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The Josh is here: Cyclers, are you ready?

It's Josh season: The time of year that the "Berkshire World Championship," as it is affectionately known, makes its way into backyard barbecue conversations. Talk of team rosters and training take on renewed intensity. The perennial obstacle of securing a competitive paddler is revived.

The cycling portion of the event is arguably the most exciting. Whether you're new to the sport altogether, new to racing, or a long-time Josh participant, there may be something in this article for you.

Being the bicycle mechanic who has been at the McDonald's parking lot helping people with last-minute fixes, I want to first make sure your bicycle is up to the challenge. While there are no "wrong" bikes for the Josh, there are cycling choices that will likely improve your race experience. For example, one could ride a mountain bike, but it will prove slow and cumbersome. A better choice for an event such as this would be a well-fitted road bike; ideally, one you're comfortable on and didn't borrow the night before race day.

It's critical that all nuts and bolts are secure; moving parts, like chains, are lubed; and, perhaps most importantly, tires are up to the task. Your wheels and tires are what connect you and your bicycle to the ground: They should be free of defects like cracks, should not be too worn and should be properly inflated. The correct tire pressure will prevent you from flatting easily while giving you more control of your bicycle, making it safer for you and the riders to your left and right. The proper pressure for all tires is printed on the tire sidewall. Tires should be pumped up to the recommended pressure the day of the race.

Bikers line up behind yellow tape

For most of us, the start of the race is the most intimidating. If you're fast, or believe yourself to be competitive, moving toward the front of the pack prior to the start will be important. These individuals will want to arrive early. While the first several rows are reserved for race license holders, arriving long enough before the start will allow you to move within three or four rows of the front of the pack. Tread lightly in this endeavor: The front of the race is for experienced riders only. If you're participating for fun, don't worry about where you start — finishing safely is the only goal. If you are competing with the Josh's motto of “to finish is to win,” don’t sweat where to start and line up wherever you feel comfortable.

The start of the race uses all of Route 7 up until Belcher Square, (The Sunoco gas station under the billboards) where it goes back to one lane of traffic. It is important to know this, as it can be disorienting when three lanes quickly whittles down to one.

Cyclists take off from the start of the race

Cyclists take off from Route 7 in Great Barrington at the start of the Josh Billings Runaground, Sunday, September 19, 2021.

After you make the turn on to Taconic Ave and start going up the hill, the race will begin to spread out. If you are trying to be on the pointy end of the race, getting to the top of Taconic as fast as possible can make a big difference on where you end up at the end of the race.

You may have heard that the bike race splits up into “packs” of groups of riders riding together. These form and gain mass between the top of Taconic and the bottom of “Llama Hill," the first real climb after Taconic. Being in the fastest pack that your legs will allow will improve your overall pace to the finish line. When riding in a pack, you are shielded from the wind; this will generally bring your overall average speed up 2 to 3 mph. Once you are in a pack, it is all but impossible to bridge up to the next faster pack — and it is more likely you will fall back to the next slower pack if the pace is too quick.

When you find a group that you can comfortably stay with, position yourself to the front third of that group. This will ensure your position in the group and give you some room for falling back, if climbing is not your forte.

My last bit of advice is this: The last climb comes after going by the causeway overlooking the Bowl and riders who have been saving energy will unleash all they have — the finish is less than a mile away. If you have any “legs” left, this is where you can let it all hang out.

Paddlers seen on the Stockbridge Bowl

Seen from the shores of Camp Mah-Kee-Nac, paddlers come to shore from the Stockbridge Bowl, September 19, 2021.

I do implore anyone who, at the last turn onto 183 south is heading down to the finish of the bike leg at the boat ramp, to remember: This is not the end of the race. It may be for you, but there are two more legs. Racing to the bottom to get one place makes no difference in the end. I urge you to arrive at the boat launch under control and ready to stop. If there is going to be an accident, this is where it will happen and it does not need to happen. The hand-off can be chaotic, so it is best to get out of the way of the continually finishing cyclists before looking for your paddler(s).

That's it, you did your part, unless you are Ironmanning. Now it's time to head to the run start/boat finish at Camp Mah-Kee-Nac, cheer your team on, and celebrate in one of the most anticipated and fun community events of the year, the Josh Bash. It is moved from its longtime home of Tanglewood to the camp, but I am sure it will be no less fun. See you all there!

Steffen Root is co-owner of Berkshire Bike and Board.

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