11 – 20 May and 7 – 10 June 2017
It could have been a quick direct ride to Biel, but I was running early to visit my friends David and Anna that I had met the previous summer biking in Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. They were biking the other way around the world and had just arrived home in Switzerland a few weeks before. I had a flight to Denmark on 20 May to host my American friends Ed and Sandy, and since I didn’t want to overstay my friends’ hospitality by arriving too early, I biked short days and did a number of detours along the way.
So from Liechtenstein, I rode the remaining 230k to my friends' in Biel with a loop south to Lake Lucerne. Arriving in Biel, I passed the 60,000k milestone for this round-the-world trip.
Itinerary and weather
From Liectenstein, I crossed the bridge to Buchs in Switzerland where I rode through flattish countryside south to Sargans and then northwest past Walensee. My initial idea had been riding over +2k Klausen Pass from Fitzbach to Flüelen by Lake Lucerne, but a bicyclist told me the pass was closed. I therefore continued west to Siebnen, where I did a very steep climb over Sattelegg Pass and down to Sihlsee. From Biberbrugg, I turned south on main road 3 towards Lake Lucerne, on the way riding a bit along lovely Lauerzersee. At Lake Lucerne, I rode from Brunnen south to Fluëlen and Bauen from where I wanted to take a boat back to Brunnen. However, in Bauen it was torrential rain/thunder and as I couldn’t find camping and nobody would help, I skipped the boat and biked back where I came from. Past Brunnen to Gersau where I took a ferry to Beckenried. I was west and north towards Lucerne but first I did a 30k detour south to Alpnach and back around a couple of lakes. From Lucerne, I zigzagged my way to Biel through open countryside - main road 2a west and northwest to Langenthal, backroads southwest to Bätterkinden and finally north and west along the river to Biel.
The weather was constantly changing from overcast with dark clouds and rain (drizzle, normal and torrential) to blue skies and sunny – the only constant was the strong winds from changing directions. Except for one mountain, I rode at around 5-600m elevation, so the days were warm even when the weather was bad. The evenings however, were still cold after sunset. Again, my timing was lucky as people told they had - highly unusual - had snow just a week before even at this low altitude.
Roads and drivers
The roads were still of good quality but mostly without a shoulder, so I used the bike paths as much as possible despite the challenges mentioned in the previous section. Riding the main roads through open countryside was no problem as drivers could see me from afar but the narrow, curvy mountain roads were dangerous especially because hundreds of motorcyclists used them as racetracks, not expecting to pass a cyclist going 4-5 k/h.
Camping and people
Nothing much changed regarding camping – difficult both in the open countryside and around the built-up/steeply sloped lakes. In posh small town Bauen (southeastern Lake Lucerne), I got the fastest ever rejections for help camping, despite torrential rain and thunder. Not really a big surprise as the richest people are always most concerned about the unknown/losing something and therefore the least helpful. Luckily, some farmers in Flüelen (I had previously asked for water) let me camp in their field – other bicyclists’ tell me they have mixed experiences with farmers, but until now they have always helped me out, the few times wild camping haven’t work out.
Generally, things seemed to become more relaxed as I made my way west – more people were curious and talked to me and the number of “forbidden signs” slowly declined, also regarding camping. So the two other nights, I camped in lovely forests. I still wasn’t sure if it was illegal, but at least I could claim ignorance, when there were no signs.
I was only in Biel for half an hour, before I realised that it's completely different from any other place in Switzerland I've visited. It is very relaxed with no forbidden signs, people without shirts, pedestrians crossing roads without looking, people drinking beers in public, etc. Very significant it was also multi-ethnic - I don't recall seeing anybody but Caucasians anywhere else and here half the people had another ethnicity.
Despite having changed to a new sensor less than a month before, I still had ongoing problems getting my odometer to work. Sometimes it took a couple of minutes to get it working but other times 15-20 minutes. While in Denmark, I got two new ones – partly because they were on sale and partly because it’s much easier when I already have the cord in place.
I took my damaged rack pack ("sausage bag") to Denmark to inquire if Ortlieb would repair the broken strap. Unfortunetaly, it took a week for them to make the decision to fixi it, so there was not enough time to do it. I hope it can make it all the way to Denmark - without it, I will short of room to store my stuff.
The biggest problem however, was my rear wheel. After getting new bearings in Italy, it felt much better though never as smooth as a new wheel. I guessed the mechanic had used cheap bearings, but as it turned out, the wheel was probably seriously damaged from the +1,000k ride on crushed bearings with the wheel "tilting" 6-7mm to each side. On the last steep hill before Biel, I heard an unmistakable "ploing" and shortly after another one - inconvenient with two broken spokes, but it could be fixed. When I took the rear cassette off, the spokes were not broken but had broken out of the hub! The rim was also damaged, so the wheel was beyond repair. Incredible with another broken wheel (new from Istanbul), but at least it was only 25 flattish kilometres from Biel where I could have a new built. Had it happened in the mountains or after leaving Biel, I would have been in big trouble. Here, I could just loosen the spokes, deflate the tire, walk the bike up the last hill and cautiously ride the rest of the way to Biel. While in Denmark, David’s trusted mechanic built me a new rear wheel and also changed the broken handlebar stem bearings. While doing so, he noticed that the front wheel rim was “bending” outwards when adding tire pressure entailing a risk of cracking should i hit a hole or big bump on a fast downhill. He strongly recommended getting a new wheel and having done 85,000k, I knew it was long overdue. Still I had hoped it could make it to Denmark but with lots of big mountains coming up, it was too risky not to change it. Hopefully the bike can make it to Denmark without more serious problems.
One problem seldom comes alone, and just after the wheel broke, my camera stopped working. It had showed symptoms for a long time and now it was beyond my fixing (battery out, hitting it a certain way, etc.). My spare camera was deep in a bag, so I used my phone camera, which is horrible or maybe I just don't no how to focus. It’s my last spare camera so hopefully it survives the last months, until I finish the trip in Denmark sometime in Autumn 2017.