Photo: Approaching Bachläger on Route 341.
Mountain Biking is a broad term covering a range of disciplines. I am simply splitting everything into either:
- Cross-Country. Touring on footpaths across the landscape. You often earn every metre of height (and might need to push/carry to do so) and deal with whatever conditions the path is in. This is by far the most common activity (and the only option in many areas of the country).
- Downhill MTB Park. Repeated runs down purpose built and groomed bike-only trails using cable cars to climb back up.
My interest lies more in the cross-country side of things rather than spending days doing runs down MTB parks, so that is where my focus is here.
- The routes on here are marked by signposts on the ground.
- The routes are pretty much only Cross-Country. If you want downhill MTB routes then you need to look up the local tourist website.
- Initially it just contained fairly tame tours that were a mix of asphalt and gravel, but the routes are getting more and more hardcore. In Graubünden and Valais there are a number of tours with serious technical sections listed. The Graubünden routes especially have made me question whether the person who developed them was a masochist who loves mountain biking, or a sadist who hates mountain bikers.
- This is constantly growing. Everytime I scroll around the map I find a new route that has been added so it is always worth checking back every so often.
Most routes outside of the Switzerland Mobility are not signed on the ground, so either have a GPS device on the handlebars or prepare to stop and check all the time.
- Local tourism websites have information and route suggestions.
- Ride.ch. A Swiss publisher who maintain a database of routes. You can buy these as paper maps which come with suggested tours too. The online map (part of the 65 CHF per year Gold subscription which includes more suggested routes and being sent their magazine) gives you access to the whole country and is much easier to read and figure out where the trails are than the printed maps. The consistency in the difficulty can vary somewhat: I have seen red ‘challenging’ single trails that are flat but with a few slight bumps, and others that are narrow and steep rocky paths of death.
- User generated trails can be found on various websites like Trailforks, Kamoot, Strava heatmaps, MTB project, outdoor active, mapmyride etc: . Coverage and quality is going to be rather hit and miss.
- If you google the place and MTB you might get lucky and find someone who has made a dedicated blog for the area in question (like Spoony or Phil around Solothurn).
- Open maps like Maps.me and openstreetmap.ch can be very useful for finding little trails for mountain biking that don’t appear on the official maps. However, it can be hard to know what is doable: a trail might be perfect single trail or it might be an overgrown forest road that hasn’t been used in years.
- To really get to know the trails in an area then you will need to explore yourself. There are lots of DIY routes carved out by locals in the forests – but quite how legal these are varies by area, and ethically you might want to think about what they do to nature.
Where you can ride
Some ski resorts have seen the writing on the wall and are going hard on MTB during the summer. Including (but not limited to):
- Lenzerheide (GR). The home of mountain biking in Switzerland.
- Laax (GR).
- Verbier (VS).
- Crans-Montana (VS).
- Zermatt (VS).
Many other resorts have a surprising lack of infrastructure and routes. The popular Jungfrau region for example has a few suggested routes but there is very little (and given how popular they are they don’t need to try and pull in mountain bikers too).
Ski resorts (or anywhere with a cable car) will usually offer a day-pass for bikes during the summer season.
The general landscape and footpaths
For most of the country you will be riding on the footpaths.
The laws about where exactly you can ride (especially regarding single trails) is a little confusing and region dependent (like all things in Switzerland). Appenzell Innerhoden banned mountain biking on footpaths unless they are clearly marked as bike routes, Graubünden on the other hand is working hard on MTB tourism and so is very bike friendly and you can ride on any path there. Most of the country is somewhere in between, sometimes there is a sign up making it very clear that bikes are not allowed on a certain path but mostly it is less to common sense.
The national law says that bikes should only be taken on paths that they were intended for, this however dates from 1958 and pre-dates the start of mountain biking by decades. If you take this to the extreme degree then you can barely go anywhere, but in practice this is never applied and you will see people riding everywhere. For one thing every canton has official MTB routes that go along rough footpaths so the notion that the bike is not intended for the route is very outdated. You should be OK going almost wherever you like, so long as you respect other users on the paths. This and this might help with some more information.
The country is still working out what to do with the massive rise in popularity of MTB in recent years (especially with E-bikes increasing where people can get to) so the situation might well change in the near future.
Path conditions/technical requirements
Outside of ski resorts you will find very little in the way of proper bike-park type groomed trails. Mostly you will just have to deal with whatever state the footpath is in: this could be easy and flowy with no exposure, or it could be a steep and exposed nightmare of loose rock.
Usually when following a suggested route you only get some vague grading of easy/medium/hard which doesn’t say a whole lot (and is often rather inconsistent).
Something to watch out for is barbed wire. Some footpaths (including a few signed MTB routes) have a barbed wire fence running right beside them. Also during the colder months many farmers detach the wire from fence posts and lay it on the ground, mostly this is just with normal wire but always check when riding between fence posts to avoid a nasty surprise.
Interacting with other trail users
MTB-only trails do exist, but are very limited in number and mostly just around ski resorts during the summer. So you will be sharing the path with hikers and horse riders.
Riding with respect and care for others is the most important thing. Even in quiet places, always be prepared to brake to avoid slamming into a group of pensioners or a family walking their dog. If you try and do a very popular route (eg: alongside the Aletsch glacier or over Napf) on weekend or in the holidays you will likely find you are spending most of the time trying to avoid hikers rather than anything enjoyable.
I have been riding on footpaths around the country for years and have almost always had friendly interactions with other people. The only time that I have had hikers get annoyed was on Route 1 on the Bernina Pass where the MTB and hiking trails often share the same single-trail paths, some hikers had clearly gotten sick of the number of MTBers coming past (and they all seemed to be German tourist rather than Swiss).
The biggest problem I have is alerting someone that you are coming up behind them, but without scaring the life out of them.
Some of my favourite routes
Again this is all Cross-Country. I have more routes listed on my bike rides page.