Five Passes II

July 13, 2013

14 hours, 495 kilometers

Map Link

Almost two weeks prior I had been led by a local across some of Switzerland’s most coveted and famous motorcycle riding roads. Now it was my turn to lead. Bob (from the ride to Le Grand Balloon) and Dan were excited to see these roads for themselves and we set aside Saturday for the fun.

We had been advised to get an early start, as many other riders (and drivers and sightseers) would have the same idea. That in mind, we agreed to meet at 6:30 am and make quick work of the autobahn between here and Olten. From there it would be nothing but farmlands, villages and mountain passes!

Because I covered most of this trip on my previous ride report, I’ll just toss up a bunch of pictures here with a little bit of narration and let you enjoy the ride from your hammock.

The day started out chilly and hazy, but by mid-morning it had warmed up and the visibility was great. The ride to Schüpfheim was uneventful, save for over half a dozen hot air balloons rising gently in the warming air. I somehow forgot that I had the camera in the tankbag and didn’t take any pictures of them. Eventually it dawned on me that the camera was there and I started to snap away as we enjoyed the morning landscape.

Not all of Switzerland has mountains

The road leading out of Schüpfheim is a fun exercise in quick left-right-left rolling curves, the road tucked tightly against a mountain wall. It was a good way to get ready for the next section of road: Panoramastrasse. While I had taken this road on the way home last time, I thought that it would be a nice warm up before hitting the more major passes a little further on. The haze cut down on the views a little bit, but the entertaining road more than made up for it.

All three of us were brilliant in our gear

Haze over Sarnansee

Many times the road was barely one lane wide with frequent blind corners. It was best to keep to your side at all times and at a speed that you could safely maneuver from if necessary. There were other hazards, too, such as bicycles, tractors and this guy:

Your hostess for this ride

Eventually the haze burned off and we were left to gaze upon white-capped mountains, blue skies and deep green foliage. I kept my extra layer on but was otherwise comfortable.

Grimsel Pass can sneak up on you. It starts out in the trees and snakes up through the mountains ever so slowly. A switchback here, a long radius curve there and then suddenly you realize that you’re above the tree line and there’s the pass

We were not alone in coming up the pass

I took the short turn off to the Grimsel Hospiz where I had lunch the last time, but only because I thought that the guys would enjoy seeing the dam, the building and a nice quiet place to enjoy the view.

There was a lot less ice on the lake at the top this time, but a lot more activity in the parking lot. I chose a spot far from the maddening crowds, simply because I didn’t want to deal with the chaos. It helped that my fellow riders weren’t “bike crazy” and didn’t really care to see all of the other bikes and vehicles that were there. What was strange were the two people working with their SCUBA gear; it seemed an odd place to dive.

Of course I had to stop and take another picture from this vantage point

And the fun begins!

Looking across to Furka Pass

But first – a steam train!

The sightseeing train was a bit of a surprise to me, even though I’d see the tracks snake up the mountains before. But I came around a corner and noticed a cluster of vehicles stopped and I immediately slowed down. The gates had gone down and we sat there while the train slowly chugged its way by, tourists hanging out the windows as we all took pictures.

Picture from Furka Pass, in case you want to see how the snow levels have changed in two weeks

Being a weekend, the classic cars were out in force! There were sports cars, old-time classics and modern muscle cars at every turn. There were also a few campers and family sedans as well. We were not alone on today’s ride.

Classic Jaguar

I love the “guardrail”. Watch your corners, not the view!

Those campers were the bane of my existence for way too long!

We finally descended Furka Pass into the beautiful Ursern Valley. The ride down had been mixed frustration and freedom. First was the frustration of being behind TWO campers, neither of which felt compelled to use the rare turnout or driveway to move out of the way, and then the freedom once I managed to pass them on a very narrow straight, where I knew that the oncoming car wouldn’t fit and would have to wait anyway. Now I had the rest of the descent to myself (relatively speaking) and could enjoy the corners without restriction (and without photos).

