Around the Bodensee
May 6 - May 13, 1998
Impressions and Suggestions for Bodensee Bike
Back to Part I: The Tour
Links to Interesting (and even relevant) sites
Crossing the "Old Rhein" from Austria into Switzerland.
Touring by bicycle gives you a genuine sense of the countryside. You
get nothing comparable from a car or a train. On a bike, you smell the
fields, the wildflower blossoms, the hot asphalt. You notice things.
see the hawk in a tree and the rat on a fence. You smell the cows and
their bells. You hear the cuckoo in the distance. You feel the boards
the wooden bridge creak and clatter under you, and you smell the old,
dust raised by your tires. You drink ice-cold water from the fountain
the town square. You see the old man sitting by his front door watching
everything and nothing. You get bugs up your nose.
A bicycle’s relationship with the countryside is different from a
In a car, you see a grain field. On a bike, you see the field, the
stalks of grain, the clods of earth, the invading weeds, the insects,
small birds eating them, the hawks eating the small birds. You smell
grain when it’s cut and drying in the sun. In a car you get the big
and think you understand it. On a bike you get the details and you know
you understand them.
On a bike, the road has meaning. It has a reality that you experience
every moment; you feel its granularity, you respond to each of its
and you respect its breadth and solidity. In a car, the road is almost
an abstraction; you follow it like a video game as it twists under you.
It’s unreal. Not so on a bike. On a bike, the road has power and it has
intelligence. You push against it and it responds to your effort,
you uphill or sending you smoothly downhill. It knows where you will
You have to deal with it and negotiate with it. You and the road must
to an understanding.
Like a hiker, a bicyclist is part of the environment, not insulated
from it like a car, bus, or train traveler. This is both good and bad.
It is an essential and inevitable part of the sense of closeness to the
land, but it does require that you protect yourself from the extremes
heat, cold, sun, rain, dust, and the drying effects of the continuous
wind in your face. You must anticipate and prepare. You must, again,
with the environment.
Bugs can be a real problem. In a car, you just wash the windshield
the next gas stop. On a bike, you are the windshield. Coming out of
I rode through several swarms of gnats and God-knows-what other types
flying critters. Riding through farmland, I repeatedly
large numbers of black hovering insects that looked like wasps.
whatever they were, they didn’t sting. Still, there were a lot of them,
and they got under my helmet, under my shirt, in my eyes, in my mouth
up my nose. There were huge swarms on Reichenau; some were so large
I could hear them buzzing 50 yards away. When they get in your helmet
clothes, you have to stop and free them or they drive you nuts. I made
a lot of debugging stops.
Fortunately, I encountered few mosquitoes, bees, or other stinging
biting insects. I saw a few hornets and bumblebees, but these left me
In the spring, most of the fields in Switzerland have a cover crop
some type of grain. In May it’s being cut, dried, raked and collected.
Probably for silage; I don’t know. There are also fields of a plant
has bright yellow blooms. I was told that this is rape, for canola
The cows all have cowbells! How quaint! Mostly they are the
cup-shaped Swiss cowbell, but there are also large solid brass bells,
heavy. I wonder if they give the cows neck-aches?
In the US, we are accustomed to having farms in one place and the town
in another. It ain’t that way here! The barns are usually along the
drag through town, sometimes with a manure pile proudly displayed out
I’ll bet it gets really ripe around June or July. The animals are kept
from wandering into the roads, usually by electric fences, but I
that they are sometimes driven down the main roads and perhaps watered
at the city fountains. I have even seen farm animals, sheep and cows,
the city of Zürich.
One of the most common crops is apples. The apple orchards usually
a large number of small, closely spaced trees, severely pruned. The
have trellises, but the trees are not actually espaliered onto them as
they seem to be in Holland; I suspect that the trellises are used to
the relatively weak branches on which the apples are produced. There
also some pear trees and some stone-fruit trees of some kind; I’m not
if the latter are serious fruit producers or are mainly for decoration
and personal use. They are not in big orchards, as are the apples.
Man, do these folks like to eat outdoors! If the weather allows it,
dinner is outdoors, even if the area is not especially pleasant. The
of the bike trip was the first really nice Sunday in a long time, and
was outside. In one case I saw a couple eating at what appeared to be a
card table in front of the barn, right next to the manure pile. Most
were more civilized, however; many were setting up large tables for
dinner, often under a large tree. They used good linens and crystal,
often had a dozen or more place settings.
