Another day, another dollar…..or as I’m starting to say another week another blog. Following a recent poll on Instagram I have decided to write this blog entry on the Tour of Flanders. Yes you guessed it I’ve been there, done it, completed it and of course got the t-shirt (literally). I have a funny response when people ask my opinion on it I always give this answer…..

I believe there are two types of people who ride bikes. There are cyclERS and cyclISTS. A cycler is someone who loves riding the bike, appreciates the health and exercise benefits it provides but that’s as far as it goes. Then there is the cyclist, a man or woman who embraces the sport as a whole who not only loves to ride the bike, but indulges in the art of buying bikes and bike parts. A person who mulls over every intricate detail of the bike. One who reads cycling weekly as if it is the Bible, who looks up to the PROs as Gods and can only ever dream of having a seat at the round table.

So I relate this analogy to the Tour of Flanders. If you are a cycler then it may not be the holiday/trip for you, maybe something like Mallorca is better suited with the nice weather, smooth roads, coffees, climbs and descents. Tour of Flanders is a different kettle of fish. It is for the cyclist. The parcours itself is world famous having so many cobbled sections with many being cobbled climbs. There is an outstanding museum in Oudenaarde that showcases the history and prestige of the race. And the sportive, well, I believe doing the Tour of Flanders sportive for cyclists should be held in the same regard as visiting Lourdes is for Catholics. A must do!

I did Tour of Flanders this year for the first time. I did it with my fiancée, my oul man, few of his mates and a few of mine. We went over on the Friday and stayed to the Tuesday. We stayed in a chateau on the outskirts of Oudenaarde. Oudenaarde is the big town where the race finishes. The majority of the iconic cobbled sections are in and around Oudenaard so you can imagine it is a very cyclist friendly place, even good for cyclers too (Laugh Out Loud). The sportive has 4 main distances 240km, 172km, 140km and 76km. We chose to do the 140km. The 240km is ridiculously long and the first 100km is basically cycling on flat roads from Antwerp to Oudenaarde. In hindsight we should have done the 172km but chickened out and did the 140km which I’m glad we did in the end as you will soon find out. 16,000 people take part in the sportive every year. You literally get ALL kinds. I can remember getting passed by two Belgian lads on a tandem mountain bike going up one of the climbs. They were chatting away, I was breathing out my arse. Animals! It’s very different to doing a sportive at home. At home you get so many ‘FREDs’ and a lot of dodgy riding. 16,000 people at Flanders and I think I was the only FRED. It was €35 which included a free t-shirt, timing chip for the event, free lights and there were 4 feed stops. Every stop was brilliant, unlimited supply of Belgian waffles, oranges and electrolyte drinks on tap. It truly was extraordinary value for money, and those who know me will know I’m a sucker for a bargain!

