Switzerland on the cycling map in Europe
Whenever we talk about cycling in Europe, Switzerland usually remains a bit outside the main destinations, which is quite strange, as the Alps-dominated country can offer a lot for roadies, enduro riders and DH enthusiasts. High mountains with steep slopes – check. Outrageously high mountain passes – check. Long and relatively flat valleys – check. Scenic views all around – also check. Truly, Switzerland has something for every rider, making the whole destination a cycling paradise that not many consider for their summer vacation.
Naturally, cycling is among the preferred sports in Switzerland, and many people choose to commute by bike. Well, not in Bern. There they have something else in mind. At least in the summer.
How Berneses commute
The capital of Switzerland is quite small, with only 138,000 citizens. It’s easily navigable, and although it has some steep hills, it’s relatively flat, considering you are in the heart of the Alps. Public transport is highly convenient, and car traffic is well regulated. Everyone on the road is in perfect harmony with each other. The whole transport system works like clockwork—pedestrians, cyclists, motorists, buses, trams.
However, during the summer months, there is one astounding method of commuting many Berneses practice.
Unlike most other big Swiss cities, Bern is not located on a lake but on a river. Aare is the longest river in Switzerland. One particular feature of this river is that it’s extremely crystal clear. It’s unlike any other big river you’ve seen in Europe. So naturally, many people swim in it, and it has become a main way of transportation for many locals.
If you work upstream and live downstream, you would grab one of the public bikes, which have stations all around the city. You take the bike and leave it near your office. After work, you take your Aare bag, which is essentially a waterproof bag, throw all your stuff there, put your swimming suit on, and just jump in the river. The flow will take care of the rest. All you need to do is get out of the river before the hydroelectric power plant in the city centre and hop right back in after it. This is a great way to socialize with people, talk with your friends after work or have some time on your own.
Of course, with such an interest, the municipality has made an effort to make the river as safe as possible. There are signs everywhere, showing you where you can get out, where you can find showers, and if there are any obstructions along the way. There are separate exits for swimmers and for those using a boat, and all along the bank, there are ropes that can help you pull yourself out if you have a problem.
Of course, swimming in a river is no joke, and you should always be on high alert. Still, with hundreds of others close by, accidents rarely happen.
Aare for tourists
As a tourist, you have the unique opportunity to have an extremely pleasurable time in the Swiss capital. Along with swimming in the river, which you should do only if you are a good swimmer since rivers are never to be taken lightly, you can also take a rental bike from the Swiss national railway operator (SBB) and go straight to the small town of Thun, about 20 km southeast of Bern.
You will ride mainly along the Aare banks and see the river in all its glory. When you get there, you will witness the beauty of Lake Thun (Thunersee) and the charming small town of Thun, hustling and bustling with life. More importantly, you will have the chance to leave your bike at the Thun train station and hop in the river, either with a boat or, if you are brave enough, just with your Aare bag. The river flow will take you right back to Bern. Before you do this, however, first familiarize yourself with everything there is to know about the river here. There is crucial information about where you should get out of the river and some important places along the way.
Naturally, if swimming is not your thing, there are some gorgeous cycling paths near the Swiss capital and along Aare. But, hey, when in Rome…