Ursern Valley

Matternhorn Express

Welcome to Andermatt

We stopped here for lunch and were apparently not the only ones to have this in mind. During the time we were enjoying our lunch, no less than four tour busses had crawled through the main street and discharged their contents into the town. There were also motorcycles parked in every open spot, of every conceivable make and model. It was a busy place.

Our lunch was excellent and we enjoyed a short stroll through the town afterwards before getting on the bikes and heading for the next couple of passes.

From Andermatt it is a short trip to the Devil’s Bridge and the amazing engineering that the roads there entail. This time I tried to get more photos of the area, but it is difficult to capture.

Avalanche roofs visible

There was an accident on the road going in the other direction and the traffic had backed up and it looked brutal. By now the sun was hot and beating down on cars and motorcycles alike, and many people had gotten out of their cars and were wandering around. It would be a while before they moved again.

I found the entrance to Sustan Pass and decided that this road deserved my full attention – once we got past the few vehicles in front of us. Traffic was considerably lighter here and when I realized that no one was in front of us and no one was behind us, I didn’t want to stop for anything. I rationalized that if Bob wanted pictures, he could come back another time. It was fantastic.

At the top of the pass was another parade of classic cars. This guy parked next to me and really piqued my curiosity. It turns out it is a Cévennes from a French company (PGO) and has been around for a while, although this car has been manufactured only since 2005. Then some other cars came into the parking lot which, while interesting, caused a bit of concern as they blocked access and parked in awkward spots.

Sure, I could lose my license in that

Much to my delight, I saw many beetles today

The ride down Sustan Pass is one of my favorites and I didn’t hesitate to use my prior knowledge of the road to its full extent. Dan and Bob were behind me but I knew that they’d catch up – there was no where else to go. Not many photos from the descent, for obvious reasons.

Dan had been very excited to meet the friendly Swiss cows, so we took the turn to the Friendly Swiss Cow Valley. Unfortunately for Dan, we found the younger cow crowd, who weren’t as friendly as the older and more experienced herd I’d visited with before. But they still came over to say Hi.

Dan gets quite the audience with his storytelling abilities

Bob gets in on the action

At the end of the valley we were turned away from the restaurant because there was a wedding being held there. We retreated to another restaurant on the other side of the field, but not before enjoying a bit of Alpenhorn music. Here’s a recording I made while in Zurich a few years ago.

Our rides for the day

I am constantly amazed at the extent of the Swiss public transportation system. Here we were, at the end of a small, inconspicuous valley with barely any commerce or residential demands and yet the area was serviced by a bus, at least once an hour. You really can get anywhere you like in Switzerland without a car (or a motorcycle – but who would want that?). Just as we were getting ready to get back on the motorcycles and head home, a bus pulled up and over a dozen hikers materialized and boarded the bus. There’s a reason that the Swiss system is good – people use it. The bus did cause some problems on the way out of the valley, however, as the road is narrow and the corners are tight. Here we are waiting for a driver to back into a pullout so the bus can get by. Fortunately for us, there was another bus stop around the corner from here and we were able to get past the bus as well.

We retraced our footsteps from here, going back over Panoramastrasse and then through the countryside to Olten before hopping back onto the autobahn for the last 60km home. Our day was prolonged ever-so-slightly more, however, by detours within Basel for a big football game that was taking place in the stadium near our apartment. Not knowing the streets all that well meant for a couple of extra detours before we could park the bikes, over fourteen hours after we got on them.


  1. Rebekah says:

    Stunning. Your photos gave me shivers. Looking forward to exploring the area too (except I will prefer to be a hiker on a bus).

  2. Mike Trus says:

    beautiful pictures, and beautiful roads! Thanks for sharing. Im glad you and Dan are settling in. A lot of those curvy roads remind me of the one corner we have here in Michigan…

  3. Linda Reik says:

    Kind of makes me wonder what’s better…..being transferred to Basel or retiring to the Catskill Mountains of New York! Keep riding safely and enjoy your new adventures!

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