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Bicycling in the Berkshires

Bicycling in the Berkshires

by John Torsiello

The roadways of the Berkshire Hills are dotted during summer with brightly clad bicyclists peddling their way to fitness and nirvana. The activity has gained immense popularity in recent years and for good reason; it’s a great way to bond with others in an outdoors setting, exercise in a relatively low impact manner, and see the world up close and personal.

The number of Americans biking in 2012 was 51 million. That figure jumped dramatically to 67 million in 2014 and the trend doesn’t seem to be abating. Bicycling is a remarkable calorie burner. A 175-pound person peddling between 14 to 16 miles an hour for an hour burns a whopping 794 calories, 612 calories at the same rate and time span for a 135-pound person. “Rail trails” that cater to bikers are popping up everywhere to allow riders to do their thing in safety, sometimes for many miles.

“The Berkshire County is a beautiful place to ride,” says Marjorie Cohan, president of the Berkshire Bike Path Council. “In the last 15 years we have seen a dramatic increase in recreational riding.” The Ashuwillticock Rail Trail, which runs from Lanesboro to Adams (the first completed section of a paved route planned by the Council), is one of the most actively used trails in the state. “Bike paths will increase interest in cycling in the Berkshires and provide a safer and more accessible route for less experienced riders, families, and individuals challenged by our mountainous terrain.”

The Berkshire Bike Path Council started 15 years ago with the mission of developing a bike path from Vermont to Connecticut. Says Cohan, “Originally we had hoped for all off road but have expanded our vision to include on road riding and advocating for safe cycling on roads. Our group consists of representatives from the towns and cities involved.” The group’s vision plan can be viewed at www.berkshirebikepath.com or www.berkshireplanning.org.

The Berkshire Cycling Association is a grassroots bicycle racing club affiliated with USA Cycling and the League of Amrican Bicyclists. The Club has over 250 members, many scattered throughout New England and nearby New York. Membership ranges from serious amateur racers to hardcore “tourists.” The Club’s primary focus is to promote bike racing and increase participation by women and juniors in the sport. The Club’s website www.berkshirecycling.org lists activities and cycling routes.

The Ashuwillticook Rail Trail is a former railroad corridor converted into a 10-foot wide paved, universally accessible, passive recreation path. The Ashuwillticook runs parallel to Route 8 through the towns of Cheshire, Lanesborough and Adams. The southern end of the rail trail begins at the entrance to the Berkshire Mall off Route. 8 in Lanesborough and travels 11.2 miles north to the center of Adams. Parking lots and restrooms are available at selected locations along the way.

The trail passes through the Hoosic River Valley, between the Mount Greylock and the Hoosac Mountain Ranges. Cheshire Reservoir, the Hoosic River, and associated wetlands flank much of the trail offering outstanding views of the scenery and abundant wildlife. The name Ashuwillticook (ash-oo-will-ti-cook) derives from the Native American word for the south branch of the Hoosic River and literally means "at the in-between pleasant river," or in common tongue, "the pleasant river in between the hills." The name was adopted for the trail as a way to reconnect people to local history and the natural environment.

Another great ride is cycling the Housatonic River valley. There are some tough climbs, flat stretches, dirt roads, scenic views, smooth pavement, farms, waterfalls, and small villages along the ride. The Trail links existing river roads next to or near the Housatonic to produce a continuous forty-five mile route from the Massachusetts/Connecticut border, or from Bartholomew’s Cobble in Ashley Falls MA to the center of New Milford CT. There are also numerous lightly traveled roads branching off of the route.

If you haven’t already, it may be time for you to catch the cycling bug, get in better shape, meet new friends and see the countryside along the paths and roads of the Berkshires.

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