The Crusher: Which Bike?

Posted by on May 11, 2011 in Bike | 22 Comments

I used to spend a lot of time reading the forums at I hardly ever visit anymore. Facebook has something to do with that, but so does the reality that the number of “which bike should I ride for Leadville“* posts any one individual can read is finite. In other words, the content at the forums is cyclical. The headlines look very much like they did 2 years ago. Or 5 years ago. People are still arguing about 29ers, singlespeeds, and 29er singelspeeds. Hardtail or full suspension? What’s your favorite gel flavor? And so forth.

*The answer to that question is always the same: whichever bike you want.

Which isn’t to say that there is not useful, interesting content at MTBR. There is. But it has become like a 26er hardtail—hard to find.

That said, today I must fall into the “which bike” trap. Not for Leadville, as once again I did not get accepted into the race. Which tends to happen when one does not apply. Nonetheless, I am racing in an event that actually poses a very legitimate dilemma over which bike to use. The Crusher in the Tushar. It’s not a mountain bike race. It’s not a road race. It’s… a little of both. Although I suspect that the tactics and execution will more resemble road racing. However, I further suspect that my day will more resemble a mountain bike race—riding alone in no man’s land, well off the lead. 40 miles of pavement. 40 miles of dirt road. Which bike? ‘Cross, or mountain?**

It’s a question that even the official race website tries to answer. According to its conclusion, the winner is… neither. Or more accurately, the winner is “draw.”

**There is some discussion of racing a road bike. Which isn’t an option for me. And even if it were, I’m not sure I’d consider it.

To really get an understanding of which bike to ride, the course itself ought to be elaborated upon.

tushar crusher

There are 2 major climbs, separated by 14 miles of rolling pavement.

The first climb is 25 miles long. Uh. Yeah. I just realized that. 25 miles. Of climbing. At mile 17.5 the pavement ends and the dirt begins. We will climb Big John Flat Road (Ha! Flat!) up to 11,500 feet above sea level, before we will begin an 18 mile dirt road descent. That’s a long descent. At the bottom we will contour on pavement for 14 miles before we start the final climb of the day, itself an 18 mile suffer-fest to the finish line.

My legs already hurt.

Initially I had thought that a hardtail 29er, with a rigid fork and narrow mountain, or fat ‘cross tires would be the ideal bike. But then I thought that a ‘cross bike, with fast rolling, slightly wider tires (40+) would get the job done. And now? Well, now I’m just not sure. I’m planning on using the cyclocross bike, with some slight modifications. Like a bigger cassette. And maybe a Gruber Assist. But the mountain bike is still a distinct possibility. Especially if the dirt road, which is normally fairly smooth, suffers any significant damage during the run-off season.

The mountain bike has a clear advantage on the 18-mile descent. The braking power alone is almost enough to put me on the 29er. However, those 60 miles of climbing and contouring are better suited to the faster rolling, lighter, ‘cross bike. 60 miles is more than 20 miles. ‘Cross bike wins? Yeah. For now. I had better start learning how to ride without brakes. Starting to see the dilemma now?

In fact, this dilemma is one of the reasons I chose to ride the Crusher this year. I like the scheming and the planning. I’m reminded of the first time I raced the Kokopelli Trail Race. Which lights?Which tires? How big should my pack be? Water filter, or no? The preparation among riders made for excellent discussion—at MTBR no less—and thought-mongering. Indeed, similar conversations are starting to germinate for the Crusher.

Which bike? The answer is: both.

That is, monstercross.

Wider tires. Discs, if the frame will accept them. Flat bars, or wider drops.

Or maybe not. In fact, maybe the answer to “which bike?” is, as I stated above… whichever bike I want.

But which one do I want?


Big John Flat Road. Photo:





  1. evilbanks
    May 11, 2011

    For me, the decision is easy, a mountain bike. Why is this decision easy? Because I don’t own a cross bike. ha

  2. Bob
    May 11, 2011

    your navel gazing makes my day.

    • Grizzly Adam
      May 11, 2011

      I get that a lot.

