Daniel Bone discovers there is more to traveling in Switzerland than funicular railways, cable cars and elegant paddle steamers. Swiss retirees are leading the way in 21st century travel.
In March 2017 I decided to resign from work, load a tent and sleeping bag on to my trusty push bike and hit the road. It was a smart decision. Between March and October I meandered for 5,000 miles through Australia, England, Spain, France, Corsica, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Slovakia, Poland and the Czech Republic.
Cycling is the most fantastic way to explore our world. I can’t recommend it enough. You encounter amazing wildlife, hidden historic villages, spectacular, unspoilt scenery and warm, wonderful people. As a touring cyclist you smell, taste, feel and breathe the places you visit. You discover hidden backstreets and stumble upon the extraordinary.
After a couple of months in the saddle, I found myself inching my way up Switzerland’s dramatic Gotthard Pass and into the land that inspired the pictures on a thousand chocolate boxes.
Around every corner a new breathtaking vista awaits. Cool azure lakes, improbably green meadows, stony faced peaks dusted with snow. Dotted through the jade valleys are spotlessly clean chalets with stacks of fire wood perfectly arranged by unseen OCD hands. The cows are so pretty they look like they have stepped straight out of a tv commercial.
As well as their neatness, the Swiss are famous for their chocolates, holey cheese, banking and luxury watches, and so it is, perhaps surprising, that they also have a passion for cycling.
And, in particular, for electric bicycles.
Electric bicycles (or eBikes) look like traditional cycles but have a battery and electric motor to help take the sting out of climbing hills or riding into head winds.
Given the rolling drama of the alpine landscape it is no surprise that Switzerland is awash with eBikes (in 2016 almost a quarter of bike sold in Switzerland were electric).
Perhaps what is more surprising is that about a quarter of eBike owners are pensioners.
Everywhere I travelled in Switzerland I saw (or more accurately, was passed by!) impeccably dressed silver haired cyclists cruising silently and effortlessly from one mountain village to the next.
Don’t misunderstand, eBikes don’t provide a free ride. You still need to pedal, but the motor cleverly matches and amplifies your pedalling effort. It’s a bit like riding a tandem with a Tour de France cyclist perched in the rear seat.
So why are eBikes so popular with Swiss retirees?
Well, for a start, Switzerland has one of the world’s best networks of cycle trails.
As a low-impact work-out, cycling has always been popular with the over 50’s. eBikes make cycling possible for people with a far wider range of health and fitness levels.
In Switzerland, and around the world, eBikes are allowing an ever-increasing number of retirees to keep active and rediscover the joy of cycling.
Many of the most ardent eBike devotees love to share their stories of how an eBike helped them get back in the saddle after a stroke, heart problem, chronic knee injury or respiratory problem. They love their eBikes with a passion because they have allowed them to continue to enjoy the thrill of the open road.
eBikes aren’t just fun. They are better for the environment. They are quiet. They reduce congestion. They are cheap to charge… and they allow anyone (whatever their age) to cruise effortlessly through the mountains (yodelling optional!).
You don’t have to be Swiss to enjoy the benefits of eBiking. Closer to home there are electric bike rental shops springing up everywhere and most eBike shops will let you try an bike (sometimes for a small fee).
Even more encouragingly, towns and cities across the world are gradually learning from the Swiss experience and rolling out eBikes as a part of their public transport infrastructure.