Today's e-bikes are game changers. No longer bulky misfits, today's e-bikes propel elite athletes and beginners alike across those craggy summer mountain peaks. But the Verbier e-bike experience takes it to another level. Between mud, sweat, cheese and fine dining, here's what it's all about.
The Verbier E-bike Experience
Disclosure: I travelled to Switzerland last summer as a guest of Verbier Tourism. As ever, as always, I kept the right to write what I like. Really, otherwise, what is the point?!
The last time I tried this, it didn’t end well.
Perched up on tip toes, sunlight slanting through the spokes I wondered how today's mountain adventure would go.
Last time, I was in San Marino, with a rogue instructor, a gaggle of comrades and a vertiginous, uneven descent. I had to cut short the hour long excursion and make my way home, tail between my wheels.
This time, the slopes of Switzerland stood ready to test my mettle. And I stood alone. A full day of cycling stretched across my itinerary as a cross between a self-inflicted sense of duty and a thrilling dare. My head tried to ignore the troops of mud and sweat soaked lycra troops that limped back towards their hotels last night. My heart said fat chance.
What makes the Verbier e-bike Experience different
But this e-bike had another trick up its Gore-Tex sleeve: an incentive. Four of them, in fact, as part of the Rando Gourmande, a gourmet tasting experience arranged across the Swiss peaks.
My guide, Vincent Boucon, consulted his maps, ran through the machine and promised to show me some mercy.
Helmets fastened, brakes engaged, superstitions performed and we were off.
E-biking in Verbier
Verbier is best known, of course, for its winter sports pursuits. On the one hand, this glamazon of the Alps attracts the rich and famous, everyone from Richard Branson to James Blunt and Prince William.
But it's not only a place to see and be seen.
"To ski in Verbier, you must have passion," said my hiking guide, Cherries, as we crunched through the snow, even in summer. "It's not an easy ski in, ski out place. Verbier has some of the toughest routes in the world. It means business."
And resting on my chalet balcony, watching the clouds drift by the night before, this filled me with fear.
- Are you enjoying this article on e-biking in Switzerland? Check out this article on hiking in Switzerland in Appenzellerland.
A learning curve
Because, dear reader, what I possess in passion, I lack in more tangible skills. I am keen, I am enthusiastic, I am ready to give anything a go.
But I am not, it has to be said, a natural. If you want to know who is going to crash their snowmobile, flip their quad bike and even, somehow, somersault their segway... Well, that would be me. And that was before I had foot operations and my abs fell apart after pregnancy (that's not an expression; it's a thing that happens.)
Quite honestly, I doubt Vincent was prepared for the work ahead of him.
What is an e-bike?
For those not yet in the know, an e-bike is not another term for a motorbike. It's like a normal bicycle in that you have to know how to ride and you have to, you know, use your legs to pedal yourself. The breaks work the same and even the bell goes ding.
The difference is the motor that powers up when the going gets tough. There are typically three settings: boost, turbo and please-god-help-me-now (or words to that effect.)
The other common feature is a saddle that goes up and down with a flick of your thumb. It can be your own carousel ride as long as you remember to keep pedalling. The idea is to raise the saddle while riding to get a better angle between your knees, hips and feet. You lower it when you stop so that you don't end up with slowly fall to the side, or quickly fall on the crossbar. And this was where things had gone wrong in San Marino. Fifty saddle sores in a minute and something had to change.
Downhill in Verbier
The Verbier e-bike works perfectly, however, the saddle rising and falling with the barest of touches, a well oiled, toned, honed and docile beast that took me gingerly through Verbier town.
"The first twenty minutes or so is just downhill," called out Vincent, in an effort, in vain, to reassure.
Uphill on the mountains is fine. Too tiring, too hopeless and you just run out of steam and get out and walk. Downhill, on the other hand, and you run into any and everything and everyone below you.
But Vincent, touched at my effort to pronounce his name correctly, had thought of this already.
"Keep your feet balanced on the pedals, bend your knees, lean back and stick your bottom out. And keep your fingers on the brakes."
Pedals, knees, bottom, brakes. And just like that, things fell into place.
Croissants and cold cuts
I glided down to our first stop on the Rando Gourmande, a terraced chalet with coffee and croissants, thick purple lavender and a magnificent mountain view.
Settling into a rhythm, I even dared to think I was enjoying myself along the next stage to the charcuterie. Sliced cheese, cold cuts of sausage and salami and thick slabs of bread arrived, arranged on a slate mat.
Would we like wine?
Do I look crazy?!
No, thank you. I'll keep my concentration for now.