  3. Justin
    May 11, 2011

    I’m with Banks on this one. No cross bike… unless I sell my road bike and replace it with a cross bike… which is a possibility.

  4. eric
    May 11, 2011

    for me it’s simple. how quickly do i want to roll across those long lonely sections where I am soloing across no mans land?

    cross bike.

    although i am intrigued by the bigger cassette idea. and the disc brakes. maybe i’ll buy a whole new bike for the event! now that i think of it…this might be your best post EVER.

  5. Brandon
    May 11, 2011

    Let’s get a group together and go recon the thing and then you can figure it out. I am not racing it because I am racing the Breckenridge 100 that day, but I would be interested in riding the climbs for a training ride.

  6. Dave
    May 11, 2011

    If you put the same 35-40c tires on both your cross bike and mtn bike w/rigid fork, what is the weight difference? Our dirt roads are covered in marble-sized loose rock and cross tires would be sketchy at anything over 20mph. The condition of the dirt would be the clincher for me.

  7. Ryan
    May 11, 2011

    Cross bike with 34c tubeless is the choice I’m running with until I scope the course out in June. My main fear is not making the cutoff to the first aid station. 25 miles in 150 minutes is a 10mp/h average. I’m afraid to lose any time on the paved road section, and time lost on the DH will be marginal compared to time gained on the climbs anyway.

  8. James
    May 11, 2011

    You need a bike like the Fargo, but lighter.

  9. Ryan
    May 11, 2011

    Nevermind, I reread the rules and the first station is right before the dirt. But I still choose several pounds lighter on the climbs.

  10. Twin Six
    May 11, 2011

    Cross bike. You still rolling the Fisher? That should be about perfect.

  11. keys
    May 11, 2011

    I did a brutal gravel rode race in MN last year on my Niner with 34c tires. It worked out real well on the climbs and decents. However, anything just rolling left me struggling behind.

    This year I’m rolling the cross bike. I still debate like yourself. I guess I will know after this year.

    Good luck

  12. Flahute
    May 11, 2011

    I’m not even riding and I love reading this discussions.

  13. Rodrigo Otávio
    May 11, 2011

    A 29er bike is the best for this race…with 2.1 tires that let the bike fast e will down flying and up fast sure !!!

  14. Rico
    May 11, 2011

    34c tubies on a CX with disk if ya got em

  15. Ryan Cobourn » Which Bike?
    May 11, 2011

    […] so earlier today I noticed a post by Grizzly Adam catching some traction on the Twitter about which bike to ride for the Crusher in the Tushar. […]

  16. rich
    May 11, 2011

    hey i had a niner set up rigid with hutchison cross tubeless tires on my i9 wheels, sweet set up for sure the way to go in this situation, cross bike will beat you to shit on the dirt

  17. Jeff Higham
    May 11, 2011

    Mountain bike with some 1.9 fast rollers. More comfortable and you can fly like a banshee on that huge downhill. Oh yea, full aero gear for sure.

  18. Justin
    May 11, 2011

    How about a pair of these on my Superfly ???

  19. LyndaW
    May 12, 2011

    Having ridden all those dirt roads I say cx bike. The climb up to big John Flat is so buff you could prolly hammer a road bike up it. Above Big John flat it gets steeper and looser. The dirt descent is all road and I could drive my 2wd car on the majority of it. There are a few loose rubble bits but they are short and steep so you’d sit back and surf down them. Most of it is straight and buff. A couple of switchbacks but on a wide road.

    The climb above Big John gets steep in places and a bigger cassette will make you happy.

  20. Derron
    May 23, 2011

    Thinking that a carbon CX bike outfitted with disc brakes & something like a Specialized Borough XC Pro Tire would be the way to go, but since I have a heavy a$$ CX bike that is about 2lbs heavier than my 29er rigid mtn bike set up, I’m leaning heavily toward the mtn bike with narrow tires with no knobs in the center.

  21. Jeff Hemperley
    June 2, 2011

    I’m going with my Spez Tri-cross single speed bike with 35cc tires. I just put new Avid V-brakes on them for awesome stopping power. 42×20 or 42×22?

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