Last week I set off to ride the Swiss Alpine Bike #1 MTB route, which runs across Switzerland from Scuol to Aigle (or Aigle to Scuol), covering 670km and 24700m of climbing. It is suggested to cover the route in 16 days, but I planned around 8, booked my accommodation on Booking.com and arrived in Scuol ready to go. I published a short piece before heading off. I’m now right near the end of the route in the village of Leysin, but I didn’t get here by bike.
Why ride the Swiss Alpine Bike #1 route
I think I first noticed the #1 signs in 2007 when riding in a couple of Swiss locations on a riding trip after completing a few marathons in Europe. I saw the signs around Grindelwald, but also near Chateau D’Oex. The following year I saw them again when racing Transalp, as we stayed in Scuol and raced onwards to Livigno. In time I looked it up, amazed that there was a route across Switzerland. Spending 16 days riding across a country sounded crazy, both from the perspective of effort, expense and time.
But this year, after a week of work in the US and an appointment with a stage race in Italy in early September, it made sense. The only downside was I probably didn’t have 16 days, and a quick check in with Alain Rumpf suggested I probably didn’t need it. In part, the appeal to undertake the route was after doing a very basic bikepacking trip for the Jimna Escape. With some friends now in Leysin, right at the end, and an affinity for Scuol and the whole Graubuenden region, I took a few glances at the suggested 16 day route stops and Booking.com and booked 7 nights of accommodation.
The Swiss Alpine Bike #1 route – what’s it made up of?
In Switzerland ther are all sorts of marked routes across cantons and valley systems. There are marked hiking routes, mountain biking routes, canoeing routes, road riding routes and even rollerblading routes! It is all part of the incredible Swiss Mobility Scheme.
Switzerland, like almost every European country, is very lived in. So it is covered with trails, with more connectivity than any Australian could imagine. The majority of trails are open to bikes, unless specifically signposted otherwise. It’s up to you if you can actually ride them.
The route has a mix of road, cycle paths, forest roads and singletrack. Sometimes you’re on the old road, or a Roman road, sometimes an ancient trading route – and sometimes on the footpath through a major town or the main road down a valley. It continually changes. One thing is for certain, there is lots of climbing, and lots of variety.
My bike for the Swiss Alpine Bike #1 route
I profiled this before I took off, but I took my Factor Lando XC. It has a Fox 34 SC 120mm fork, 190x45mm shock for 115mm travel, and a Shimano XTR M9100 12-speed group set. I used a 10-51t cassette and 34t chain ring.
I ran light and wide EIE carbon rims, with a fast Maxxis Rekon Race/Aspen 2.4″ EXO tyre combination, with a Tubolight SL tyre liner in the rear. I had an 80mm drop BikeYoke Divine SL dropper, one piece BlackInc cockpit, two bottle cages and a Selle Repente Artax GL saddle.
For gear storage I used a Bike Bad Dude sling on my bars. Given I have a slammed stem I couldn’t attach a huge gear bag, so opted for a 9l Sea to Summit Ultrasil bag. They are super light. It did shift a little at first until I snugged it down better.
I also used a BBD top tube bag for things like a multitool, pump, lights, chain lube, quick link, spare plugs, tyre boot, Leatherman Squirt, spare brake pads and other bike bits. A Backcountry Research strap held a Pedros tyre lever, Dynaplug Racer and Revolite and Pirelli tube.
I used an Orucase saddle bag, plus a Camelbak Octane 10 for the less compressible gear like electronics, ID, snacks, my GoPro and my shoes – in this case a pair of thongs. You may call them flip flops or jandals.
The gear I took
I knew I didn’t want to carry too much. After taking about 6.5kg of gear (including a rack) for a two day trip in October 2022, I was well aware of how much that impacts your day over a long ride. This was a big decision point for using the BBD sling, dry bag and Camelbak Octane 10 back pack (without bladder). I’ll update this with precise weights once I am home, but I believe the total luggage carrying weight was under 1kg for the saddle bag, sling, drybag, top tube bag and my backpack. But of course, I had to put things in there!
In the dry bag on the bars I had the most compressable items that were fairly light. This clothing includes what I wore. I used the cargo bibs, jersey, gloves and socks each day as it was hot – too hot for the Swiss alps, that’s for sure. On my 5th day I reacher for the Assos jacket, plus the long sleeve base layer, buff and legwarmers for a wet and cold descent on the Susten Pass (it wasn’t enough). I also had a pair of thongs/flip flops (not shown).
