Crusher in the Tushar: Gravel Ride in Beaver, Utah

Park just about anywhere near the center of Beaver, such as Beaver High School, or Main Street Park. Find your way to East 200 North which turns into Highway 153 — same route that gets you to Eagle Point Ski Resort. This is the traditional staging area for the race.

From here, follow the smooth meandering pavement exactly 10 miles to a right hand turn to Kent’s Lake. This is Forest Road 137, which will climb another mile on pavement, then take you the next 21 miles uphill on dirt roads deep into the Fishlake National Forest. The road surface can range from loose and rocky to tacky and muddy, depending on the time of year. You are mostly in the shade for this part of the ride, until you top out at 10,000 feet above sea level and start descending to Bentonson Flat — a decision point in your ride: complete the Crusher, or settle for the half? That depends. Before you continue, it’s worth looking at how the ride began.

Genesis of the Crusher

Twenty years ago, while on a training ride with my good friend and former professional road cyclist Burke Swindlehurst, he told me about an idea for the ultimate race that was too much dirt to handle on a road bike, and too much road to be any fun on a mountain bike. He said if anyone could even finish it, they would be absolutely crushed.

Burke grew up in the small town of Beaver at the foot of the Tushar Mountains. If he wasn’t on his road bike putting in the miles that laid the foundation for his racing career and reputation as one of the most gifted “climbers” in the cycling community, then he was up in those Tushar mountains exploring the dirt and gravel roads that he would later string together to make the Crusher route — 69 miles, over 10,500 vertical feet of climbing, and one of the most scenic rides on two wheels.

They say you’re first Crusher is the hardest, and then they just keep getting harder after that. And it’s true, I’ve done it six times.

Photo: Thomas Chooke
Photo: Thomas Chooke

The Full Crusher

And that context brings us back to to Bentonson Flat at the intersection of FR 137 and S.R. 153. You are slightly less than halfway at this point, so if you are already cooked or pressed for time, turn left here and be content with a Half Crusher. Full Crushers continue straight ahead and plunge down the infamous descent of the Col de Crush into the town of Junction.

From here, follow Old Highway 89 south to Circleville, then take a farm road that runs into Doc Springs Road, a dirt doubletrack road that is deceivingly uphill, rutted, and at times, loose and sandy. The Doc Springs section is often a time of reckoning, because it brings you to the foot of the Col de Crush, which you must climb back up.

After the climb, you will be back at Bentonson Flat intersection. Take S.R. 153 towards Puffer Lake. There will be many times you will think it must be all downhill from here, only to find yourself riding up the short steep hills that lead to Big Flat. As if names couldn’t be more cruel, Big Flat also has a big hill.

Once you descend to Puffer Lake, you will climb yet another hill, but this time on pavement. You are now almost home free. As you start to descend on S.R. 153 towards Beaver and where you started, you can turn right to the Eagle Point Ski Resort access road that leads to the Summit Lodge at roughly 10,500 feet. Or, if you just can’t climb one more hill, stay straight and ride the 20 plus miles back to Beaver. It is, in fact, mostly downhill from here.

Planning Tools

Just like the Crusher in the Tushar annual race, held every July since 2011, you are on your own in terms of mechanical support. If you think you might need it, make sure you bring it. We’re talking about extra tubes, pocket tools, pump or CO2 cartridges. It’s also not a bad idea to consider the climate. On the first climb alone, you will climb almost 5,000 feet, so it’s likely to be chilly up there. Bring a vest or a lightweight packable jacket for the descents and to ward off mountain sprinkles.

Unlike the race which has manned aid stations for water and food, you will need to pack what you need, or else bring cash or plastic for a refueling stop in the small towns of Circleville or Junction. During the event, there are five different aid stations for refueling and taking bottles along the course, but if you are scouting this full loop, you will need to plan accordingly.

The race has been tackled by some of the best climbers on two wheels, from riders with multiple Tour de France finishes under their belts, to former mountain bike Olympians. Several riders have posted under four and a quarter hours ride times, but so far, no rider has gone under four hours race time. Yet.

Planning resources including maps of the route and even GPS files can be found at tusharcrusher.com

Pro Tip

Best suited for either a gravel bike, cyclocross bike, or lightweight mountain bike, the Crusher route is roughly 40 percent pavement, and 60 percent dirt and gravels roads. Wide range gearing and durable tires are a must for the “roughly” parts. No matter which bike you choose, at some point you will wish you were riding something else.