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Emily Thompson | USLHC | Switzerland

View Blog | Read Bio

Biking to CERN

A few days ago, I left the CERN Meyrin site on my bicycle at the same time as the tram towards Geneva and managed to be only a few minutes behind when it arrived at my stop. The next night, the tram was still sitting at CERN when I left it in my dust, easily beating it home. The total distance door to door is approximately 7 km with only a few hills, and the route is marked for bikes on almost the entire path (except for a terrifying part over the freeway).

Gare Cornavin to CERN Meyrin site, with mile markers 1 and 4, courtesy of veloroutes.org

Elevation of route per mile (not as bad as it looks...note the scale)

If I’m not racing a tram, it still only takes me about 30 minutes one-way. Factoring in the time it takes to walk from my apartment to the tram stop, the wait for the tram, and the walk from the tram stop to my office, cycling only takes at most an extra 20 minutes a day. Or as I see it, I give up 20 minutes for an hour of exercise.

By the way, I know it’s said a lot but if you get on a bicycle, WEAR A HELMET. Even if the ride is <5 minutes. Even if you think you’ve done that same route umpteen million times. I know of so many people who have gotten into accidents around CERN, most notably at the giant round-a-bout of death coming out of the small French town of Saint-Genis-Pouilly. I’m no exception…I got into one a few years ago while still a grad student. In my case I was already at CERN, turning right at such a high speed that my back tire slid out when I tried to avoid a car (and to this day, I still slow down more when turning right than left). It was so fast, my hands didn’t even have time to leave the handle bars when I face-planted into the road….aaaand I wasn’t wearing a helmet. If you DON’T want to see what an x-ray of a nose broken in two places looks like, then DON’T click here. At least I got a good week or two of “you should’ve seen the other guy” jokes out of it.

Now I find that if I just take it easy, and ride under the assumption that cars can’t see me at all and thus always have to look out for them, I feel pretty safe. Biking has tons of health benefits, especially for people like us who sit in front of a computer all day, and I’m always in a great mood by the time I get to work. Plus I can stop and see cool things like this along the way:

Plane landing at GVA. Don't deny it, everyone loves watching planes land.

There’s a huge biking culture at CERN too….at least four people on my office floor alone regularly bike to work. CERN sponsors a “Bike to Work Challenge”, where groups or individuals compete for honor to see who can rack up the most kilometers between March and the end of the year (I just started not too long ago, so I’m still at the “Sneaky Muon” level).

Biking is really the best thing ever. Everyone should do it! And if you’re driving and see a cyclist on the road, give them some room!

More information:
Bike to Work Switzerland
CERN cycling safety information

– Showers at CERN (pdf)



  • Rob Halff

    You are not driving a road bike ? 14km per hour is very slow for a road bike.

    +1 for the helmet, I also have a x-ray scan laying around resulting from a bicycle accident.

    Anyway, cycling is not really about counting the kilometers, it’s much more fun to look around and let your mind go wandering. A list of quantum thoughts produced while cycling would be much more interesting than counting the km @Bike-To-Work-Challenge 🙂

    You could document your thoughts with perceptions (photos) that made you realize new insights. maybe your superiors will consider the bicycle trip to be part of the daily job.

    Passing through one of those bois’es is probably the most inspiring.

    Nice article! 🙂

  • “Everyone should do it!” Definitely, for work-home transportation, biking is ideal. It oxygenates our toxin saturated cerebral cells after intellectual work. But I really can’t accommodate with a helmet, unless you’re bent continuously bent over the handlebar (I didn’t click on the broken nose link). I bike like I walk, with a comfortable Dutch bike. To me, wearing an helmet, would seem as queer as wearing one for a walk. But this doesn’t seem to apply to Genevan bicycle riders?

  • Stuart

    It’s your choice (until it’s compulsory to wear a helmet), but I’m not prepared to take the risk of having an accident and having my unprotected head split open in the resulting collision. However slow and safe you ride, that doesn’t prevent you being hit by someone or something through no fault of your own. And my head is a lot less solid than the road surface, a car, a lampost etc. And to be honest, with a good fitting helmet, you forget you are wearing it very quickly. So my advice would be to always wear a helmet – although as I say, you are free to make up your own mind.
    I cycle through the CERN Meyrin area very frequently, but I avoid the giant roundabout of death if at all possible. Or I dismount and walk across.
    Oh – and I don’t go through red lights.
    I know what you’re thinking – what a wimp: helmet, dismounting, stopping at red lights. But I’d rather be be safe than dead.
    Happy and safe cycling.

  • This should be on the required reading list for people starting out at CERN.

    To avoid writing a massive, oversize comment, I’ve jotted down a few of my own thoughts here: http://alexanderbrown.info/2012/09/05/cycling-at-cern/

    I’ve never tried the highway bit on the way to Geneva, and don’t intend to – there’s nothing wrong with the detour via the airport, except perhaps if it gets “dodgy” at night in the narrow bit between those fences, but I wouldn’t know.

    I would also encourage cyclists to get lights and high-visibility reflective clothing and bag covers. In my case it didn’t help enough in one instance (see my link), but I’m sure I’ve also been seen most of the rest of the time thanks to this equipment.

  • Rob Halff

    It also kinda depends on the type of bike you are driving, I guess for a dutch bike a driving helmet is a bit of overkill. It depends on the speed and environment how dangerous it is.

    Anyway, there are also more fashionable (less wimpy) alternatives for you head:



    The one time I injured myself (pretty severely) was in a hilly environment, over here in Holland where I live everything is so flat and quiet, I will only use my helmet if I go on my road bike.

    Also if you use clip-in pedals you’re crazy if you don’t wear a helmet 🙂

  • Monika

    Great blog, very well written! I’ll be moving to Geneva in the very near future and am planning to at least bike to work if the weather is nice.

    A big YAY for the helmet – I’d never go without! Also always make sure that you lights are working, and do not wear all black and grey clothes…

  • Emily Thompson

    Rob, those helmets from helt-pro.com are awesome!! Thanks for sharing!

  • Manuel

    Great article Emily! I also live in Geneva and enjoy riding my bike, but I always found the way to CERN quite dangerous. After reading this I think I’ll give it a try (when the weather gets better though :P), although my mountain bike it’s not the best ride for this path.

    Another big HELL YEAH for the helmet, mandatory on the road guys. Also, and getting out of topic, I would recommend to wear it skiing as well. It saved my life last year! I got a huge hit on the head which cracked my helmet completely, imagine what would have happened if I wasn’t wearing it.

  • Bon article, Ce site a vraiment été une révélation pour moi.
    Je laisse mon premier commentaire sur ce site

  • Peter

    Thanks Emily. I’m a Physics teacher in Australia coming out in June 2014 to ride in Italy and France. I’m hoping to start in Geneva so I can visit CERN. Now I know how to get there and where the danger points are. A helmet is a must over here where drivers are quite aggressive. I’ve heard European drivers are generally behaved around cyclists but I’ll definitely be bringing my helmet. Good hunting with your research.

  • Peter

    That should read “European drivers are generally well behaved around cyclists..”