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Bicycling in Switzerland

Switzerland Swiss bicycling bicycles LEFT: Cyclists share the Albula Pass in Graubünden with a train of the narrow-gauge Rhätische Bahn.

Cycling has been a popular tourist pastime in Switzerland since the earliest days of the Fahrrad, velo, or bicicletta. Our 1911 edition of Baedeker's Switzerland has a section devoted to cycling, with advice such as:

The districts best adapted for cycle-tours in Switzerland are the hill-country in N. and W. Switzerland, the lake-regions of Central Switzerland and the Bernese Oberland, and the environs of the Lake of Geneva. No one who is not fairly strong and in good condition should attempt the Swiss passes or mountain-roads. In any case the machine should be well-tried and trusted rather than new, and the brakes must be powerful and reliable. The practice of tying a branch or sapling behind the cycle to check its velocity is forbidden.

Herr Baedeker's advice is still applicable today, although the development of mountain bicycles has made alpine biking less stressful than it was early in the last century--and it's unlikely that many of today's cyclists are sacrificing tree parts in the interests of better braking.

Rent and ride

Unless you're driving to Switzerland with a bicycle on your roof rack, the easiest way to enjoy Swiss cycling is to rent a bicycle at the local railway station. Some 80 station rent country bikes, mountain bikes, comfort bikes, tandems, and "e-bikes" or electrically-assisted bicycles. Trailers--for cargo or for children--are also on rental list. (The exact mix of equipment varies by location and current demand.)

Bikes rented for a day or more can be returned to any participating station for a modest service charge. This makes it easy to plan tours across a region, along a lake, or over a mountain pass without having to backtrack.

You can also rent bicycles at some 100 hostels and campgrounds across Switzerland, although these bikes must be returned to the rental locations.

Another possibility is to box your bike and take it with you on the plane or train. This could be an attractive choice if you're a hardcore cyclist with a custom bike. (Just be sure to buy insurance before you leave home.)

Finally,  urban bike-sharing programs such as Publibike are being rolled out gradually across Switzerland.

Ride and rest

When your legs need a break from pumping the pedals, you can check your bicycle on most trains for a modest fee. You can even send the bike ahead and pick it up a day later.

Pedalers' packages

It's easy to bike on your own in Switzerland, whether or not you speak the local language. Roads are smooth, the country is criss-crossed by a network of well-marked paths, and maps are easy to obtain in bookstores and tourist offices. Still, if you like the idea of traveling with a group or letting a professional do the planning, see the list of Web links for tour organizers on page 2 of this article.

Next page: Bicycling Web links



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