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St. Gotthard and Furka Passes in the Swiss Alps

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Road Cycling “It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them. Thus you remember them as they actually are, while in a motor car only a high hill impresses you, and you have no such accurate remembrance of country you have driven through as you gain by riding a bicycle.” -- Ernest Hemingway

St. Gotthard and Furka Passes in the Swiss Alps

Old 04-29-21, 07:22 PM
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Bassmanbob
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St. Gotthard and Furka Passes in the Swiss Alps

At the end of June, my wife and I will visit our daughter and son-in-law who live in Geneva, Switzerland. We plan to spend some time in Geneva, Interlaken, Grindelwald, Lugano and more time hiking in the Swiss Alps. So... of course... I had to investigate cycling options in Switzerland. I came up with lots of great scenic options. I originally wanted to go over the border into Italy and ride the famous Stelvio Pass. But as of now, Italy is off limits due to the COVID pandemic, so we must remain in Switzerland. I decided to ride St. Gotthard Pass and Furka Pass that can be done in one ride. My plan is to start in Airolo, ride up the St. Gotthard Pass via the old Tremolo. This scenic ride is partially cycled on Roman era cobblestones which has very little automobile traffic due to the fourth longest bypass tunnel that goes through the mountain. That alone excites me. When arriving at the other end of the St. Gotthard Pass decent, I plan to make a left at road number 19 which will take me up the Furka Pass. I will ascend the Furka Pass from the east-- most people do it from the west, which was filmed in the James Bond movie, Goldfinger.

Yes. I know I'm from Florida, where it is flat. I routinely train our few hills which are repeated locally and monthly drive to Clermont, FL to train hills. I know it's still not the same, but I can get 5-6,000 feet of elevation during these rides. I was wondering if anyone here has any experience with this area and riding here. Most of the internet links to these rides are fairly vague.

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Old 04-29-21, 10:35 PM
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I only know that both of those climbs are in Rouvy: Gotthard, Furka. Based on the stats, looks like it would take a big part of the day to do both, roughly 4 hrs if you can average 3 W/kg on the climbs.

I wish that I had the opportunity to ride in Switzerland when I vacationed there a few years ago, but was with extended family the whole time. Next time for sure, though.

Funny cycling-related story I had from my trip. We got on a boat on Lake Geneva thinking it was taking us from Lausanne to Montreaux. The only other people on board were on a cycling tour, fully kitted with their bikes and matching jerseys. I thought it was an odd way to travel since they could just ride over, then I realized we were on the boat to Italy and had to hastily run out and onto the correct boat. The Swiss trains are punctual but thankfully not the lake cruises!
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Old 04-29-21, 11:35 PM
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Originally Posted by Bassmanbob View Post
At the end of June, my wife and I will visit our daughter and son-in-law who live in Geneva, Switzerland. We plan to spend some time in Geneva, Interlaken, Grindelwald, Lugano and more time hiking in the Swiss Alps. So... of course... I had to investigate cycling options in Switzerland. I came up with lots of great scenic options. I originally wanted to go over the border into Italy and ride the famous Stelvio Pass. But as of now, Italy is off limits due to the COVID pandemic, so we must remain in Switzerland. I decided to ride St. Gotthard Pass and Furka Pass that can be done in one ride. My plan is to start in Airolo, ride up the St. Gotthard Pass via the old Tremolo. This scenic ride is partially cycled on Roman era cobblestones which has very little automobile traffic due to the fourth longest bypass tunnel that goes through the mountain. That alone excites me. When arriving at the other end of the St. Gotthard Pass decent, I plan to make a left at road number 19 which will take me up the Furka Pass. I will ascend the Furka Pass from the east-- most people do it from the west, which was filmed in the James Bond movie, Goldfinger.

Yes. I know I'm from Florida, where it is flat. I routinely train our few hills which are repeated locally and monthly drive to Clermont, FL to train hills. I know it's still not the same, but I can get 5-6,000 feet of elevation during these rides. I was wondering if anyone here has any experience with this area and riding here. Most of the internet links to these rides are fairly vague.
First off, go for it, the experience alone is worth the struggle.

I don't have experience specifically on those passes. I have ridden over Stelvio, and a few of the hills that pepper the TdF route from year to year. But, expectation management: going up a 1000m+ climb in the mountains is nothing like doing a ride that is mostly flat that nets you the same total climb because of slight variations in the flatness of the terrain you are riding on. I've lived in flat places (Flemish Brabant, Belgium) and hilly/mountainous places (Colorado, Southern Germany). The conditioning to go easily over big climbs comes from going over big climbs. Regardless, if you are fit in good condition, you should be able to manage those passes, Each is roughly 1000m climbing from the valley to the top, and they are ~7% average gradient. Be prepared to be deeply humbled by how hard it is to stay on the side of a hill at that gradient for an hour or more, and dial your expectation to the reality that you may take much longer than you think you need.

