An Interview With Burke Swindlehurst, Bissell Pro Cycling Team

The Church of The Big Ring embraces cycling in all its forms. That said, we hold a special spot at the altar for the Pro racer. The amount of training and suffering it takes to reach the upper echelons of the sport are both inspiring and daunting. Probably more than any other professional sport, the cyclist must love what he/she does. No amount of money can make you go out on 5 hour training rides in the middle of a hard winter. There is no faking it. That is Big Ring.

Burke in suspicious t-shirt

Burke “T-Bird” Swindlehurst of the Bissell Pro Cycling Team is one such rider. I had the pleasure of seeing Burke win his first Utah State Road Race (I think he was 18) title way back in the day and it has always stuck with me due to the sheer joy that was evident on his face when he crossed the line. Since then he has used that love of the sport (and a huge engine) to win such hard man races as the Iron Horse Classic (2x), Tour of the Gila (3x), and Vuelta de Bisbee, to name a few. He was kind enough to take time from his busy schedule and testify. Brothers and Sisters lend your ear:

COTBR: Have you accepted The Big Ring as your personal savior?

Burke: I’ve been a disciple for 20 years now!

COTBR: I know you are a big music fan, what is in heavy rotation on your iPod?

Burke: Lately, hmmm….Meat Puppets, Black Keys, Scott H. Biram, Kinks, Hank III, Heavy Trash and a new guy I just found called TK Webb.

COTBR: Besides riding bikes really fast, any unusual abilities?

Burke: In fact, yes. I have the unusual ability to clear my throat every 3-5 seconds.

COTBR: Strat or Les Paul?

Burke: Within the parameter of that question, I’d definitely go with the Les Paul. That being said, I have a Japanese Fender Jaguar Custom which has the ability to sound like either at the flip of a switch!

COTBR: Would you rather win A Tour de France or tour with Hank III?

Burke: Hmmm . . . That’s a toughie. Either one would involve copious amounts of illicit drugs. Given that I would choose “C”, in which case that would be winning the Tour of Utah this year and following it up with a Hank III show, and the only drug involved in either scenario is some Stella Artois.

COTBR: Steel cage match: Mark Bissell and James Dyson. Who is walking out of that one?

Burke: No question Bissell takes walks out. I’ve ridden with him and the dude has some incredible fitness for the owner of a major corporation.

COTBR: What result are you most proud of?

Burke: That would probably have to be winning the Tour of the Gila in 2005. I was on a team with a sponsor that quit paying us by the first of March and I thought it might possibly be the last race of my career. I decided to lay it all on the line the last day (while lying 4th on GC ) and put so much energy into the effort that I figured I’d either win the race, or fall over and DNF from the effort. I don’t think anybody saw it coming except me and I definitely remember feeling an incredible sense accomplishment that I hope to realize again someday both on and off the bike.

COTBR: What does The Big Ring mean to you?

Burke: A shift from the little ring?

COTBR: What advice do you have for a young rider trying to break into the Pros?

Burke: Tragic Optimism . . . Seriously. You must have an almost tragic belief in yourself because 99 out of 100 races you’re likely going to fail miserably, but as long as you learn from your mistakes and keep trying, there’s that 100th time when you don’t fail and it makes it all worth it.
I also see a lot of young riders out there with talent who don’t seem to really grasp the fact you have to get yourself to as many high-profile races as possible. You can crush the local pro’s at the local World’s all you want, but if you don’t make the effort to get yourself to a race where the pro team DS’s can actual see you, you’re never going to get noticed. That being said, once you do get to those races, you’ve gotta race every one like it could be your last. Attack! Go in breaks and ride till the wheels fall off! Push your limits and don’t be afraid to fail. I can’t think of a single race I’ve ever won in 20 years where I didn’t risk losing in a big way to get that win. And that’s what the team Directors want to see. They want to see the hunger. And, if you’ve got an engine to go with it, well, you might just find yourself with a career in bike racing. Finally, I’d like to say to the young riders who wake up every morning (like we all do), read about the latest doping scandal and maybe start to wonder if you can be a pro bike racer without drugs, let me assure you that you can. I’ve done it and I know many more riders who are clean and win races. So, what are you doing staring at this computer screen? You heard me…. get out there and ride!

COTBR: One day you wake up to a world where ever CD you buy, every mp3 you download, every song on the radio and every concert that comes to town is Nickelback. Do you:

a) bob your head to the beat
b) pierce you eardrums with a Popsicle stick

Burke: Luckily for us, that day will never come. I believe that for every action there is an equal re-action. You give me Toby Keith, I give you Hank III. You give me Brittany Spears, I give you Shelby Lynne. The natural antidote to Nickelback would be The Sword cranked to eleven, the result of which may be that Chad Kroager’s nuts might finally drop. One can hope, can’t he?

COTBR: Final Thoughts?

Burke: Hmmm . . . Final thoughts. I dunno. I think we need to get out and wet a line again once “Sprinter” ends and things warm up.
I think it’s my turn to drive.

Thanks Burke looking forward to hitting a river with you soon. Brothers and Sisters look for Brother Swindlehurst pushing The Big Ring at an NRC race near you this season.

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