In good weather, the outdoor restaurants were busy all day and well
into the evening. From mid-morning on, it was lunch, drinks, ice cream,
drinks, more drinks, some conversation, drinks, and finally
aperitifs, dinner, after-dinner drinks, and evening cocktails. Many
just sit down, order a beer or a glass of wine, and spend a couple
reading the paper or just watching the world go by. The restaurants
my hotel in Winterthur were still hopping at 10:00 at night, and I
that their business eased off before midnight.
With good weather, pleasant surroundings, and a little shade, the
restaurants are indeed very pleasant. I got into the outdoor dining
very easily. You can have a nice, relaxed dinner, reduce the beer
of the universe a little, and just kick back. I don’t do enough of
The Bodensee Bike Route
One of my concerns about the Bodensee bike route was the possibility
that it might be too sterile, a European version of what I had in LA:
designed mainly to keep bikes away from interesting things like, for
the open road. This worry was partly valid. There were a lot of
wonderful stretches, mostly from Stein through Bregenz, but much of the
route along the south shore was pretty dismal: narrow, unpaved, and
with lots of loose gravel. I made a good decision to abandon the bike
at this point and to take the roads. The roads are pretty good,
Usually they have a bike lane, often a separate path, and the traffic
light. When you take minor roads, the traffic is almost nonexistent
most importantly, the scenery is wonderful. (Actually, I came across
crews paving the bike path just north of Konstanz. So, by next summer
a lot of the more dismal stretches might be paved.)
In many places the bike route is fine. It leads you through cities
in a sensible, comfortable way, usually along the flattest route. It
through mixed terrain: forests, fields, and occasionally, when
roads. Still, it is important not to adhere slavishly to the bike
simply to say that you have done the entire Bodensee route. (For one
there are several places, especially in Austria, where there are a
of alternate routes; you really can’t follow them all.)
The route goes wherever necessary. It follows no set of rules. It goes
through alleys, parking lots, and residential streets. It goes through
forests on gravel roads and along the shore on paved paths. It cuts
harbors and pedestrian areas in towns and cities. And it connects with
the national bike routes and other marked town-to-town routes.
Most importantly, whatever its limitations, the route is a statement
that bikes belong here. It states unequivocally that touring by bike is
a legitimate thing to do. It is not something you may do only with the
tolerance of the automobiles, as it would be in the US; the place is
for bicycles. Bikes belong.
Suggestions for the Tour
One important suggestion: take a look at the Trento
Bike Pages for links to more bicycle-touring information. There are
links to lots of delightful tour reports and loads of practical
from people who do much more of this than I do. Other links you
see are listed below:
Bike Pages: Probably the best, comprehensive bike-touring site on
Germany: A really nice site devoted entirely to bike touring in
A lot of the information is useful for touring in general, not just
Bicycle Touring in Austria: General information on bicycling in Austria.
Radweg: Lots of good info; in several languages.
bicycle routes: Everything you've heard about Swiss meticulousness
is true. This site, complete and detailed, proves it.
Sprachinstitut: A German languge school in Lindau. their field
involve bicycling in the area. Sounds like fun to me.
A bicycle is essential. It's pretty tough to do a bike tour without
one. Some suggestions:
What to Bring
- Bring your own bike; don't plan on renting one. This way you can
that the bike fits you properly, is in good repair, and is geared
I have rented bikes in Europe, and although they have been OK, they
were not up to the level of my own little purple chariot.
- My bike is a Univega, a touring geometry, and it fits me
is not a super-expensive model, and, frankly, you are better
without something too fancy: it's easier to get parts and repairs if
and the overall design is likely to be more rugged and suitable for
- The ol' tire quandary: I use good-quality 700-32C high-pressure
These are great on roads, but, unfortunately, there are a lot of
paths on this route. A slightly larger, softer tire (700-35C at about
PSI) might be a better compromise. The skinny little tires beloved of
Greg LeMonde wannabees are totally unsuited (in my opinion) for use on
real roads; you'd have to be absolutely nuts to use them for this kind
- I put my bike in a Performance case for the trip to Switzerland.
is a little expensive, $250, but it sure makes life easy. The
is much easier to handle than a box, and it protects the bike
Remember, one dent can pretty much ruin an aluminum frame, and European
baggage handlers are a bunch of gorillas. I've sat in airplanes
luggage being thrown ten or fifteen feet into the baggage carts.
