2020 has been a crazy year. The start-up I worked for went belly-up and covid restrictions limited the travel to the minimum so I found myself in Switzerland with plenty of time on my hands.
Luckily, Switzerland had never really banned cycling so I was able to enjoy the perks of this cycling paradise. Switzerland has high mountains, beautiful lakes, top-quality roads and attentive drivers, which makes the country a great place to ride a bike.
“Give a man a fish and feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and feed him for a lifetime. Teach a man to cycle and he will realise fishing is stupid and boring” — Desmond Tutu
Cycling is my passion. I cycle to organise my thoughts, escape stress, stay fit and discover new places. Because of the unique circumstances of the year, I managed to ride over 13,500km, climb more than 200,000m and spend 540+ hours on a bike.
Inspiration and motivation for winter times
Cycling is not a winter sport. But you set foundations for a strong season in the winter. How? By doing other sports, riding a stationary bike in your living room like a madman or do an occasional ride outside only to freeze your butt off. But you do all of that because it makes the spring rides easier and enables you to go faster and longer.
I, for one, need reminders of the beauty of cycling during the long winter evenings. I read about cycling adventures, routes and races, I relive some of my rides and I plan routes for the next year.
Best rides of the year
Some rides are more memorable than others. You remember some thanks to the scenery, companions, efforts or extreme weather. This year I’ve done over 300 rides and this is the list of the top ten of them.
- Klausenpass — Pragelpass — Ibergeregg (🚴♂️ 257km | ⛰️ 4,477m)
- Furkapass — Grimselpass — Sustenpass — Oberalppass (🚴♂️ 141km | ⛰️ 4,041m)
- Nufenenpass (🚴♂️ 75km | ⛰️ 1,840m)
- Grosse Scheidegg — Kleine Scheidegg (🚴♂️ 92km | ⛰️ 2,758m)
- Albulapass — Julierpass (🚴♂️ 129km | ⛰️ 2,878m)
- Sattelegg — Ibergeregg — Biberegg (🚴♂️ 157km | ⛰️ 2,578m)
- Chörbschhorn trail (🚴♂️ 31km | ⛰️ 1,186m)
- Luzern — Schwyz (🚴♂️ 181km | ⛰️ 1,653m)
- Zumikon — Pfannenstiel — Schindellegi — Buchenegg (🚴♂️ 93km | ⛰️ 1,479m)
- CdZH: Col de Roche (🚴♂️ 39km | ⛰️ 830m)
Let me tell you about these rides. I hope to give you tips for great routes in Switzerland, give you a reason to jump on that crazy stationary bike or maybe even get you excited about cycling.
1. Klausenpass — Pragelpass — Ibergeregg (🚴♂️ 257km | ⛰️ 4,477m)
I had my eyes on this route since I rode Klausen and Pragel passes from Schwyz shortly after moving to Zurich in June 2019. One of my season’s goal was to ride 10,000km and I wanted to celebrate this mark with a special ride.
I knew it will be a long day in the saddle so I took it easy from the onset. Not worried about Watts, I simply focused on eating and drinking (it was around 35°C during the day) and enjoying the Swiss alpine nature.
Klausenpass is a 24km long, steady climb at 6.1% average. Pragelpass is almost 18km long and averages 5.2%. But the climb is broken in two by a flat stretch of a road along the lake halfway through. Ibergeregg is a very regular 9.3km climb but its 8.6% feel even steeper when you start the climb after 180 kilometres.
“You can say that climbers suffer the same as the other riders, but they suffer in a different way. You feel the pain, but you’re glad to be there” — Richard Virenque
Three HC climbs, huge distance, massive elevation and over 10 hours on a bike (I don’t have many of these) made my 10k mark celebration memorable.
2. Furkapass — Grimselpass — Sustenpass — Oberalppass (🚴♂️ 141km | ⛰️ 4,041m)
During the first couple of rides in the Swiss Alps I was so excited and amazed by every climb I did. After I while I started wondering, which climbs in this paradise are the best? Every list of top Swiss climbs is by definition subjective, but I set a goal for myself to do the 10 climbs on this list. Three of these climbs can be easily done in one ride and that’s how the idea for this route was born.