I just built a route that started in Airolo goes up and over the passes you described using the route you detailed, and then returned it to Airolo over the Nufenpass (Passo della Novena) via Rte 413 from Ulrichen to get you one more climb. That one is even taller than the other two, and 1% steeper! That looks like a lot of fun! I hope you can do it.

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Old 04-30-21, 12:57 AM
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Originally Posted by Bassmanbob View Post
At the end of June, my wife and I will visit our daughter and son-in-law who live in Geneva, Switzerland. We plan to spend some time in Geneva, Interlaken, Grindelwald, Lugano and more time hiking in the Swiss Alps. So... of course... I had to investigate cycling options in Switzerland. I came up with lots of great scenic options. I originally wanted to go over the border into Italy and ride the famous Stelvio Pass. But as of now, Italy is off limits due to the COVID pandemic, so we must remain in Switzerland. I decided to ride St. Gotthard Pass and Furka Pass that can be done in one ride. My plan is to start in Airolo, ride up the St. Gotthard Pass via the old Tremolo. This scenic ride is partially cycled on Roman era cobblestones which has very little automobile traffic due to the fourth longest bypass tunnel that goes through the mountain. That alone excites me. When arriving at the other end of the St. Gotthard Pass decent, I plan to make a left at road number 19 which will take me up the Furka Pass. I will ascend the Furka Pass from the east-- most people do it from the west, which was filmed in the James Bond movie, Goldfinger.

Yes. I know I'm from Florida, where it is flat. I routinely train our few hills which are repeated locally and monthly drive to Clermont, FL to train hills. I know it's still not the same, but I can get 5-6,000 feet of elevation during these rides. I was wondering if anyone here has any experience with this area and riding here. Most of the internet links to these rides are fairly vague.
Furka goes well above 2000m, I definitely noticed it, others say they don't. But for sure one thing to keep in mind. Regarding going up, I don't think it matters much. I do ride up a lot, but never regularly the same distance as these mountain passes. At the end of the day a huge part is just what w/kg you can put out. There are some differences due to going up but I think they should not be crucial. What does matter is your gearing. It is always funny when the pros on here claim they don't need a low gear. I regularly go into my lowest one, 34-32, and even made sure that the new bike I bought also went this low (key reason why I went for that particularly 'aero' bike). On long climbs if you want to keep a decent cadence going you will need a low gear unless you can output significant watts over long periods (you want to do two passes).

Funny thing is I also want to do this ride, not done Gottardo yet and Furka only from the East.
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Old 04-30-21, 01:10 AM
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Originally Posted by Badger6 View Post
I just built a route that started in Airolo goes up and over the passes you described using the route you detailed, and then returned it to Airolo over the Nufenpass (Passo della Novena) via Rte 413 from Ulrichen to get you one more climb. That one is even taller than the other two, and 1% steeper! That looks like a lot of fun! I hope you can do it.
That area is stock full of passes. You can also do Grimsel, Furka, Susten in one lap, or you can do all six in a huge 8, if you're crazy enough There is also Grosse Scheidegg near as well, though technically not a pass, you'd have to turn around, and in Andermatt instead of going west over Furka, in the East there is the Oberalppass.
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Old 04-30-21, 02:44 AM
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Originally Posted by ZHVelo View Post
Furka goes well above 2000m...

What does matter is your gearing.
Very true, I was only counting the difference from bottom to top (Höhenmeter), but it is definitely at a high altitude at the pass, a consideration that should not be taken lightly for someone coming from near sea level (Meereshöhe).

Excellent point on the gearing, those gradients for as long as those climbs take will be grinding even for someone with a well conditioned "heart-lung machine."
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Old 04-30-21, 04:28 AM
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Thank you for your input so far. I’d love to do more passes, but my window of time to do this is somewhat limited. I’m shooting for the two passes, but will accept only St. Gotthard if I run out of time. The point of the trip is to spend time with my kids, who I’ve seen only for three days in the last year thanks to the pandemic. I just had to take advantage of this opportunity.

