I’m riding up a tiny, Swiss road that has 27% gradient and it keeps going up at this rate for 3 kilometres. For a couple of months of the year, it’s impassable due to snow. It’s only a very narrow road with rough tarmac and it’s not used enough for even the Swiss to clear the snow during the winter. This little road climbs up through woodland on the north face of a mountain in the pre-Alps part of western Switzerland. The sun takes time to get through the trees and dry out the road. In summer, it’s one of the cooler (in temperature) climbs.
Like all climbs, it has it’s tough parts and also some places to briefly part-recover. Lungs, muscles and chains all get a stretching on this road. Traffic is minimal. Weekends are ‘busier’ than other days. There are lots of side trails and forestry tracks so I could leave the constant climbing and head out in a new direction if I wanted to. Today, I’m doing the full road, up, and it’s always good to stop near the bottom to fill up my water bottle with really cold mountain water. It’s tastes so much better than tap water.
The road will end at the start of the final summit climb, which is part farm trail and part single track, and is just as steep as the road. There is a ski lift that also terminates at the summit. From the summit, there are three ways down on a bicycle; the road and track I cycled up, a very narrow, single track, which usually has lots of walkers on it, or a very gravelly, and winding track. The latter is wide enough for a tractor and is relatively smooth. There are some big rain gullies across it, so care has to be taken to bunny hop these, but apart from these gullies and the sharp ‘elbow corners’, it’s a ‘brakes off-ish’ run down the mountain. It’s November, the sun is shining and this ride is not a wet or muddy affair. So far, there are no bears in the story, yet🐻.
I’m doing the ride on a recent Cilo acquisition that makes me smile every time I think about it. You may have read about my friend Stefan’s amazing garage in previous posts, and I recently visited him with, unwisely, an empty van. I returned home with two NOS (new-old-stock) mountain bikes and an amazing 1930s bike workshop stand. Stefan had recently acquired a lot of late 1990s, early 2000s bike stock and parts that had been sitting in a big room for decades, and included in the haul were two bikes of interest to me. One is a UK manufactured Kirk, magnesium framed MTB, which I will sell, and the other is a 1994 Cilo Ranger MTB, which I will keep. You’ll no doubt be aware that I’m a fan of Swiss Cilo bikes and whilst my two favourite Cilos are a track bike and a road racer, I’ve been keen to find an early Cilo MTB that was made in Switzerland, and not a later, branded import. Get ready for the ‘bear🐻’ links now……
Cilo has had some brief fame in the mountain biking world when Swiss downhill mountain bike rider, Urs Thoma, narrowly missed a bear cub that ran across the track during his downhill run in the 1993 Grundig World Cup in Hunter Mountain, USA. If you haven’t seen it, you can see it here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oZ7uMyrD5N8&list=PLEIXYOkyqT_y-qraMcgVn9IZUs6GplX01&index=10 There are two very ironic things about this incident. Firstly, the name Urs, which originates from the Latin name Ursus, actually means “bear”. It is a popular name in German-speaking Switzerland due to the historical link with Saint Ursus. Secondly, the national emblem of Switzerland’s capital city, Bern, is a black bear. Urs was clearly angry in the video about having his run stopped abruptly by an animal that ‘bears’ his name and is also on the flag of his home country’s capital city. However, my heart is with the poor bear cub that was obviously not happy about having its mountain full of people that day.
Back to the Cilo bike that Urs was riding, which was a heavily modified Cilo mountain bike that had both front and rear suspension added to it. It was an interesting looking bike and I wonder where it is today as I believe it was the only one ever made. Urs won the Swiss National downhill racing championship the following year, in 1994. I understand that no bears were involved🐻.
There was another famous Cilo MTB model that was called the Cherokee and was used in 1992 by the national cycling team, and to my knowledge, none of these bikes were ever involved in an incident with a bear cub either🐻.
My new Cilo is an amazing time-warp find. On getting the bike home, all it needed was a wash to get rid of some dust, a polish, and then a full shop-style new bike commission. It was exactly as it had left the factory with pedals and parts all in a bag. The tyres had cracked with age and zero use, so I replaced them with a new pair of Terra One tyres.
Anyway, back to the ride. I reach the summit and then decide to take the gravelly track down to the bottom. I ride downhill fast, but sensibly as I’m relying on early 1990’s brake technology to slow me down into the tight hairpin bends, and the new tyres to maintain grip and traction. I’m also hoping that nothing like a bear cub, or dear crosses the track as I’m passing. It’s a fast and gravelly descent that realises a big smile on my face as I ride.
Here’s a sign off to this post, and with a final ‘bear’ link. I mix my riding from the velodrome to the road, to MTB to eMTB and more, and it’s great fun, develops my bike skills and makes for more varied and epic rides. I’m not going to pay the mortgage with any prize money from my cycling, but that’s not the point. I’ve worked and aspired to have a great standard and quality of cycling life, which is caught in between every other part of my world. The only other increasingly important thing to take into account is where we ride, particularly off-road, off-piste and away from areas that are protected. The world is a small place now and we need to ensure those bear cubs have somewhere to play too🐻
All photos by the Author