Crushing Conformity In Utah’s Tushar Mountains

Words by Neil Shirley

Just over three hours from ENVE headquarters in Ogden, Utah, the town of Beaver lies in the shadows of the Tushar Mountains. If you were passing by on the Interstate you would hardly give it a second thought unless you needed a quick bite to eat or gas. Yet, for the past seven years, on the second weekend of July, hundreds of cyclists have descended on the town for one reason–Crusher In The Tushar.

The story begins in the fall of 2010, Burke Swindlehurst had just retired from a successful 12-year pro road racing career and was looking for his next endeavor. After spending so many years racing as a professional where riders are faced with a myriad of rules ranging from course design, the equipment that can be used, and even what can be worn, Burke decided to put on an event that eliminated most restrictions and would take riders from point A to point B, regardless of the road surface. Little did Burke know that the gravel and mixed-surface segment would blow up, and his little event called Crusher In The Tushar would go on to help shape the segment and become a cornerstone event on the calendar.

As much as the gravel and mixed-surface segment tries to eschew the rules and confinements of road racing, it’s easy to trace many roots back to pro racing, as is the case with Crusher In The Tushar. It was in search of the hardest training rides that Burke could possibly find in his preparation for events such as New Mexico’s Tour of the Gila that brought him to the roads that make up the Crusher In The Tushar route.

“My history with those roads actually go back to the mid ‘90s”, Burke said. “I wanted to get some big rides in at high altitude and managed to talk a buddy of mine into doing a multi-day ride, so we just started riding our bikes from Logan, Utah, with my hometown of Beaver as the final destination, making an effort to take in as many monster climbs as we could along the route.”

The Crusher’s biggest challenge is the Col ‘d Crush, a heavily-washboarded dirt road climb that averages 8% for more than five miles and takes riders up to 10,000 feet in altitude. It comes late in the 69-mile course and is always the determining factor in who stands atop the podium at the finish. Burke’s first run-in with the climb came on day three of his multi-day ride.

“The ride culminated after three days with us riding up the ‘Col ‘d Crush’ out of the Piute Valley to get to Beaver. We were just on standard road bikes, with gearing typical of that time; a 39 tooth small ring and 23 tooth cog in the back along with 23c road tires”, Burke explained. “To say we struggled on the steep and washboard gravel would be an understatement!

“My buddy had to tap-out halfway up the climb and he flagged down a passing pickup to get a lift to the top. I was nearly reduced to walking several times, but finally managed to get to the summit only to find my pal napping under a tree with two cans of beer next to him, generously bequeathed by the pickup’s occupants. It was with a mix of both horror and betrayal that I found both cans were empty. “Well, it took you long enough and it was hot up here!”, he offered as defense. Some colorful language followed on my part.
I sucked at a dry water bottle ruefully and we remounted and picked our way down the gravel into Beaver, but not before patching a couple tubes each to get there.”

It wasn’t until a handful of years later that Burke was re-introduced with the Tushar Mountains when Colorado’s Saturn Cycling Classic popped onto the racing calendar. Going from Boulder to Breckenridge, the Saturn Cycling Classic’s 140-mile route included Guanella Pass, which at the time was a dirt ascent and descent. “That was the start of my fascination with riding dirt in the mountains on road bikes. In training for the Saturn Cycling Classic I went on to connect the dots for what is now the Crusher course”, Burke reminisced.

Even though a road bike isn’t typically going to be the ideal setup for Crusher, riders are free to show up on whatever equipment they feel will best suit them, regardless of whether it’s a mountain bike, gravel bike, or road bike. “We have a motto at the Crusher, and that’s at some point you will have picked the wrong bike. Considering it’s a 60-40 split between dirt and pavement no matter what bike you show up with it will have advantages in some places and disadvantages in others. That’s part of the appeal.”

Sometimes, you never really know where one idea, or one ride is going to take you.

ENVE is proud to be a continued partner of Crusher In The Tushar.