- Be sure to have a seat that you can tolerate for several hours of
I spent a lot of time and money trying to find a seat I liked. I
settled on an inexpensive gel seat which, in combination with
clothing, is actually quite comfortable. I can spend hours on it
any sore-tush problems.
Since I was staying in hotels, I carried only about 35 pounds of
in rear panniers, an under-seat pack, and a small front pack. Here's (I
think) a complete inventory:
This was quite adequate; I didn't need anything else. (However, I
try to go to the opera, either.)
- Helmet. (If you don't wear one, you are insane!)
- Cycling gloves.
- Pants clips.
- Waist pack (very useful!)
- Two pairs of hiking shorts from REI, with velcro-closed pockets.
- One pair of long pants.
- Two pairs of bicycling undershorts (I like the Cannondale better
- Two pairs conventional undershorts.
- Three tab-front tee shirts.
- Three pairs of white cotton socks.
- One pair of ordinary athletic shoes (Sorry, I'm not a believer in
shoes, and the ones that clip to pedals are totally impractical for
type of trip.)
- Cotton sweater (easy to wash, not itchy).
- Light nylon anorak, with hood. This is mainly for rain, but
with the sweater is surprisingly warm.
- Nylon pants (for rain and warmth).
- Toiletries, laundry soap, pre-moistened towelettes, small
sunscreen (ever hopeful!)
- Camera, extra film, pen, and paper.
- Maps, copies of pages from guide books.
- Headlight and taillight, extra set of batteries.
- Two large water bottles.
- Tools, tire pump, spare cables, spokes, tube, patch kit, chain
roll of duct tape.
- Pannier rain covers and plenty of plastic bags. I lined each
a large plastic grocery bag.
- Bike U-lock and six-foot cable.
- A few bungee cords.
You will notice that I don't bring conventional bike clothes. I find
that the Cannondale undershorts combined with ordinary shorts that do
have any troublesome seams are fine. I strongly recommend that you wear
conventional clothes and leave the haught couture de la bicyclette
(apologies to those of you who really speak French) at home. By wearing
conventional clothes, you are more appropriately dressed for museums,
and sightseeing. Most of Europe is pretty informal these days, but the
standard US bicyclist's clown outfit, although supposedly
is just not seen in many parts of Europe, and is inappropriate attire
many purposes. Dressing inappropriately is one of the hallmarks of
American tourists. Don't do it.
Traveling and Getting Around
- Bring a good map. 200,000-scale Michelin maps are OK.
- Switzerland has nine national bike routes. These are marked
go through all parts of the country. There are also thousands of little
red signs showing the most bicycle-friendly routes between towns. The
are well marked. These should be your first choice for getting around,
even if (especially if) the road they use does not appear on
- Don't be afraid of bicycling through cities in Switzerland. Most
marked bike lanes or separate paved paths.
- Don't be afraid of major roads in Switzerland. Major rural roads
have bike paths, but minor routes don't, so often it's better to take a
- In Switzerland, you can take your bike on a train very easily.
you have to put it on a baggage car, but often you can load it right
a passenger car (selbst verladen is the term they use) in a
area where it hangs from the front wheel by a hook. I didn't do this
but it is a common sight. You do need to pay about $7.00 extra, however.
Food, Water, Restrooms, Shelter, and Other
- I don't think I would ever take an organized bike tour. For one
they're expensive. Unless you're camping, tours often cost a couple
bucks a day; even camping, you can drop a hundred a day. On a self tour
with that budget, you can live pretty extravagantly (not that I'd want
to) and buy your way out of any problems that arise. The advantages of
a tour are (1) for better or worse, it's planned for you, (2) for
or worse, you have some "companions" for the trip, and (3) you don't
to carry your luggage. Many people take tours because they feel
but unless you're extraordinarily timid, this certainly isn't necessary
in Europe. The advantage of a self tour is simple: it's an adventure!
- I went alone and I'm quite sure that I'd rather do it that way.
do bring a companion, be sure that he or she is well matched to your
Otherwise, one of you will want to continue while the other is
or will want to take that steep hill while the other wants the low road.