2x Attaquer All Day Cargo Bibs
2x Attaquer All Day short sleeve jersey
1x DHB short sleeve undershirt
1x Helly Hansen longsleeve thermal
1x Trek Evoke trail shorts
1x Attaquer armwarmers
1x Attaquer legwarmers
1x Uniqlo jogging pants
2x Swiftwick Aspire 7″ socks
1x Patagonia tee
1x pair of boxer briefs
1x Patagonia Down jacket
1x Assos Equipe RS Targa rain jacket (this was packed into the Orucase saddle bag)
1x Wahoo TICKR HRM strap
1x Kenny Racing XC gloves
For my bike equipment, I had most things in the top tube bag and backpack. I kept my phone in the right leg cargo bibs pocket. I also had a little swiss cow bell on the bars. I had my GoPro in a shoulder strap pocket on the Camelbak, although it fell out on steep trails twice (and the lens cover got scratched). But here’s what is shown:
Lazer Genesis helmet
Shimano Sphyre shoes
2x Camelbak bidons
1x Neutron first aid kit
1x Orucase saddle bag
1x BCR strap
1x Dynaplug Racer
1x Pirelli Smart Tube
1x Revolite tube
1x GoPro bar mount
1x GoPro Hero 9 Black and mini pod
1x Bike Bag Dude sling
1x Bike Bag Dude top tube bag
5x Dynaplug replacement plugs
2x CR2032 batteries (TICKR and Stages spares IYKYK)
1x front light
1x rear light
1x Topeak Multi18+
1x Leatherman Squirt
2x Shimano metal brake pads
1x Shimano 12sp chain link
1x Park Tyre Boot
1x nearly finished roll of black nitto tape
1x Topeak mini pump
1x Velotoze MTB
1x pair of latex gloves
1x tiny notebook
1x soyfish of wet chainlube
I did pop a little chain lube on each day, and put a little more air in my front tyre on day 4. I also replaced my front pads after the trip as they were pretty worn – thanks to a lot of steep terrain. They weren’t new heading over either.
Of course, there was more. I had a Swiss adaptor plug and a small USB charger connection. It’s low voltage so that was a mistake as it didn’t get enough juice to the USB splitter to charge much. I mostly charged my Wahoo, phone and GoPro. I barely used the rear light save for the last day. But here’s the main things:
1x USB C, Micro USB, iPhone and Shokz charge cords
1x Wahoo ELMNT Bolt V2
1x pseudoephidrine (incase my head cold in the US returned)
1x Oakley Portal prescription sunglasses (plus reg prescription for off the bike)
1x Suncream, and lip cream
1x waterproof sleeve with passport, pen, credit and debit cards
1x Shokz Open Run (only used for some hands free calls at night)
The only thing I’d change here is to slimline the electronics a little. I obviously had more luggage with me, but I sent my bike bag (with my gear inside) from Scuol station to Aigle for 27CHF, where it would stay for 5 days without any storage fee, after the two days it took to arrive. This is a brilliant service via Swiss Rail and it really opens up a lot of options for point to point travel.
My experience on the Swiss Alpine Bike #1 route
I was excited but also a little daunted. With 24700m to climb in about 680km and over 8 days, I’d be averaging over 3000m a day. The first day from Scuol to Livigno was the longest, and I did that with intent for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I mostly knew the route by heart. Secondly, the difference between staying in Livigno to staying in Pontresina was huge, it really let me feel like I was making headway. This day was 111km with about 3100m climbing, with a fun descent down to Pontresina.
This was a 7 hour day, as by Livigno I was pretty tired. I really felt the fatigue from this day for every day going forward. That said, that is the experience I wanted. I headed off not being 100% certain I could complete the route. I did 5 days and I finished at Innertkirchen, mostly due to weather but also as I’d had the experience I wanted, I didn’t need to finish like it was a race.
As I pointed out before I headed off, this wasn’t for a FKT, it was to ride through the Swiss Alps and enjoy it – hence the swimming stops! The 5 days are linked below to my Strava account.
While each day was tough, it wasn’t a death march. I enjoyed coming into town and checking where my accommodation was so I didn’t overshoot it. Typically I’d be there in time to drop by a supermarket for some immediate food and to grab some snacks for the next day. I mostly ate at the hotels, and I handwashed my kit each afternoon – I never used my spare pair of kit (and I actually forgot I had spare socks).
What I’d do differently
On the one hand, I’m not disappointed to not ride the whole route. Many people who know me might be surprised by that. But I guess I see the Alpine Bike #1 Route as a serving suggestion. There are so many other mountain bike routes that are readily listed online and easy for anyone, anywhere, to access. But if I were to do a trip like this again – which I would love to – I’d spend a little more time and plan a route which wasn’t designed to stretch from one side of the country to the other. I may choose to spend more time in Graubuenden only – or take some of the load out of the trip.
As an example, on day 1 of the Alpine Bike I could have caught the bus to S-charl, then once over the Costainas Pass, I could ride to the Offenpass and Buffalora, on more singletrack and to then do the great descent from the old fort to Cancano – then onwards to Livigno. And I would probably stay in Celerina, and ride the Albula Pass instead of the Pass de Sett. This was a cool old Roman route, but also with a lot of hike a bike on the climb and it really didn’t end up with an incredible descent. So it just depends what you want – and what experience you want.
I was more than happy with a full-suspension XC bike, some days were so steep that a gravel bike would be horrible. And while some descents were beyond the limit of me and my bike for short sections – I wouldn’t want to pedal too much more bike for the length days I had.
I really think the Alpine Bike #1 route, and the whole Swiss Mobility scheme, opens up readily available outdoor adventures. I can’t think of anywhere I could do something like this with lots of options for food, hotels, water and even getting trains or buses, anywhere else in the world. And I sure hope to do another trip like this in the future.