Gearing. I’m doing this on my Bike Friday Pocket Rocket. With the 20” wheels, it’s like having a few extra gears way down there. I did the GFNY New York Century on this bike three years ago. It’s heavier than my CF Cannondale, but like I said, it’s like having a couple of extra low gears. It also makes it more practical to fold it up and put it in its suitcase when I’m done with no hassle. I won’t need to return a bike or get a rack to store the bike when the car is full of people. I just rented a big enough car for the extra bag.
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Old 04-30-21, 04:51 AM
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epic. may your training pay off and find you summiting the passes. there are worse places to fail in riding all the way to your intended destination
if you and/or the steed aren't working as efficiently you'd like. enjoy what time you have on the bike and hiking there and please share here. many thanx!
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Old 04-30-21, 12:13 PM
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I have only done the Stelvio pass, and it is a shame that you cannot do it since it is glorious. I have ascended from Italy and descended into Switzerland, and I am hoping to do the reverse this summer.

The EU will soon allow Americans that are full vaccinated to enter without restrictions. There is no timeline, but I would think it will be possible in two months time.
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Old 04-30-21, 04:37 PM
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I'm hoping to do Stelvio Bike Day in August! It's been on my shortlist for a while now.
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Old 04-30-21, 06:26 PM
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A YouTuber named Clint Gibbs, who lives in Florida, went to Switzerland and has shared his experience in a series of videos. You might check them out.


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Old 05-01-21, 03:53 AM
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Oh yea, what he says about jet lag, going East to West is no issue, it's like going to bed very late one night. But West to East can really **** you over.
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Old 05-01-21, 10:23 AM
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There is great riding in the Jura Mountains , just North of Geneva and North Of Lausanne. So you could pick and choose around that area, if the Mt. passes are not fitting in you schedule.
I keep a bike in Lausanne for just that type of thing ( was going there on business 1x or 2x per year so it was well worth the effort. )
I did Mt. Ventoux a few years back and i was glad I had trained for that climb. The big climbs are quite memorable, but there is plenty of climbing everywhere in Switzerland.
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Old 05-01-21, 03:46 PM
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That was a pretty cool video. I'll check out his others. Jet lag. Yeah. I thought a bit about that, but we will be there already 5 days prior to the ride. I'm assuming I'll be able to assimilate to the altitude a bit during that time too. I've heard that the assimilation to altitude is the greatest during the first 2-3 days.
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Old 05-01-21, 03:49 PM
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Originally Posted by kraftwerk View Post
There is great riding in the Jura Mountains , just North of Geneva and North Of Lausanne. So you could pick and choose around that area, if the Mt. passes are not fitting in you schedule.
I keep a bike in Lausanne for just that type of thing ( was going there on business 1x or 2x per year so it was well worth the effort. )
I did Mt. Ventoux a few years back and i was glad I had trained for that climb. The big climbs are quite memorable, but there is plenty of climbing everywhere in Switzerland.
I think I'll check out some of the riding around Geneva too. We will be there for two days before we head to Interlaken and Grindelwald. But I do have to remind myself that the point of the trip is to visit my daughter; it's not a bike vacation. I'm sure it's pretty easy to become Bike Crazy in Europe.
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Old 05-01-21, 07:11 PM
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Originally Posted by Bassmanbob View Post
I think I'll check out some of the riding around Geneva too. We will be there for two days before we head to Interlaken and Grindelwald. But I do have to remind myself that the point of the trip is to visit my daughter; it's not a bike vacation. I'm sure it's pretty easy to become Bike Crazy in Europe.
Yes : Being 'bike crazy' is one of the things to do in Europe. If your daughter rides she can show you 'le bon routes' just beyond the city limits other wise, just chill and enjoy Geneva as much as possible ( Geneva is not the most welcoming city but it has it charms...) I am a tad jealous, since I was supposed to be there last year. Sigh.
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Old 05-02-21, 01:46 PM
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Originally Posted by ZHVelo View Post
Oh yea, what he says about jet lag, going East to West is no issue, it's like going to bed very late one night. But West to East can really **** you over.
I used to do it a couple times a month for work, with long enough to reset the clock....if you plan the sleep right, it's manageable. But, definitely, west to east is tougher.
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Old 05-02-21, 01:51 PM
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Originally Posted by Bassmanbob View Post
I'm assuming I'll be able to assimilate to the altitude a bit during that time too.
You should get a decent amount of acclimatization if you're waiting 5 days to do this, but you'll be acclimatized to the altitude you are at, up in the mountains, going up another 1000m may feel tougher than you expect. The passes are high, but not ridiculously high, take your time, enjoy the view and the climb and I think you'll be fine.
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