A Month in MTB – Paradise

This is my longest post ever… so much to tell and so much beauty to share. I decided to put it all into one post to give the story the necessary epic feel.

July 2019

A brand new Scott Scale bike, work/holiday schedule under control, dry and hot weather in Switzerland, plenty of trails to choose from, good food and wine. It cannot get much better than that, right?

The Roll-In

The good people at Trailnet built a few very nice and, in-part, rather challenging trails in the Regio Basiliensis. Both the “Gempen Nord” trail and the “Arlesheim” trail can be accessed from various locations (see the weblink for details). The uphill is straightforward, follow the signs over gravel and fire roads (“Forststrasse” in German) to reach the fun parts of the respective trail. Ride in spring and you’ll enjoy a wonderful Cherry Blossom. If you ride in early summer you might be lucky to sample cherries right off the trees. Please don’t just pick them off the trees yourself, ask the farmers, they let you sample or sell half a kg at a very competitive price. Cherries make for an excellent snack! You might wonder why I’m so particular about the cherries? Two reasons: firstly, beautiful childhood memories about harvesting and eating ripe cherries and secondly, almost everything we eat in Singapore comes by air cargo from lands very far away, so the experience of fresh, tasty, sweet, delicious, non-tropical fruit is very expensive and more often than not, leaves a lot of room to improve.

Gempen Nord Trail

The markings are there, but if you are not a local, there is a 100% chance you will get lost. Bring a map – that will seriously add to the experience. If you head for the “Gempen Nord” trail and you have a craving for caffeine (or any other legal stimulant) before the downhill adrenaline kicks in, visit the restaurant “GempenTurm“. You can sit outside and enjoy the views of the Jura mountain range. Coffee is reasonable, just don’t expect the artisanal, hand-ground, soy-latte, gluten-free, vegan option.

The downhill section (aka the fun part) starts a few meters from the restaurant, not for the life of it could I find a marker…. A quick check on Google map suggests a small trail and then a fireroad heading downwards to Gempen Stollen. Nice and easy downhill rolling, no real technical challenges, a good solid “blue”. Once at “GempenStollen”, I have to look for the trail several times & promptly miss it…. . So I decide to follow the road down to Restaurant Schoenmatt, then a few more hairpin turns and as soon as I reach the forest, I turn right and dash straight into the forest and hit the trail. The fun really starts there. Super flowy single trail, technically not too difficult, probably just about a black (but still pay attention….) and very well marked. A real pleasure. The last 200 or so meters are rather steep and tricky, especially once wet. The trail ends up at a rather busy bike route connecting Muenchenstein with Muttenz, plenty of signage there to get you home.

The Arlesheim Trail

The Arlesheim trail is better marked. Start from the Arlesheim/Dornach railway station and simply follow the signs. A few road crossings to watch out for, then you need ascend app 200 meters of altitude difference et voilà, there is your downhill. The downhill section is about two kilometres long, so you get all the fun to compensate for the climb! I reckon this is a solid “black”, so do this if you can handle switch backs, steep terrain and the like. I pass a few riders, who apparently went a bit too leisurely over the humps and bumps and promptly crashed quite hard.

The Real Stuff: The Jura Trail

A nine stages trail, starting in Basel and ending in Nyon, at the shores of Lac Léman, looks very tempting. But can I really bike 40 kms with a lot of climbing every day? Some doubts emerge. Additionally, I was pondering whether I should do it the “real way” and spend the nights at the respective end/starting points of each stage or take public transport back to base camp. Staying “on” the trails would save me two hours travelling every day and give the ride more of a multi-day bike trip feel. On the other hand, I have time for four stages only and the respective end points are within one hour of my basecamp near Basel. Hence, I decide to return back to base every evening. Maybe not the hard-core option, but logistically the easier and cheaper option. The (also) good people at MySwitzerland have all the information you ever need: trails, altitude profiles, access, restaurants, escape plans, and all the other data you think you need.

Stage 1: Basel – Laufen, 31km, 880 m Ascent

I skip the highly recommended sight-seeing in Basel and head straight for the trail. Well-marked off the main railway station the road winds up to the outskirts, gradually leaving the city behind and offering views into the Jura mountain range. Rolling comfortably through the Agglo for a few kms, before a short, but really steep climb finally gets me out of civilisation and into the forest. Once I reach max altitude, it is easy cruising on fire roads and a long decent into Laufen, the end of stage 1. This was a very enjoyable “get out of it all” ride, nothing spectacular today, just soaked-up the journey from the heat of the city into the cooling forests and the country side. A coffee in Laufen and (lazy as I am) a short train ride back to my base camp.

Stage 2, Laufen – Delémont, 31 km, 1000 m Ascent

get up early and enjoy a beautiful sunrise

Train to Laufen, then ascend to Grindel, a small village nestled away close to the French speaking part of Switzerland; a few fellow bikers only, either elderly riders on eBikes or some hyper fit sports freaks, in other words, everybody overtakes me.

Otherwise, magnificent silence as I ride, huff and puff through the forest.

After Grindel a really steep climb on a road, then a single trail and I reach the “Welschgaetterli”, a mountain pass that marks the border between two Kantons (“province”) and more importantly the transition from SwissGerman to SwissFrench.