- I took Swissair to Zurich because it was nonstop, convenient, and
They did, however, charge $75 each way for the bike. Other airlines
charge extra, but they are less convenient. Take your pick.
- Language is less of a problem than you might expect. Hotel clerks
English, and finding an English-speaking waiter, especially in
is usually not difficult. It does help a enormously to know even a
of the local language, however, and it will make your trip more
My German is somewhat south of pitiable, and I got by just fine.
- Although a lot of bike tourists get off the plane, put the bike
and hit the road, I strongly suggest taking a day or two for jet-lag
I travel to Europe a lot and don't have much trouble with jet lag, but
I still can't imagine riding long distances on the first day.
- Storing your bike case and extra luggage may be a problem. I
in my office at the university; if you don't have friends willing to
your stuff, you might be able to get a hotel reservation for your last
night and store it at the hotel. My hotel was willing to do this. Might
cost a few bucks, though.
- Cash cards and PIN numbers are the way to get money in Europe
exchange rates are good and charges are minimal or zero. Before you
find out which European banks will honor your card. However, be warned:
if you make an error, the cash machine may eat your card! Errors are
to make; after all, the machine's instructions may not be in English.
for safety, only use the cash machine when the bank is open.
- Ask locally about bike paths and routes. There are literally
of these in Switzerland. I found out about a path along the Glatt river
almost by accident; it turned out to be one of the most wonderful rides
I've ever taken.
Preparing for Bad Weather
- Restrooms, water fountains and such things are not available in
park, as they are in the US. In Switzerland, every town, big or little,
has at least one public fountain with drinking water running
into a trough. Sometimes there are fountains along streets as well.
you see a sign saying Kein Trinkwasser, ("not drinking water"),
the city fountains in every Swiss town are safe. (Unless you're a cow,
use the water directly from the fountain, not the trough!)
- There are plenty of public restrooms if you look for them,
train stations, no matter how small. And, of course, the route goes
a lot of forests...
- Train stations are an important resource for travelers in Europe,
what mode of transport you use. They often have restrooms, shower
restaurants, shopping, maps, tourist information, pickpockets, grocery
stores, street lunatics, you name it. Most ordinary stores are closed
Sundays, but in train stations most will be open. A train station might
be the only place where you can find groceries on Sunday.
- There is no shortage of hotels on the Bodensee; remember, this is
area. I was a little ahead of the tourist crush so I had no problems
rooms. In midsummer, however, it might be another story.
- There is also no shortage of neat little cafes where you can stop
bite to eat and something to drink. A mid-afternoon stop for ice cream
at an open-air cafe overlooking the lake is one of the most pleasant
you can imagine. (Well, OK, that experience is indeed more
but not by much.)
- In this part of Europe your hotel room will include a continental
bread, fruit, coffee, juice, cereal. This is precisely what you should
eat when you are bicycling. Take advantage of the free food and eat a
breakfast. Similar fare is fine for lunch. I always stopped at a bakery
and/or a grocery store and got a chunk of bread or pastries, some
and occasionally a chocolate bar. (Hey, this is Switzerland!)
was a regular, restaurant meal; however, I found that this should be
on carbohydrates and light on fat (not easy to do at any restaurant!)
conventional wisdom about the benefits of a high-carbohydrate diet
is correct. (I suggest that you ignore the "retro" philosophy among
self-appointed bicycling experts, writing in enthusiast magazines, who
recommend a high-fat diet. These people are morons.)
Fortunately, I had California weather for the whole trip. However,
weather on many of my day tours was not so nice. I got quite a lot of
riding in the rain, added to my experience last year bicycle commuting
in Sweden. (Click here
the story.) Some ideas:
- Obviously, you need a good, lightweight rain suit. I like having
hood that fits under my helmet; it's little advantage keeping your body
dry if your head is soaked. However, if you do keep dry, riding in the
rain can be a lot of fun. I enjoyed it.
- Many wet things can be much more slippery than you might imagine.
took a spill on a wet railroad crossing. Somehow, the bike slipped
on the rails, even though I crossed them at a right angle. Be
careful! The last
thing you need on a vacation trip is an accident.
- Rain will get into things that you would swear were completely
My panniers collected a little moisture even though they were covered.