One regret I had for this particular trip to Flanders was not training enough for it. I was carrying a lot of extra weight coming off the back off a poor winter and boy did it tell. The sportive was a struggle for me from start to finish. The reason it was a struggle at the start was because I HAD to wear my Bike WorkX kit. Unfortunately the extra weight that I was carrying made it a struggle to get on and the zip on my jersey was under as much pressure as the tires on my wheels. On our particular route there were 14 cobbled sections with the most notable ones being the cobbled climbs, Koppenberg (or as we called it, the Kopparberg), Oude Kwaremount and the Paterberg. The Koppenberg was a bit of shame. Due to heavy rain the day before it was a mucky mess. An ambulance stopping halfway up the climb to help a suffering participant also didn’t help. Yes you guessed it, we had to walk it. Which in fairness was probably harder than riding it as cleats don’t give you much grip on wet, mucky cobbles. My struggles up the Oude Kwaremont and Paterberg I will never forget. These two climbs came pretty late in the sportive. My legs were in agony, my body running low on energy and my head was completely gone. I didn’t really know much about the Kwaremont other than there was a beer named after it which was the same in strength as the average gradient of the climb, 6.6%. It was also one of the longer climbs, it is sort of split in two sections as it levels out half way through before a steep ramp to finish. My choice of gearing for the trip wasn’t the best, riding a 53-39 on the front and an 11-25 on the back. I figured it would be grand as it was what I always rode in Mallorca, mind you what I didn’t realise is cobbled climbs are much harder than smooth tarmac ones. I hit the start of the climb and straight away I knew it was going to be make or break whether or not I would get up it on the bike. My legs felt like lead and I was nearing empty. In true Murray fashion I battled on. Halfway up the Kwaremont there is a crossroads, with a few houses, sort of like a village. As I approached it I could see large amount of spectators standing at the side of the road. Both young and old. By this stage I was really on the limit. Then from the side of the road I could hear a young kid, no older than 10 shouting “Come on Josh!! Go! Go! Go!”….His father with him started shouting my name too, as did many other spectators. The encouragement was phenomenal. Tears began to trickle down my face. I was so tired. Physically and mentally exhausted. The emotions of the occasion got to me. These local people who have a pure love for the sport were out to cheer on the participants of this magnificent sportive. I must add at this point that my name was on a placard on the front of my bike, but don’t let that take away from this moment. Even as I write this the memories are flooding back, the hairs standing on the back of my neck as I recall this moment, probably the most epic moment I have ever had on a bike. I was riding in the home of cycling, up one of the most epic cobbled climbs in the world, locals cheering my name……..I’m lost for words! *taking a minute to gather myself* ….. I eventually got to the top, filled with pride. I got on to the wheel of a young lad from England who was trucking on rightly. Fair play to him for giving me a tow, he didn’t even flick the elbow or ask for a turn. We then took a left turn off the main road down a Belgian country road. At this point I thought that was all the climbs and cobbles over. As we descended down this country road I could see in the distance the Paterberg!! Whoops, forgot about that one! The Paterberg isn’t very long but is extremely steep and it’s the last climb before the finish so extremely iconic. It’s also where we watched the Pro races on the Sunday. Again this was another epic moment for me, more spectators, more fans (as I was now calling them) cheering me on up this challenging climb. Again the tears started to trickle. *gathering myself again* After this it was a good 10km to the finish but on flat fast roads. I got in to a really good group and we were trucking along, doing up and overs sitting at 30mph. There was a bit of a ‘bunch sprint’ for the finish but I sat up and soaked in the moment of crossing the finish line. After the finish I met up with the crew I had started with, we went to a local pub, had a few Kwaremonts and reminisced on the events of the day.

On the Sunday we watched the women’s and men’s races at the Paterberg, drinking Belgian beer, eating Belgian waffles and French fries. It was brilliant to see the Pros up close and see how easy they make the climbs look. Peter Sagan is something else! On the Monday we cycled to Roubaix velodrome which wasn’t that far away. We bumped in to team Sky and got chatting to Dave Brailsford. I was star struck when I met Yogi Bear (Ian Stannard) a true gent and a model pro. I even had a tumble on the velodrome bringing home some road rash and scars as souvenirs. Tuesday we visited the Tour of Flanders museum in Oudenaarde before flying home. It’s class, definitely worth a visit. So many legends have taken part in the race and so many epic battles over the years.

So yeah! That’s my experience on the Tour of Flanders. I hope reading this will encourage you to go, you won’t regret it. If you’ve already been you will agree it is a life-changing experience as a cyclist, it might even convert a cycler to a cyclist if they were to go. If anyone has any questions on how we organised or booked the trip please don’t hesitate to get in touch. Until my next blog, Saluu!

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I would like to start off my second blog post by saying thank you to everyone who read the first entry. I really appreciate all the nice messages and words of advice that were sent. It means a lot! It has inspired me to write this second one.

This blog post will be about POWER, and no not that Netflix series everyone is raving about. I mean the power you put through your bike to make it move or as I like to call it ‘making it rain’.