That is it for the day in terms of hard climbing, the rest is pedalling up and down through a few villages, some forest trails and a fair chunk of single trail, where I manage to slip and fall on the only, really the only root within a 2 km radius.

The only technical difficulty is this fence:

maybe Danny MacAskill could ride this??

After a few hours of strenuous, but not exhausting cycling I arrive in Delémont, end of stage two.

A short video covering stage 2:

Stage 3: Delèmont – St. Ursanne, 42 km, 950 m Ascend

The plan for today is grand: do the hard part up to the Col des Rangiers, sip a latte, then cruise down to St. Ursanne and enjoy the local specialty: fresh trout.

Total solitude as I leave Delémont, not a soul in sight once I pass the shooting range and cruise along a fire road. The climb up to the viewpoint high above the city is rather steep at some places. Again beautiful solitude as I pedal through the forest.

A few kms later, the ride follows the crete, I arrive at the Col des Rangiers, which is a total disappointment! The restaurant is gone and the famous “Le Fritz” as well. I bump into an eBiker, who cannot resist making a few dumb jokes about me pedalling support-less.

Later on, I indeed manage to loose the trail somewhere on a downhill section. I’m either day dreaming or cannot focus on the steering and trail-searching at the same time. I end up on a steep road, which brings me back up to “Sous Les Bois” from where it is all downhill (too much road biking for my liking) to the Doubs river.

easy cruising along the river
and way too much road biking today

Rather “not amused” with the amount of road-biking, I arrive in St. Ursanne, a marvel of a medieval town right at the Doubs river.

ah yes: the fish.. yummy
and the train back to base camp

I do surprise myself in terms of fitness. Yes, I do bike at “only” 120 BPM rhythm, ie I’m not pushing it very hard. I learned over the past year or so, that staying around 120 average lets me go for a rather long time, fatigue is not much of an issue and recovery is fast. My legs don’t cramp and in the evenings, I still have energy to ride 10 kms to a dinner place and back to base.

Enjoy some of today’s highlights:

Stage 4: St. Ursanne – Saignélegier, 30 km, 900 m Ascend

Stage four looks comparatively easy at only 30 kms to cover – even with the premonition that the climb from the Doubs River up to the crete will be tough.

which one of these signs to follow...
its #3 stupid....

Easy start, follow the road along the Doubs river, pass a few camp sites that look idyllic, but even for my taste, are hidden too far in the moist shades of the forest.

Then a climb – OMG what a climb – I get off the bike and push. This seems not to end. Even two e-Bikers need to get off their machines and push to preserve battery.

soo steep and apparently endless….
This is the “kaputtest” farm I’ve ever seen in Switzerland.
Everything is rusty, broken, dirty ..

Once I reach Césai, even though the climbing doesn’t stop, it feels that I’ve done it for the day. The landscape opens up, wide pastures, trees, blue sky, horses. Everything that makes this country so so so beautiful can be found here. At full “inner peace” I enjoy the cycling.

Saignélegier is in the heart of Swiss Watch making territory, and no, there is no “direct factory outlet Patek and Rolex sale” here… A somewhat strange lunch: a wholewheat crèpe with ham and cheese.

I have enough energy to continue after lunch. I safe the official stage 5 for another year and ride a loop to the Etang de Gruère (has nothing to do with the Gruyère cheese). More enjoyable cruising over pastures, past impressive farm houses – all under clear blue skies in warm sunny weather. And yes, it is super scenic, some single trails, forests, greenery and then the colour of the lake: simply marvellous.

I stop cycling in Tramelan, chill with an ice-cream and hop on the train back to base camp.

and here is the “tube” evidence:

The Real Stuff: Graubünden

10 days biking .. clearly not enough… So we head to my hometown in Graubünden. The first few days, I do easy roll-ins, 15 km before breakfast: nice and easy does it.

I’m very privileged to have access to a semi-pro cycling cousin. Cycling with him has a lot of advantages: I get to ride all kinds of secret and beautiful gems in and around Klosters, I have a guide and a bike trainer (luckily he is patient….), and he knows every GoPro spot.

Pischa And Jakobshorn Trail

It’s very hard for me to adequately describe the beauty of the Pischa trail and the overall experience of that day. It just all fits. I’m in reasonably good shape (by my own standards…), good mood, good company, the trails are a challenge, mostly doable, the weather is fantastic and the landscape is epic. I write this blog a good six weeks after the ride(s) and the memories are still fresh and vivid.

After the Pischa trail we head for lunch. A technically nifty downhill trail from Jakobshorn to Davos is desert. To round the day off, we cycle from Davos to Klosters.

Let the motion picture tell the story:

elated to share the joys of that day

and then some…

So if all that marvel and beauty wasn’t enough, I manage to convince our daughter to join me for some off-roading. We take it easy, rent a decent 27.5″ hardtail and start with 5km loops to get into the groove. Step-by step our excursions get longer until we complete a very respectable 12k loop with quite some climbing and a stop at the cheese factory restaurant.

Finally, I know what it means “live to bike”. I WANT MORE MORE MORE MORE….. already looking forward to summer 2020 in Switzerland.