastern Switzerland—Switzerland will satisfy every grimpeur's urge.

If you too are a two-wheeler with a penchant for passes, someone who craves the mantra-assured eye-tearing rush of the backside of a mountain and is unafraid to earn it on the front, or just a touring cyclist with a yearning for incomparable sweeping vistas and no aversion to the effort involved in getting to them, think about a velocipede vacation in southern Switzerland. Gravity will hold you to natural law and make you happy every turn of the pedal.

Published: 30 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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