Europe with Bike – Switzerland
The Swiss are amazing. Their country is not a natural place to build railways, so they build them up and through mountains.
The Swiss rail network is spread evenly on the country. There are 3,787 km of standard gauge tracks spread across the country and 509 km of metre gauge tracks in the south of the country. The main operator is Swiss Federal Railways (SBB/CFF/FFS). The other operators such as BLS (Bern-Löschtberg-Simplon) appear to be privately owned but are in fact owned by the cantons and the federal government. There are connections to Austria, France, Germany and Italy, some of which carry bicycles, both DB and SNCF run trains into Switzerland. The only major cross border rail connection that does nor accept bicycles is the narrow gauge Locarno to Domodossola FART (Ferrovie Autolinee Regionali Ticinesi – Regional Bus and Rail Company of Canton Ticino) line over the Centovalli.
Some but not all of the distinctive yellow Post Buses take bicycles.
The railway system is cyclist-friendly, but not cheap. The majority of trains carry bicycles without reservation. This does mean that on public holidays problems can arise. You load the bikes yourself. The exception being the InterCity-Neigezügen (ICN) tilting Intercity trains where reservations are necessary between 21 March to 31 October at a cost of 5CHF per bicycle. These reservations can be made online. Short distance bicycle tickets cost half the single second class fare. A day tickets costs 12CHF for passengers with rail cards and 18CHF for passengers paying the full price for their tickets.
Travelling to Switzerland overland with your bicycle is described in “Taking your bicycle by bus, train and ship across Europe”.
Popular Cycling Areas in Switzerland
The Swiss authorities have invested heavily in cycle routes over the last twenty years or so with the result that the country now has nine national routes criss crossing the country and a large number of regional routes. Signposting and track quality is superb. Readers can find much more information about Swiss cycling in “Cycle Touring in Switzerland” by Judith and Neil Forsyth, published by Cicerone ISBN: 9781852845261 as a printed book or as an e-book. One can also buy descriptions of individual routes.
On weekends in summer with a good weather forecast, increased numbers of cyclists can be expected between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m. and between 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. on trains to Ticino, Valais, the Bernese Oberland, Pays des trois lacs – near Neuchatel, Jura, Grisons and Lake Constance, i.e. much of Switzerland, meaning there may be a shortage of space on these trains.
This matter is largely irrelevant, because trains that take bicycles are shown in the timetable, allowing cyclists to choose which trains they take. There do not appear to be surcharges or extra charges for certain trains. There is the usual mix of local, regional and express trains. Bicycles are forbidden during the evening rush on Zurich S-Bahn (suburban trains) during the evening rush Mondays to Fridays (4pm-7pm).
One very good idea is that capacity forecasts for each train is shown online and on station indicators which allows route planning to use trains that are not as full.
Railway tickets are expensive. Most inhabitants of Switzerland invest in a Half-Fare travel card which gives you half price travel and reduced prices for bicycle transport, but as it costs 185CHF, it does not really pay unless you live there or visit often. We bought two when we wrote the Cycling in Switzerland book as we spent several months there. There are also cards for tourists – the Swiss Pass, etc. but one needs to calculate carefully if cycling and expecting to travel by bicycle with the odd trip by public transport.
Getting you and your bike on the bus, ship or train
Many but not all Post Buses carry bicycles and E-bikes. Details can be found under: http://tinyurl.com/jsrkftb.
You put the bike on a rack or on a trailer yourself.
Tandems are not carried by the SBB. Bike trailers can only be transported if they are no wider than 80 cm.
Select your route and journey time in the online timetable which allows searching in all public transport systems in Switzerland:
• In the online timetable, select “Advanced search” and then “carriage of bicycles required (Switzerland only)” to see the routes on which you can take your bike yourself.
• Trains that do not have space for bicycles are marked on the timetable and departure boards with a bike logo with a bar across. Cyclists are not allowed to take their bikes on these trains.
• A bicycle reservation symbol or reference number on the timetable indicates a train or Post Bus for which reservation is required.
• The capacity forecast is a useful indicator of which trains are likely to have capacity bottlenecks and whether another train or a different route might be less busy and thus better suited to transport bikes.
• Passengers can check which section of the platform the coaches with bicycle spaces (bicycle hooks, bicycle platforms) will arrive in as early as three hours before departure in the online timetable or in the SBB Mobile smartphone app.
One good feature of Swiss stations is the provision of ramps to the platforms. There is no fiddling about trying to persuade loaded bicycles to get into narrow lifts. You will know roughly where the bike carrying carriages will stop. Go to the correct area of the platform. Take the bags off the bike. Put all the bags together. When the train arrives enter the train through a door with a bike logo. Just prop the bike up and return to the platform to pick up your bags. Leaving your passport and camera on the platform could probably spoil your day. Get back on the train and hang the bike up. Find a seat and collapse.
When you get off the train, push your bike along the platform. It is strictly forbidden to ride bikes on platforms.
Ferries and Steamers
There are ferries and ships on the larger lakes. There is normally no problem getting your bike on board. Just tell the person in the booking office. A bungee or a strap is a useful accessory to fasten the bike to the mainmast or similar, so everything is shipshape and Bristol fashion.
Our favourite trip is from Andermatt over the Oberalp Pass and then down the Rhine Valley to Lake Constance with good mountain views all the way.