I use pannier covers and put things in plastic bags. My
bag leaked like a congressional staff member. I brought plastic bags
- Similarly, keep a few plastic bags and rubber bands to cover
you don't want to get wet. Your cyclometer, for example.
- Most hotels do not have indoor bike parking. If it's raining,
will get wet. You will want to cover critical parts with plastic bags:
cyclometer, seat, handlebar.
- Again an obvious note: bring a bike that can stand getting a
- Use the time-honored technique of layering to keep warm. I
sweater, which I layered with the nylon rain anorak. This combination
warm enough for anything anyone might experience in summer.
- Lots of people, I know, swear by Gore-Tex. However, all the
I've seen are $200 and up. Do you really want to leave a $250 jacket in
panniers on a parked bike? Or carry it around with you on a hot summer
Miscellaneous Things You Might Not Think Of
- When I get to a hotel, I take a shower and wash the clothes I
that day. I roll them in towels to remove as much water as possible and
hang them up to dry. If the items are not too heavy, they should be dry
by morning. If they're still a little damp, I put them loosely in the
of the panniers and finish drying them the next evening, if necessary.
I put on fresh clothes, head out to dinner, and order a schnitzel
and a large German beer. Heaven.
- Next day, I wear the clothes from the previous evening.
- Roll your clothes instead of folding them. This minimizes
you don't pack things too tightly, they won't wrinkle too much. If your
evening clothes are a little wrinkled, and it matters to you, put them
on a hanger in the bathroom while you take a shower. This will remove
- Timing is a little strange. Most restaurants outside of big
offer breakfast until about 8:00, so usually you're on the road around
9:00. After four or five hours, you've gone 40-50 miles or more, and
might be ready to call it a day. But it's still early afternoon, much
early to check into a hotel. If there are things to see and do, this is
not a problem, but often you will be stuck with a full afternoon to
and you might be too tired to do much. The solution is to plan
Make sure you have identified lots of interesting places to stop and
to see along the route. Every day, take a couple sightseeing breaks.
your time; don't rush.
- The only really hilly part of the trip is along the Bodanuk
of Mainau. You can avoid this stretch by taking a ferry from Konstanz
Meersburg; however, you'll miss one of the nicest parts of the trip.
- Fatigue and oxygen starvation really affect your judgment. The
I had trouble finding a hotel was one in which I passed up a perfectly
suitable place for reasons that make no sense to me today. But they
perfectly logical at the time. Take plenty of rest stops; don't try to
cover huge distances so you can brag about it when you get home. Relax.
Enjoy it. That's why you're doing this, yes?
- Eat enough and drink a lot of water. This is not the time to be
There is certainly no shortage of bakeries and cafes along the route.
mid-morning and mid-afternoon for a snack (the Italian ice cream
throughout the area is great!)
- My training ritual of two outings totaling about 70 miles per
several months before the trip was quite adequate. I could have gone
farther than my 40-50 miles per day. I had no physical problems at all.
- Panniers put a lot of weight over the bike's rear wheels. I had
that this might hurt the bike's stability, but in fact the change in
was almost imperceptible. I did notice a very slight tendency to
but I got used to this in a few minutes. However, the situation might
much worse if I were carrying 60 pounds on the rear or using a bike
was less stable to begin with. (I've heard stories of bikes becoming
unstable when loaded heavily; test yours before you leave home!) If you
carry a lot of stuff, split the weight between rear and front panniers.
- Security: For sure, theft is less of a worry in Switzerland than
Angeles, but it certainly is not unknown, and losing a wallet is a real
possibility. I put my passport and a set of keys to my bike lock in a
of my waist pack that never was opened. Half my cash and a credit card
went into the waist pack as well; the rest was in a wallet in a
pocket. A greater problem is that the contents of panniers--or the
themselves--can easily be stolen when you park the bike. I used a cable
to lock the panniers to the bike, and just didn't leave anything of
in them. I used a large "U" lock to lock the bike to a solid object.
- A good, detailed local map is essential. The
maps designed for automobile touring are not detailed enough for
I found a wonderful 75,000-scale map of the Bodensee area, showing the
bike routes, but the ubiquitous 200,000-scale Michelin maps are
for most purposes. Remember: on a bike, one wrong turn can wreck your
Created 7 July, 1998
Copyright (C) 1998 Stephen
A. Maas, All Rights Reserved