Gear Combo Guru
Join Date: May 2007
Bikes: Spec' Tarmac (road), Ridley Fenix (commuter & fast tourer), Salsa Mamasita (MTB), CoMo Speedster (tandem), Surly Big Dummy (cargo), Airnimal (folder)
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I live in Switzerland, and know most of the roads on that route quite well. There are certainly roads here where I would recommend having a drum or disc brake, especially with touring gear (i.e., roads which have at least 1000m descent at >7% gradient, and may be twisty), but if you're sticking to the Route 9 Lakes route then you will not find any of those. The major descents on that route are only about 300 metres of continuous descending, then you will be rolling down gently valleys losing altitude very gradually. The only exception to this may be the descent down to Lake Zurich - the profile shows 500m descent in 10km, and that is on a pretty small road, so it will be twisty. However, lugging around an extra brake for this one descent doesn't seem worth it - just stop and let the brakes cool once or twice during that descent to be safe instead. I don't know that bit of road personally, but I have cycling friends up in that part of the country that I could ask if you wish. If you do want to add in a few of those more serious climbs and descents for which I would recommend an extra brake, which I think are more than worth it, then I can certainly make a lot of great suggestions.
The National Cycle Routes in Switzerland are a good idea, but I would advise against sticking to the suggested route religiously. They prioritize taking you onto the lowest-traffic roads possible at the cost of all other factors. Frequently, there is an alternative road that has only medium to low levels of traffic, but the national route will use a different nearby route that is even quieter, but the quieter road will be far more undulating, convoluted, and difficult to find the directional signs on. In these situations, I would often choose the slightly larger, slightly busier road, which is normally still not very busy. Keep in mind that there are very few large trucks in this country because most freight is carried by rail, most drivers are very courtious to cyclists, and the roads are in excellent condition (they spend a lot of money on them) - it is a cyclist's paradise.
On the Route 9 Lakes Route in particular, I would recommend the following changes from the suggested roads:
Montreux - Chatel St Denis: I would go up via Blonay, and take the road on the east side of the Veveyse river to Chatel St Denis. The suggested route up from Vevey is a smaller road but gets extremely steep for one or two kms of 10-15%, not fun on a tandem with touring gear. The road on the east side of that valley is much more constant and easier climbing. After you leave Blonay, the road is very quiet. Also, the part along Lake Geneva of the suggested route between Montreux and Vevey is urban and full of traffic lights, and often has buildings between the road and the lake, and so is not worthwhile. In fact, I would start this route from Lausanne, and go along the lake from there to Vevey, which is probably the nicest stretch of road anywhere around Lake Geneva, right along the lakeshore with terraced vineyards on the other side.
Gstaad - Zweisimmen: The official route takes you along a small road on the south side of the valley, the more major road goes along the north side of the valley. To climb out of Gstaad, it's probably nicest to use the smaller road, but once at the top of the pass, Saanenmoser, I would switch onto the major road for the descent to Zweissimen. The road is a little busy, but you'll be flying downhill almost keeping up with traffic, and there are no major turns to worry about. The alternative stays on the south side of the valley and is very quiet, but undulates up and down several times and you don't get anywhere fast on it, you just tire yourself out for no reason, which frustrated me.
Zweisimmen - Spiez: The official route keeps you off of the major road in this valley, and takes you on minor ones instead. The more minor ones will be more fun, because the bigger road is quite busy, especially in the lower part of the valley. However, be prepared for navigational issues trying to stay on the official bike route.
Interlaken - Brienz: This is the part where I really encourage you to avoid the suggested route. The suggested route goes along the south side of Lake Brienz and may be the longest and roughest section of unpaved road of the whole trip. I know people who have done it and they all made it sound like it is more of a trail than a road, and really struggled on it and did not have fun, plus there are lots of short and steep climbs and descents. I've never actually done it because of the bad things that I've heard about it and the alternative is the normal road along the north side of Lake Brienz, which is one of the most beautiful roads to cycle on in the whole country! There is still not much traffic on that road because there is a separate motorway that takes most of the traffic (which is mostly in a tunnel on the south side of the lake), plus the road is very wide, and I believe it has bike lanes in several sections. The road on the north side of the lake is very popular with cyclists, and you'll see why, it is mostly flat with only a few short, gentle gradients, and the views are incredible. Don't even bother trying to mess with the trail on the south side, the road on the north side is something that is not to be missed!
Meiringen - Luzern: The main road in this section is very traffic-heavy, and so I would recommend sticking to the alternate bike route when possible. However, I don't actually know what the alternate route is here because both times I've gone that way, I've just put up with the heavy traffic in that section.
Beyond Luzern, I'm not very familiar with the roads, but by this time you should have a pretty good idea of what to expect and so you can make pretty good decisions yourselves.
As for tire sizes for the sections of unpaved roads that you will find if you stick to the official bike routes: On my single touring bike, I would be happy with the 700x28mm tires that have a very light tread that I always use. On the tandem, I might go a little larger than 28mm. I would expect that the 26x1.5" slicks that you mentioned should have no major problems, but hopefully they have a small amount of tread on them to bite into the dirt a bit when climbing and braking. As far as I'm aware, the sections of unpaved roads on this route are mostly in the flatter parts, and there are no major descents on unpaved roads. The exception to this would be the steep undulations on the south side of Lake Brienz, which as I said above, you should completely avoid.
If you need any more info, then please ask.
Last edited by Chris_W; 04-15-10 at 10:05 AM.