The idea for a tour of Switzerland using the public and mountain transport systems to maximise how much singletrack we could ride has been in my head for quite a while. After some thought I put a route together to test the concept and see if the logistics could work.
Day 1: Engelberg – Lungern
The first day of our adventure started with a train from Zurich to Engelberg where the cablecar network allowed us easy the starting point for our tour on Jochpass. We had the pleasure of being stuck on the first lift to Trubsee for about 20mins due to malfunctions in the system. We were given a free coffee voucher when we finally got off the lift, but no time to enjoy our coffee as we were under time pressure to get started on our route.
The view from the Gondola out of Engelberg.
Once we arrived at Jochpass our route took us down towards Engstlensee on a great trail. The lake is always visible on the descent which starts out very flowy and gets more technical as we get lower down to the lake. There are some nice rocky stepdowns and tight switchbacks just before joining the fire road that passes the lake and leads us to the next section of singletrack which climbs from Engstlenalp up to Tannalp.
The first climb of the day from Engstlensee up to Tannalp.
From Tannalp we rode towards Melchsee and then climb up to Balmeggerhorn, This section climbs very steeply in places and I was certainly feeling it having chosen to take my freeride bike for the descents that were coming later in the week.
Having a break to enjoy the view on the way to Meiringen.
From Balmeggerhorn the trail undulates quite a lot with some short sections of hike a bike. The scenery along this section of the trail is breath taking. We could enjoy views over Trift Glacier (amongst others) as well as the famous peaks of Berner Oberland (Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau). We keep riding past Planplatte and skirting the top of the Meiringen ski area until we finally get to look down on the Lungern lake and start our final 1200m descent to the train station at Lungern.
The start of the descent to Lungern.
We arrived in Lungern with 5 minutes to spare to get tickets and jump on the train to Meiringen. We had sent our luggage ahead using the Swiss Railway Systems fast baggage service. If we missed this train we would have had no possibility to pick up our luggage until the next morning!
On paper the day sounds easy 30km and only 800m of climbing, but the figures do not do it justice. The route is almost entirely on singletrack and the technicality of the descents provides no respite from steepness of the climbs.
After a meal in Meiringen we checked the map for the next days route and got some well earned sleep.
Day 2: Grosse Scheidegg –
Interlaken Grindlewald. (Disappointment)
The second day of our tour started off with a lot of anticipation. The plan was to get the bus from Meiringen to Grosse Scheidegg and then ride/hike from there to Interlaken via Faulhorn. We knew that certain sections of this route were not allowed to be cycled so we had planned on pushing the bikes from Grindelwald – First to Bachsee if there were not too many hikers in the area. Our first dissapointment was seeing a biking forbidden sign on the first section of singletrack we wanted to ride between Grosse Scheidegg and First. We took not of the sign and stayed on the route we were allowed to bike on, despite it meaning that we lost out on a couple of kilometres of singletrack. Little did we know that this was going to be the norm for Grindelwald.
The view of Eiger from Grosse Scheidegg
Unfortunately, when we got there there was a constant string of hikers coming off the top of the lift. It was almost like high season there were hundreds of hikers. With so many people on the route and some very clear biking forbidden signs for the section of fire road up to Bachsee we decided to scrap our original plan and just spend the day trail riding in Grindelwald before getting the train to our overnight spot in Spiez.
We checked the map and choose a route down to the valley on trails that were not forbidden to bike on (Not easy in Grindelwald) We spotted a nice trail going to the left with no bike forbidden sign and set off. The trail started out flowy for a few hundred metres then got more technical until eventually we were coping with super tight switchbacks set into a cliff where failure would have been fatal. For the most difficult sections we got off and walked rather then risking a serious accident.
The lower section of the trail from First.
After a short time we got down to the bottom of the cliff and the trail opened out over some nicely placed flagstones which led towards a small farming settlement. Once we got to the settlement we had an angry farmer come out and threaten us with a stick for riding the trail we had just ridden. We apologised and tried to explain that there was no bike forbidden sign and after a short discussion he calmed down but said he would take away the trail if bikers continued to use it!
The small farm settlement where our “friendly” farmer greeted us with Eiger in the background.
We continued down the fire road from the farm and found another single trail a kilometer or so further down. We got told off by the owners of a restaurant at this trail (no bike forbidden sign!) so kept on going further down the fire road to the next single track entrance. Here we found a nice but pretty non-technical trail which led us down towards the Bort area. From here we had to take a paved road for a couple of kilometers before we found another singletrack leading to the valley. At this single track we were greeted by a hiker telling us that biking was forbidden on this trail because it was too dangerous to ride a bike down it! Once again there was no biking forbidden sign!
At this point we were well and truley fed up with Grindelwald so rode down to the valley to find out what the areas biking policy was from the tourist office. At the tourist office we asked if we were allowed to ride the trails if there was no bike forbidden signs. The answer was a non committal “yes”, we explained our experience and were given the excuse that the people in the area were not used to bikers! For me this didn’t cut it, there were flyers in the tourist office advertising the region as “Bike Arena”, but it seemed that you are not actually able to ride any single trail here.
In Davos all the trails have signs saying that hikers and bikers share the trails and tolerance is required from both parties, in St. Moritz they give bikers free bells to warn the hikers that they are coming and in Zermatt which is every bit as touristy as Grindelwald the hikers stop in amazement to take pictures of us on our bikes and usually give words of admiration or encouragement as we ride past. I’ve ridden throughout Switzerland and have never experienced the negativity that we got in Grindelwald.
Our day had started out with a lot of potential, the area around Grindelwald is beautiful, but despite the area advertising itself as a “bike arena” if you like to ride single track either do not go here or leave your bike at home. I’m usually very positive when it comes to biking in Switzerland but this area was the biggest disappointment I have experienced in with regards to mountain biking here!
We left Grindlewald early and got on the train to Spiez where we enjoyed some great hospitality and looked forward to the next day.
Check back soon for part 2. (It gets better, a lot better!)