There is no free lunch in Switzerland, but there are free bikes.
You can rent bikes for 25 to 50 Swiss Francs a day from many train stations across Switzerland, or you can get a bike for free through Suisseroule, a loaner program offered at multiple locations across the country.
Why anyone would pay to rent a bike when there are perfectly good free ones? Because the free-bike kiosks are harder to find, that’s why. This is how Switzerland protects its bike rental market.
We would never have known about loaner bikes, except that a Swiss co-worker of Dave’s gave him a few brochures and some advice on trails, adding to the evidence that every Swiss citizen studies tourism as a requirement for graduation.
Free bikes sounded too good to be true. Then we discovered that the free-bike stations are staffed with welfare recipients.
The Swiss will not tolerate slackers in any form, as we learned when their tax officers discovered an unemployed person within their borders, that is, me, upon whom they have set their sights, first by trying to make me fill out a French/German multiple choice form that did not include “unemployed” or “retired” among the options. We are not sure that the Swiss even have a word for someone like me.
So if I, a foreigner, cannot escape notice, there is no way a Swiss-national is getting off easy, and so welfare recipients have jobs, too. We are not sure if this means they are still welfare recipients, or government employees. I will let you argue over the difference.
In addition to the welfare recipient staffers (which, it turns out, is true), we heard a rumour that ex-cons and parolees also staff these places To borrow a bike, would we have to give up our residency cards, which could then hit the seamy underworld market for few hours and be returned to us with exciting new criminal records attached? Note: Could not find any reliable information on the ex-con/parolee rumour. Probably not true.
We were nervous about this, but what could we do? We are cheap and the bikes were free.
In Neuchatel, we found a friendly young woman seated in the trailer next to the bike racks. She did not look likely to sell our residency cards on the black market. She lacked the bureacracy-tortured visage of Canada’s welfare populace and if she had a criminal bent, we could not discern it.
We were relieved to discover that we would only have to show our identification and leave a 25-franc deposit per bike. The bikes are free for the first four hours after which the brochure said we would be charged a franc an hour, but the woman said the hourly charge would be five francs.
We did not know what to make of this disparity, but neither did we care because if we were on the bikes for longer than four hours, we would probably be near death anyway.
The bikes are replaced every year, well-maintained, light and comfortable. Again, we were in awe of how well the Swiss do these things.
As we rode along the beautiful shores of Lac Neuchatel, we exclaimed over what seemed to be our cheapest travel-day in Switzerland. That was until we stopped for lunch at what may have been a yacht club for Swiss bankers.
Among the 32-45-franc meals, we saw what appeared to be a 22-franc cheese fondue lunch for two. Perfect. We ordered the fondue, which featured the famous local Corgemont cheese, which when served cold has a strong aroma and aftertaste, but when melted down in a fondue is absolutely sublime.
We ate until we fell into a stupor, which was a good thing, because it turned out we were wrong about the price. It was 22-francs a person on a two-person minimum, and so with our bottled water (eight francs) and coffees, our “cheap” lunch came to 63 francs.
We laughed about this. Remember, we were in a cheese stupor. Then, realized we had eaten bread cubes and melted cheese – that’s basically like a deconstructed grilled cheese sandwich.
It turns out the Swiss know what they’re doing when they offer free bikes. They know pedaling will make us hungry and that here, there is no free lunch.
To learn more about Switzerland’s free bike program, click here.
This link should take you to a Google-translated Suisseroule website, but if it does not, search for Suisseroule, then click on “translate page.”