This is already an epic route. But you can make it even better if you ride it in a great company. Thanks to our work situation, I was able to pick my friend and co-worker Bertrand up on Tuesday morning, drive to Andermatt and enjoy the Alps during a weekday when the traffic is much better. Riding with someone naturally sets a conversational pace, which is a smart move with all the climbing ahead.
“It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them” — Ernest Hemingway
And a serious climbing was planned for the day. Windy Furkapass with 11.5km at 7.4%, meandering Grimselpass (5km at 6.6%), long Sustenpass climbing for 28km avareging 5.7% and finally Oberalppass 9km at 6.7%.
3. Nufenenpass (🚴♂️ 75km | ⛰️ 1,840m)
Another iconic climb in the Swiss Alps. When we decided to go to Fiesch with friends to see the Aletsch Glacier I knew I can’t go without my bike. And with Nufenen on my mind, I managed to squeeze a quick ride before dinner.
And quick ride it was. With only one climb on the menu there was no reason to hold back. Nufenenpass climbs for almost 13km and averages 8.6%. You climb over 1,100m in one go.
I didn’t go completely full gas but I averaged 300 Watts. This is a solid effort to my standards and I managed to clock 68th fastest time on Strava (out of 11,676 people).
What puts this ride on the list apart from the majestic Nufenen is the absolutely fantastic light. The Alps were simply amazing during that late summer evening. And the dinner with friends after the ride was a cherry on top.
4. Grosse Scheidegg — Kleine Scheidegg (🚴♂️ 92km | ⛰️ 2,758m)
I ran a Jungfrau Marathon from Interlaken through to Lauterbrunnen and finishing on Kleine Scheidegg back in 2012. The view of Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau from the train station at Kleine Scheidegg is breathtaking.
I started the ride in Lauterbrunnen where the family visit boarded the Jungfrau express. My plan was to do Grosser Scheidegg (where Peter Sagan did one of his daredevil downhills to take a stage in 2011) and then meet the rest of my crew for a lunch on Kleine Scheidegg.
There is quite a lead into the beginning of the Grosse Scheidegg climb (18.3km at 6.8% with the lead in). The climb from Grindelwald is 6.7km at 10.9% on a road closed for cars (but watch out for the post buses on the downhill!). It is a winding road with views on the surrounding snow capped mountains. After returning to Grindelwald I climbed Kleine Scheidegg, which was an hour effort riding 10.6km averaging 10.4%. It is a dead-end road, which means absolutely no traffic. The only tricky part comes in the last 2km, when the asphalt changes into a rough mountain gravel. But at the same time, it gives the climb a special status.
5. Albulapass — Julierpass (🚴♂️ 129km | ⛰️ 2,878m)
I did this ride during a family vacation in Lenzerheide. It was raining for most of the week but we did enjoy the beautiful MTB trails there. When the family needed a break from cycling I took my road bike for a ride. Coincidently it was sunny for the first time of the week.
Albulapass is a long and steady climb. The way to the top is over 22km long at an average gradient of 5.8%, which makes it a relatively fast ascent. After a quick descent I took a road to St. Moritz in horrible traffic. The second climb was Julierpass, which I messed up because I didn’t find the cycling path to bypass the tunnel in the beginning of the climb (it’s after the tunnel, not before) and I rode through the tunnel (not recommended!). After a really long descent there was last 7km uphill at 8% back to Lenzerheide.
I did this ride almost at a race pace because I wanted to be back for lunch. I was quite happy with the average speed of 27.9km/h back at the hotel.
6. Sattelegg — Ibergeregg — Biberegg (🚴♂️ 157km | ⛰️ 2,578m)
This was the first long ride of the year. Late March and I was able to do almost an imperial century ride in the mountains? My training ‘plan’ seemed to be working!