Are we having fun yet?
Next up we went down, down, down, through farms, past cowbells, through forests, past streams. Visions of the end of ski days swept by, those gentle blue runs that take you curving back home.
Looking back through my photos now, I can tell the point at which I began to relax. The moment when Vincent's patient tutoring paid off and I fell in love with e-biking in Verbier.
I don't have a photo of the moment. But it was not long after I saw a woman e-bike up a steep mountain track - with a baby in a sling.
Sure, elite athletes and the adrenaline crazy might throw themselves down the steepest dirt tracks going. But here, between the curling roads and summer retired ski slopes, you really could find routes for everyone.
A little bit of France and Italy
Verbier lies in the French speaking part of Switzerland but close to Italy, and saucisse pur boeuf with ratatouille and polenta arrived as our e-bike lunch. In Herculean portions.
Thus fortified, Vincent really surprised me. Or perhaps I surprised myself?
"Do you want to go a little further?"
Imperceptible pause. "Yes!"
And so we spent the final half of a sunshine soaked day. Rising and falling, on saddles and mountains, crossing streams, flying past farms, passing cheese vending machines and chatting with cows (more or less.)
Our final stop, a bar in a picturesque stone studded village was closed. Were we too early? Were we too late? It didn't matter, we rose and fall once more, zipping through the mountains to the base of the cable car.
Because, yes, e-biking is adventurous but is not crazy. At the end of the day, the bike slots onto the outside where skis and snowboards usually go and a trusty bubble of engineering carries you back to Verbier.
Trading my e-bike for a cool Valaisanne beer, I took a seat on a bench in the sun. Clean, well-heeled people sauntered past and I glanced down at my muddy, sweat ridden self and smiled.
Perhaps this time tomorrow, they too would understand why.
Why e-bike in Verbier?
- It's fun and a great way to enjoy the mountains!
- You don't have to be super fit to cycle the mountains.
- If you are super-fit, it can help you travel further and reach more complex trails.
- Verbier loves its food and you'll find trails that link between great culinary hot spots.
- Verbier also loves its night life. Get ready for après- bike.
- The exercise can make you feel better about eating all that Swiss cheese (in Verbier, you can also make your own cheese.)
- As a ski resort, Verbier already has plenty of spas and saunas to ease away any muscle aches and pains at the end of the day.
- If you want to take a day off from e-biking, you can easily hike instead.
Verbier E-bike Festival
The Verbier e-bike festival is the largest of its kind in the world and takes place every August in the heart of Valais. It's open to all abilities and includes events for road, downhill and cross-country cyclists. You'll also find the Rando Gourmande route from this article.
With scenic races, guided tours, non guided routes and culinary hot spots, the Verbier e-bike festival keeps you busy during the day in the saddle. And then again in the evening with the famed après bike.
Bike Rental in Verbier
Renting an e-bike in Verbier is easy. As a world class ski resort, the place is comfortable with getting people out on the slopes with the kit that they need.
Beginners needn't worry as bike rental companies will talk you through what you need, along with your guide.
For the more advanced among you, you will find experts who can talk all day on the subject, too.
What to know about summer in Verbier
Verbier Official Website
For up to date information about Verbier, visit their website www.verbier.ch
How to get to Verbier
Easy Jet operates flights to Geneva, Switzerland from London Gatwick, Manchester, Bristol, Edinburgh, and Glasgow from as little as £23pp one-way (although be aware that the Economy Light fare only includes hand luggage).
About the Verbier Infinite Playground (VIP) Pass
The VIP Pass offers free entry or discounts to more than 25 of Verbier’s top activities and attractions including:
- Free admission to mountain lifts on foot
- 50% discount on mountain lifts for mountain bikers
- Free transport by postal bus
- More than 45 free activities or at reduced prices
The VIP Pass is delivered to every guest staying a minimum of one night in the region and paying the tourist tax.
For more information visit http://www.verbier.ch/en/vip-pass.htm
Where to stay in Verbier
Try the centrally located and atmospheric 4* Hotel de Verbier from 186chfs/£149 per night per room for two people sharing (£74.50pp) Please visit https://hoteldeverbier.com/ or call +41 27 564 40 00 for more information.
From Geneva to Verbier by Train
The Swiss Transfer Ticket provides a return journey between your arrival point at the airport or Swiss border and Verbier. It costs £131.50pp in second class and £211pp in first class. The timetable may look as though things are cutting it fine but the trains really do run like clockwork in Switzerland. If your ticket says that a two minute transfer window is all that is required, then you will find yourself transferred with one minute to spare, wondering why you have to wait ;-)