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Cycling Is the Best Way to See the Swiss Alps

The Alps are the perfect combination of struggle and satisfaction — long, steep climbs rewarded with idyllic vistas.

Amid the clean, modern minimalism of the Zürich airport, the tram’s speaker system, mid-ride, supplies an entirely opposite, anachronistic Swiss experience. As we fly through dark tunnels of rock, quiet audio of cowbells, bovine mooing and a distinct yodel pipes out of the stereo system. The experience is disorienting. It feels like a schtick — a Disneyland curiosity among the clean, cold world of modern Europe.

A day later, in the mountains outside Lucerne, the noises one hears are actual cows with actual cowbells and their ecstatic or perturbed (who knows a cow’s mind?) mooing. The yodeling, in this situation, comes from pains of exertion as a group of cyclists wrangled lightweight, carbon, Swiss bicycles up a 12-kilometer climb with an average incline of 9 percent.

The Swiss countryside is a parody of itself — every stereotype comes true. The chalets have A-frame sloped roofs and their windows are bedecked with flowers. Hillsides are a shade of green so saturated it looks digitally enhanced. Bus stop benches at 5,320 feet are painted a crisp, bright Swiss red. White clouds shroud far-off mountain peaks and the blue sky, when it does break through, is crisp, gorgeous, untainted.

If those roads weren’t so perfectly paved, and if the hillsides weren’t so vibrantly green, and if the rivers and streams didn’t offer such auditory respite from your own hard breathing, it might actually be miserable.

All this is easy enough to observe from a seat on a tourist bus. But it’s on a big day of riding — with 83 miles and 7,700 feet of climbing — that Switzerland really comes into perspective. These careening switchbacks that wind their way into the cloud cover, they must be labored over to be enjoyed. And if those roads weren’t so perfectly paved, and if the hillsides weren’t so vibrantly green, and if the rivers and streams didn’t offer such auditory respite from your own hard breathing, it might actually be miserable.

There came a point on the second big effort of the day — a 16-kilometer climb with an average of 6 percent grade — when the phrase “dig deep” was redefined and every leg muscle was left pondering its potential. And yet, as a cyclist and an entry-level aesthete, despite the pain and the suffering and the aches and the extremely sore ass, I felt there was quite literally no other place to be.

Departing out of Zürich, the tram and I shared a secret. Others, perhaps, heard the cows and the cowbells and the yodeling as it strummed up in the subterranean tube and thought it was only a display of a nostalgic past — Switzerland as it believes itself to be. I thought it fake when I arrived. But once you’ve ridden through those mountains and stared into the black, lusterless eyes of Swiss bovines, you know that this is not a quaint falsity. This is Switzerland, frozen in its own caricature, and I hope — for any of the future bold who dare climb its mountains — that it will never change.

Capture the Anachronistic Quaintness


On the ride I brought the new Fujifilm X-T10 ($699), a lightweight (381 grams) and portable (4.7 x 3.3 x 1.6 inches) mirrorless camera that offers 16.3 million effective pixels to capture the moment. One of the main selling points of the camera is its speed, and in riding and shooting — quickly hopping off the bike and prepping for a shot, then shooting a moving object — this speed was imperative for performance. There’s a half-second start-up time, a 0.06-second autofocus time, and 0.05-second shutter time lag. So, in just over half a second, you’re shooting. The X-T10 can also shoot up to 8.0 fps, and the scene can be framed through the real-time viewfinder or the 3.0-inch tilt screen.

Paired with the XF 18-55 mm F2.8-4 OIS lens, the camera was a lightweight, highly versatile shooter that effectively replaced a DSLR. It allowed me to comfortably carry a camera on an intense ride, something I wouldn’t have even attempted to do with a DSLR. After the riding, it transitioned to shooting low-light stills at the Eurobike conference, excelling there as well with its ISO 51,200 capabilities. Also, the Fujifilm Camera Remote app made wi-fi transfer of the shots simple, for quick uploading to Instagram or editorial review. For those traveling or living and shooting an active, motion-based lifestyle, this new X-T10 is a travel companion that packs plenty in an extremely compact case.

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