I am going to start off declaring my ability on the bike is severely average. My best result to date was third in a club league 9.5 mile time trial. Every dog has their day and all that. My knowledge on power is limited to a certain extent. I have read the Joe Friel Power Meter Handbook which was a brilliant and insightful read. Joe really knows his stuff and has wrote several books on bicycle related training. I am also an avid follower of the main man himself, DC Rainmaker. Being a salesman and bicycle mechanic I am fairly familiar with the various different types of power meters on the market. The main message behind this blog will be that if you don’t train by power and want to improve then stop limiting yourself and get one. Okay, if you are a fair weather cyclist, only cycle in the summer and I mean proper summer, you only cycle to and from the coffee shop, the thought of doing a ‘100-miler’ disgusts you and if your honest with yourself, you’re the definition of a total FRED then okay you probably don’t need one. Everyone else however, get it sorted! I’m going to tell you why.

If we break it down to the basics, when we train what is our first goal? To improve. Before you dream of getting the hands in the air on the Champs-Elysées you start off wanting to train to make yourself better than what you currently are. At the start, the rule of thumb is generally to ride your bike as much as you can. This is good to get used to cycling specially if you haven’t done it in a long time or are taking the sport up for the first time. When you’re up to speed, regularly taking part in club rides, doing sportives and maybe even dipping your toe in club racing you naturally start to analyse your rides. This may be in the form of looking at your distance, speed, cadence and heart rate. In terms of your physical exertion heart rate is probably the data to look at out of those listed above. I love (and by love I could not be any more sarcastic when I use that term) cyclists who ride 20 miles, in one direction, on pan flat roads who boast about how great they. Their average heart rate 104bpm. What can we tell from this? Unless their threshold heart rate is 110 bpm this ride wasn’t very strenuous. Straight away this shows that some tools are better than others for gauging efforts. Heart rate is good but not the best. Now I am not going to say heart rate shouldn’t be used but it does have its flaws.  Heart rate definitely has its benefits but its biggest downfall is the amount of factors that can affect it. I am not going to get bogged down on the disadvantages of using heart rate as that isn’t what this blog is about but something I find funny and most people may not know this but even having a poo can even affect your heart rate. Yeah! Just let that sink in!

Now this is the part of the blog where I am going to tell some anecdotes about my experience with power. As I said previously I am as average a cyclist as average cyclists can be, some hurtful people may even say I am below average. Anywho….. for my first two years of cycling competitively I always used heart rate. I then went on a training trip to the Mecca of cycling, the island of Mallorca with some friends. They are above average cyclists. They used power. All they spoke about during and after rides was power. I felt very left out. I cried…..just kidding. When I got back from that trip I bought a power meter, the Garmin Vector pedals. The peer pressure and feeling left out got to me! After I bought it I still used heart rate and the power data that I recorded was merely used to compare to with my friends’ data. To coincide with the power meter, that season I had bought a time trial bike and was really enjoying the battle against the clock. I had all the gear; skinsuit, carbon disc wheel, deep section front wheel, power rangers style helmet, velotoze etc etc. I was training 4 to 5 times a week and sometimes even 6, which would be considered quite a lot. I regularly took part in 5, 10 and 25 mile time trials. So this is the interesting part, the PBs. I’ll be honest I can’t really remember my 5 mile PB as it was my least favourite distance and well, I just can’t remember (forgetful in my old age). My 10 mile PB was 22:45 and my 25 mile PB was 61.20. My strategy for these TTs was to get my heart rate to its threshold which was 174bpm and hold it there. My mindset was that a straight line average heart rate graph of threshold was the key to success. When I got my power meter during this season the best FTP (Functional Threshold Power) I recorded was 284 watts. Are you getting the picture of how average I am? I would like to state that at this stage in my career I only weighed 75kg.