The route covered some of the classical climbs around Zurich. Sattelegg climb is 12.6km long and climbs 744m (5.9%). The climb is actually two climbs separated by a 4km flat section so the uphill gradients are more in the 8–9% range. Ibergeregg from this side is much easier — almost 9km long but with a at comfortable 5.4%. Biberegg is a tempo climb at just 3.8% for almost 10km.
“Ride as much or as little, as long or as short as you feel. But ride” — Eddy Merckx
This ride is on the list for two reasons. Firstly, I wanted to include some of the climbs around Zurich and secondly, because with the hindsight this ride was the first hint of what would become a great cycling season.
7. Chörbschhorn trail (🚴♂️ 31km | ⛰️ 1,186m)
We made two great purchases this year — my wife bought an e-bike and we got a Mac Ride for our son. It means that we can do great family MTB rides. You give my wife an e-bike and put a 3-year-old on my bike and we can go together both uphill and downhill.
This is one of many trails in Graubünden — the paradise for mountain bikers. In the first half we climbed to 2,555 m above sea level. Most of the climbing on the Parsennbahn climb. After the next 7km is on a beautiful yet slightly uphill Alpine path. The descent is a 8km long single-trail back to the valley. Our son loved the downhill on the Mac Ride. Though he was a bit disappointed with me walking couple of the jumps and drops on the way down.
Every time I ride by myself I miss my family. Riding with them is fantastic. And thanks to the e-bikes and Mac Rides it is actually a nice experience for the whole family.
8. Luzern — Schwyz (🚴♂️ 181km | ⛰️ 1,653m)
Another big ride of the year. Without much of a plan I somehow found myself in Luzern where I stopped for a lunch and called home that the ride will be a bit longer than expected.
“Nothing compares to the simple pleasure of riding a bike” — John F Kennedy
This was not a massive effort. Most of the route was flat along the lakes anyway. I took it easy and just enjoyed the ride. It felt like summer holidays during high school when the only thing on your to-do list is to go back to school in two months.
Lake Luzern is beautiful in the summer. Thanks to this ride we went there for a swim after hiking in the nearby mountains couple of times.
This was the hippie ride of the year.
9. Zumikon — Pfannenstiel — Schindellegi — Buchenegg (🚴♂️ 93km | ⛰️ 1,479m)
This was a proper race simulation on the climbs around lake Zurich. What helped was that I started in the afternoon and not around 6am as I’ve typically done this.
There are hundreds of ~10-minutes climbs around lake Zurich. Like the one from Kusnacht to Zumikon (3.7km at 4.8%). I was probably over the moon about something at work so I pushed as hard as I could on the climb. The next climb was Pfanni which is just 2.5km averaging at 7%. On the other side of the lake I took a steady 6km climb to Schinellegi with average gradient of 5.4%. The last effort was Buchenegg from the west, which is again just 2.5km but I did feel the 8.2% gradient after all the efforts.
I’m not a KOM hunter so when I get one it’s a big thing for me. Being 5 seconds faster than Patrick Schelling was just great. Even though I know he probably did the climb at a tempo pace during a 200km training ride. And the fact that I lost the KOM shortly after to Raphael Krahemann hasn’t made the ride any less special to me.
10. CdZH: Col de Roche (🚴♂️ 39km | ⛰️ 830m)
I’m not racing on a bike. Mostly because I don’t want to waste the whole day doing what I can do in the morning. But it doesn’t mean I’m not competitive.
This year I’d learned about Les Cols de Zurich. Three uphill time trials you ride anytime you want within a 2-week time window.
It turned out to be so much fun. All three stages took new roads to known hills. And I even got in a competition with couple of guys of similar fitness.
My biggest effort came on the second attempt on the first stage. 8 minutes at 402 Watts (with ~71 kg). Why the highlight? Because it reminded me the beauty of competition. The whole body is screaming at you to slow down but you keep pushing. And after the (virtual) finish line I felt the endorphins rushing through my body.