I’m sitting on a train, travelling backwards on the way to Zurich. Every now and then I take a cursory glance at my bike bag near the train’s entry. My final destination today is Scuol, right in the east of Switzerland in the canton of Graubuenden. But this is far from my final destination on this trip to the Swiss Alps. I’m here to tackle the Alpine Bike #1 route.
Since 2008 I’ve had a number of visits to this end of Switzerland. Graubuenden is the largest canton, and littered with trails. Enough that their slogan for mountain bike promotion is as the ‘home of trails‘. Having ridden and raced here plenty, I’m not going to argue. Anyone who has ridden in Switzerland will have an appreciation of how well-marked the trails are. Whether it’s a schotter path through a village or a high mountain pass, you’ll have a signpost at junctions with destinations listed, and the red and white paint on rocks, trees and posts. Switzerland also has national and regional routes, for road cycling, mountain biking, and I think rollerblading and canoeing. A lot of it is part of the Swiss Mobility scheme – which gets people outdoors but also makes it easy for tourists like me to navigate some cool routes without arduous investment in studying maps.
For years I’ve seen the Alpine Bike #1 sign, with the little Hans Rey motif (ok, it’s not Hans, just a mountain biker popping a wheelie) and I’ve thought that it would be fun to do the route. It runs east to west (or west to east) along the Alps, between Aigle and Scuol. The National Park Bike Marathon (also, route #444) uses the first section of the #1 route until parting ways in Livigno. When I have ridden the Bernina Pass it also traces some of the route, same for riding along the southern shore of Lake Sils towards the Maloja Pass. None of these are different places to me – but they’ll all pass under my tyres before lunch on day 2.
The whole route stretches 670km, with about 24700m of climbing. In a way it’s like an old school Transalp route, but going across the Swiss Alps instead of starting in Germany and finishing at Lake Garda.
Still, there will be 4 languages spoken on this route and countless mountain passes. While the Swiss Mobility colateral suggests 16 stages to ride the route, I have opted for 8 days, with a mix of stays in small hotels along with a couple of hostels, before ending up at a friend’s chalet at the end of the trip. This means each day will be quite long. I haven’t mapped it exactly, partly as I know the route is so well-marked, and partly because… I’m just not great with managing multiple files.
My bike for the Alpine Bike route
I’m using my Factor Lando XC, pretty much how I’d be using it for any event. It’s a light full-suspension 29er with 115mm of remote lock out travel on the back, although it pedals really efficiently. I use a Fox 34SC at 120mm travel with the one-piece BlackInc bar and stem, so it’s quite a stout front end all things considered.
The drivetrain is Shimano XTR 12-speed, with a 34t Unite Co chain ring (as it was on the bench) and 10-51t cassette for the range. Will I miss a 32t chain ring? Maybe. But I’m hoping this combination is just right. The chain isn’t new but seeing the 12-speed chains last so long it would be wasteful to fit a new one when the current one is only about one third worn. I’ve got a spare link, just in case.
I’m also using my usual Shimano XTR Race brakes, with a 180/160mm rotor mix. They are IceTech rotors of course, with metal pads. I have a spare pair of pads that’ll I’ll be carrying.
Wheels are some low and wide EIE carbon rims, laced to DT Swiss 350 hubs. I have a Tubolight SL liner in the back, plus fresh Joe’s No Flats Elite Racer sealant. Tyres are a Maxxis Rekon Race front, Aspen rear. Both are 2.4” WT EXO+. Neither are brand new but they’re sound.
I did keep the BikeYoke Divine SL dropper I fitted for the Sunday Creek Classic in, which has 80mm of drop. On top of that is the Selle Repente Artax GL saddle I am overdue testing. Hint – it’s awesome.
For luggage, I’m using a 9L Seat to Summit UltraSil drybag in a Bike Bag Dude bar roll. This will take my off-bike clothes including a down jacket and jogging pants, a spare set of kit, undershirt, warmers etc. Anything fairly compressable that I won’t need to grab out while riding (I hope) goes in there.
I’ll also use a Camelbak Octane 10L for things like toiletries, a pair of slides, ID and anything that doesn’t compress well – this is also where I’ll carry things like a buff, mini first aid kit and the like. I’ve got some bike specific items in a TopTube bag, and rely on pockets for snacks. I’ve crammed my Assos waterproof into the little Orucase saddle bag. It just fits. I also have two thermoplastic tubes, a tyre lever and DynaPlug Racer on the downtube, held with a Backcountry Research strap.
Why ride the Alpine Bike route?
Ever since I first visited the alps with a mountain bike in 2007, I’ve seen people doing their own ‘Transalp’ on a variety of north to south routes. Crossing alpine chains isn’t anything new, and doing this route is far from unique. I can’t even imagine how many people would ride it each year. Even now, sitting in my accommodation at the youth hostel in Scuol, there are a number of cyclists here, clearly crossing mountains.
Most years, I’ve headed to Europe to race. So having the time to do route like this, and recover enough, wasn’t usually possible in the time I had. Or to be honest, just something I didn’t want to prioritise. With some time to use between a work trip to the US and lining for the Appenninica MTB Stage Race in Italy on September 4, it looked like this was the ideal time. It does mean the time is tight, especially in terms of options for bad weather – I’ll have to think quick and use public transport if the weather is too wet or cold to be safe.
I’ve got my bike mostly packed up, and for all the extras (like my laptop) I can send that all in my bike bag to the end of the route in Aigle. And I’ll be staying in hotels on the route as well, which is why I can carry a fairly minimal amount of gear. The spare set of kit seems like a luxury but maybe it’ll help if handwashing (and drying) isn’t as fast as possible. I’ve got 8 days to complete this route, and it is going to be a challenge. It’s probably something that has made me more nervous on a bike than anything else in a while. Unlike a race, there is really nothing riding on finishing it or not. This year has been pretty rough so I’m wondering which way things will go when they get hard – will it be too hard and I’ll fold, or will I dig in?
This is probably what weighs me down the most. I haven’t trained for this. In fact I’ve ridden very little in the past 3 weeks. I just looked at my CTL on Training Peaks and it is 66 (ps, that’s not good). Although my form is 22, so that bodes pretty well.
Despite the trepidation, I’m excited. These first two days especially cover one of my favourite mountain bike playgrounds. I haven’t done the descent off the Forcola di Livigno, but I will tomorrow. I haven’t done the mountain bike descent from the Maloja Pass either, but I will the following day. but after that it is mostly fresh ground. I suspect some areas around Tiefencastel and Chateau d’Oex will look familiar, but I’ll just keep an eye out for the little Hans signs, and keep on pedalling.