Bikes in Switzerland
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Given the nature of the landscape, cycling is not the easiest way of exploring the country, but the scenery more than compensates for the extra effort required. It’s a very popular Swiss pursuit, and the locals don’t restrict themselves to flat lakeside or valley-floor routes: summer weekends see any number of lycra-clad, sinewy characters pumping their way slowly up the long 12 or 14 percent gradients of the high Alpine passes. Cycle routes – in the cities too – are plentiful.

Getting around on two wheels is made significantly more feasible by the ease of bike access. You can rent a seven-gear country bike or a quality 21-gear mountain bike from Rent-A-Bike (www.rent-a-bike.ch), located at 200 SBB-CFF-FFS train stations nationwide, and a majority of the larger stations on the routes of the smaller train companies: it’s a rare train station that doesn’t offer bike rental. Each year, Rent-a-Bike sell off their entire national stock of 4000 bikes and buy in completely new supplies, ensuring that you never get a clapped-out squeaker. If there’s no dedicated bike office in the station, you normally rent from left-luggage counters, which are generally open long hours (often from 6 or 7am until 10 or 11pm). At the time of writing, prices were, for a country bike, Fr.19 for a half-day (return by 1pm, or rent no earlier than noon), Fr.25 for a full day and Fr.100 for seven days; for a mountain bike, equivalents are Fr.24/31/124. Note that if you hold any kind of Swiss travel pass, all these prices drop by about a quarter. Kids’ bikes and seats for children which you can attach to an adult’s bike are also available.

It’s well worth knowing that if you rent for a full day or more, you don’t have to return the bike to the same station you rented from. If you tell them where and when you want to drop your bike, you pay a surcharge of Fr.6. Station bike rental is massively popular, especially throughout the summer months, and if you’re planning to rent from the larger city stations in particular you should always reserve as far as possible in advance (normally, a day or two is OK). Even so, on summer weekends, stations like Bern and Zürich that hold hundreds of bikes for rent can be completely cleaned out: in these cases, you may have to take a train (or call ahead) to a smaller town and try there, or try looking for other companies in the phone-book under Mietvelos, vélos à louer or à location, or bicicletta a noleggio.

As a way to teach local unemployed people new skills and get them back to work, Zürich, Bern and a handful of other cities run free bike-rental schemes year-round, invariably from depots beside or opposite the train station. All you do is pay a Fr.20 deposit and leave some ID, and you’re free to cycle off for as long as you like.

Another option is to take advantage of a cut-price offer whereby you can rent a brand-new 24-gear mountain bike from certain HI hostels for just Fr.15 a day (or Fr.10 for a four-hour half-day) – you don’t have to be staying overnight to be able to rent. Currently seventeen hostels nationwide provide this service: major ones are Brienz, Château d’Oex, Figino (near Lugano), Grindelwald, Interlaken, Kreuzlingen, Locarno, Pontresina, Saanen-Gstaad, Sainte-Croix, St Moritz, Schaffhausen, Solothurn and Zermatt. Most keep only limited supplies of bikes in stock, so you need to reserve ahead. To rent, you must show ID, leave a Fr.100 deposit (cash or credit-card slip) and return the bike to the same hostel you rented from.

In 1998, under the banner of Veloland Schweiz, La Suisse à vélo, the tourist authorities opened up nine national long-distance cycle routes that crisscross the country on 3300km of dedicated signposted paths mostly well away from traffic. These vary between, say, the Rhône Route (Andermatt to Geneva, 324km), the Alpine Panorama Route (Rorschach to Aigle, 483km) and the North-South Route (Basel to Chiasso, 363km). Tourist offices can give you a map of all nine routes, and information in English on each one, as well as maps showing other cycle routes within their region or city. If you’re already in the country, Eurotrek will rent you a bike, book hotels in any class at towns along each of the nine national routes, and will also transport your gear from hotel to hotel for a supplement of Fr.18/day: contact them at Freischützgasse 3, CH-8021 Zürich (01/295 55 55, fax 295 56 40, eurotrek@rbm.ch). Otherwise, check with specialist tour operators at home about adding these services to a package holiday before you book.

If you’re arriving in Switzerland with your own bike, you have to buy a vignette from post offices for around Fr.5, which covers road tax and third-party insurance for a year. You can transport a bike between any two train stations in Switzerland for Fr.6 in regional trains, or Fr.12 in InterCity trains; some EC trains and the Zürich S-Bahn are prohibited during rush hours. You have to load and unload it yourself using the special carriage marked with a big bicycle pictogram, and you must have a ticket or pass for the same destination. Yellow train timetables mark those trains on which bikes cannot be transported with a crossed-out pictogram next to the destination name, and SBB also have a booklet of the best bike-train connections.

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