Let’s jump to the next season. I didn’t train as much over the winter as I was in my final year of college, I had just started fixing bikes for money and had a nightmare with illnesses. The difference between this season and the previous season was I had started to use power. My whole mindset of training changed. No longer was I trying to get this flat line average heart rate, I was now using power to measure my efforts. I had read Joe Friel’s book and was pretty in tune with how power training worked. I didn’t have a coach and did configured all my sessions myself. When race season came around I still had all the kit from the previous year so nothing had changed in terms of aerodynamics, even my position on the bike was the same. The one thing that did change, my strategy! My strategy this time was to try my best to hold my FTP and even improve on it if I could. If you think about it in simple terms, if you ride really hard up a hill your heart rate goes up as does your power. You get to the top and start to free wheel the descent. Your power goes to 0 but your heart rate will drop slowly (commonly known as ‘lag’). One of the best pieces of advices I got in relation to my strategy was from Marcus Christie (former pro, competed at commonwealths, national medal holder and all round animal on a bike!). Marcus said that when riding up the hills not to bust yourself maybe ride 10 to 20 watts above threshold but on the downhills keep riding hard to keep the power at threshold. The misconception a lot of people make, including myself, was to ride as hard as your could up the hill, putting yourself in the red, and then recovering too much on the downhill. Taking Marcus’ advice helped to level out the overall effort and therefore increasing efficiency. Once you go too far in the red it can be very hard to get it back. So the interesting bit, my PBs for my second season, drum roll please….. *drum roll*…… 10 mile was 21.05 and 25 mile 57.15, my new FTP 314 watts. These were on the same course as the previous PBs. Yeah, I improved, A LOT! I put these PBs solely down to training with power.

 

To conclude, as this blog post has been a lot longer than my previous one. Power changed my training for the better. To be honest I can’t imagine training without it now as it is such an effective tool. The great thing about power is 100 watts are 100 watts, 200 watts are 200 watts. Power doesn’t lie, it can’t be affect by how many coffees you have had that day, what you have eaten, if you have just visited the throne. Think about it, if all the pro’s use it why would us mere mortals not use it too?

 

Many thanks again for reading this blog. If you keep reading I’ll keep writing. My hope is that everyone gets something from it. Whether that be a laugh or some insight on the world of biking. Until next time amigos, au revoir.

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Always wanted to write a blog entry but always feared no one would read it. So I popped a wee poll up on Instagram and there was unanimous vote in favour of people who would read it. So here it is….

So what will my blogs be about…BIKES!!! Obviously. I will write about riding bikes, fixing bikes, home maintenance, Irish biking scene and many other bike related things. I will try not to cause offense, mainly in case I lose customers, but I will write how I see things. Who wants to read a non-controversial blog anyway? (Famous last words)

This first blog is going to be about my background, where it all began and why. I do hope those read this find it interesting. If nothing else it could help to put you to sleep at night.

On the 14th October back in 92′ ….. haha just kidding…. I don’t mean where it literally all began. My first notion of bicycles all began with a lie. My hero was Lance Armstrong. I was obsessed with him. When I was a wee nipper my favourite time of the year was July, not because school was off for the summer nor because I was a big marcher but because Le Tour de France was on. That also meant my hero Lance was on the telly winning the hardest, toughest bike race on the planet. It was what dreams were made of for me. In school any time there was an essay for homework or coursework to be done I would have found some way to write it about Lance. My muckers in school often laughed. “Josh are you writing about your man who went to the moon again?” None of them really got it. Cycling wasn’t a mainstream sport, it still probably wouldn’t make it in to the top 10 most popular sports nowadays either. This next point could be the first controversy of my blog, but here we go… was what Lance did really all that bad? Ok ok ok, yes he told lies, he ruined peoples careers, he broke the rules. I’m not afraid to admit it really upset me when he did the Oprah Winfrey interview. We all have a hero, an idol, someone who we think the sun shines out of their … you know what I mean. To find out YOUR hero was a cheat, well it broke my heart to be truthful. Still affects me to this day. At the start when the accusations were made I defended Lance, I told everyone they were wrong and Lance telling the truth. I even ruined my relationship with Sir Alan Sugar and ended any chance I ever had of winning The Apprentice (most of you won’t get this). Now I can say I have matured and I have started to realise the positives Lance brought to my life. He gave me the reasons to like cycling. He helped me fall in love with the sport. Lance used the money he made from the sport to start up his own foundation to help cancer sufferers and raise awareness about the illness. Many other drug cheats have taken the money and ran. To that I will always commend Lance. Cancer took my granda away from me when I was only 5 years of age. I would give anything for him to be still alive. Lance gave people hope and support through his investments in his foundation. He enabled people to spend more time with their grandas! This will be very ‘Norn Irish’ of me, but to him I say fair play!

