Gravel ride below the Matterhorn in Cyclist – Off-Road magazine

Last modified: May 23, 2021

Cover Boys!

Last September I had the chance to do some amazing gravel riding above Zermatt, Switzerland with the editor of Cyclist – Off-Road magazine, Stu Bowers. As the local guide, I felt slightly inadequate since I’d only ridden a few parts of the route before, but I’d done my research on the rest and was pretty sure it would be fun riding with gravel bikes. It turned out to be even better than expected; some tough gradients but the dirt roads were decent quality and the scenery was incredible, with the Matterhorn always looming nearby and we rode up close to giant glaciers.

We had a top-level mountain sports photographer with us in the shape of Dan Milner – he really knew how to place himself for the best shots and handled the constantly-changing sun, cloud and shadow conditions superbly. He rented an e-MTB so he could sprint ahead or catch back up to us easily and it was great that we didn’t need a support vehicle.

Stu Bowers keen to warm up after an early-morning start

Dan Milner in his natural environment setting up the shot

It’s therefore no surprise that we made the front cover of the Spring 2020 edition of Cyclist Off-Road and have a photo-heavy 17 pages dedicated to the article. The magazine is packed full of other great ride reports from Wales to Australia plus an interview with Tom Ritchey about gravel riding in California back in the 1970s and an interview with the winner of the Transcontinental Race No. 7, 2019 Fiona Kolbinger.

Riding next to glaciers

Cyclist – Off-Road is a magazine devoted to gravel riding and I highly recommend getting a copy. Unfortunately, due to the Coronavirus disruptions, at the moment you can only buy it through their online shop. Shipping to me in Switzerland took less than a week, so within the UK it should be just a couple of days. There’s no digital version available.

So many great roads and views

Thanks to Swiss Tourism and Zermatt Tourism who covered all of our expenses and took care of us. Also to Will Davies who first put me in touch with the guys at Cyclist; I highly recommend checking out his Cycling Challenge blog about cycling in the Alps – if you want to know what almost any pass in the Alps (paved or unpaved) is like to ride then he probably has a report with great photos.

My Strava records of the Matterhorn ride are here and here.

The original plan for the article was to go over the Theodul Pass from Zermatt, over the eastern shoulder of the Matterhorn, and down into the valley on the Italian side to Cervinia. It’s something that I’ve wanted to do for several years. At almost 3,300 m elevation and including a 3km long hike over a glacier, it’s one of the highest and craziest Alpine passes that can be done (mostly) by bike. Due to some delays and the logistical complexity, we went with the more straightforward option of staying on the Swiss side for the article, which was awesome, but I’m hoping that the Theodul Pass will happen for me in August 2020.

4 thoughts on “Gravel ride below the Matterhorn in Cyclist – Off-Road magazine”

  1. Great magazine and gravel riding inspiration. Thanks Chris!
    Looking forward to riding these routes this summer.

  2. Hi! This looks like are really awesome network of high altitude gravel roads in Europe…and maybe not so popular yet? I’d really like to try it out from the Italian side, starting from Cervinia. There’s not a Google Maps street view for the portion I’m interested in, but I’ve found some GPX files around the internet. What’s the smallest tyre size you would recommend for this route?

    1. A lot of the stuff above Zermatt could be done with 35mm tires, but I used 40mm on that trip for a bit more grip and comfort. I have no idea about the conditions on the Italian side. As I said, we had planned to go over the Theodul Pass to get to Italy, and I still have that as a long-term goal. Above 2500 m on the Swiss side is pretty rough and steep and then there’s the glacier to traverse. Below 2500 meters it’s all pretty straightforward.

  3. Thanks! I should have read more carefully, but the excitement was already high just by looking at maps and reading your report. Your reply was helpful anyway, I have now a clearer overview of the Theodul Pass area. My plan would be (at some point) to ride only up to the ski station (Ristorante Bontadini, ca. 3000m) from the Italian side. Looking at the map it looks feasible on with 35-40mm tires.

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