So moving on….

When I was young my involvment in the sport was never more than a mess about on the mountain bikes down to Belvoir Park with my Dad and his mates. A couple of times we even ventured as far as Donegal to ride our mountain bikes on the road. Times were tight, he couldn’t afford to buy me a road bike to ride once a year. *Laugh out loud*.

Every year I still followed Le Tour! I suppose the real turning point in my cycling career came when I was aged 19, living in London, chasing the dream. Uni dropout trying to join the Met Police (don’t ask). During this time my favourite hobbies were drinking lots of beer, eating lots of takeaways and playing xbox. So 19 was a recurring figure I was also 19 stone in weight (bit of an exaggeration, it was more like 16 but you get the picture). My dad was big in to cycling at this time and with growing obesity concerns I decided I would buy a bike. Down to Halfords I went (don’t judge me please) and got myself a sweet Boardman road bike. White frame, world champ bands on it, smooth welds to make it look carbon, SRAM apex gears and some sweet reflectors. My dad had sent me over a package containing all the essentials I needed to get started. Shoes with cleats, LOOK pedals, lycra shorts, Ireland cycling jersey and a matching pair of Ireland socks. I’ll not get too much in to my cycling career in London but this one time I decided to do Box Hill. I stopped in three garages on the way back as I had bonked sooooo bad. I didn’t think I was going to make it home. I thought that was the beginning and the end of my cycling career. But through grit and determination I made it home. I conquered those 27.6 miles and deserved every bit of that kebab after.

Skip forward a couple of years. I came home, went to Uni, got a degree in Business Studies, joined a cycling club (Maryland Leavers) and 2 National Road titles later ……hahahahaha just kidding. After a couple of years of grafting, getting dropped, encountering multiple bonks, learning alot about not only myself but who my friends are, I can finally say I am still a FRED. For anyone who doesn’t know what a ‘FRED’ is, its the cycling equivalent of the kid who gets picked last in school, you know the kid with two left feet who has a better chance of scoring an own goal than putting it in the opposition’s net. My only saving grace has been the young woman (well shes getting old now) in Phoenix (a rival club of Maryland) who has seen past this FRED-ness and has kindly agreed to marry me next year. How romantic that in the sport I love, I found the woman I love. Its a bit like the film ‘A Star is Born’ (bet you wish you voted differently in my poll now!)

I’ve realised that my strength in biking lies in fixing them. I also fancy myself as a bit of a Dave Brailsford but I’ll keep that for another blog post.
During Uni (take 2) I worked in Chain Reaction, which was a bit of a dream job of mine at the time. During that time I learnt ALOT about bikes. I also learnt a good bit about fixing them too. Since then I would say my skills and expertise have definitely blossomed. I now run my own business Bike WorkX, obviously because that’s the only reason your reading this, fixing bikes for a living. I am not going to lie, I work hard at it. 99% of my life is spent thinking about bikes or doing something bike related. Bike WorkX is my pride and joy, my passion, my greatest accomplishment. Its by no means the finished article but then again Rome wasn’t built in a day. I would like to thank all those who have helped me with guidance and support. Its much appreciated and I will never forget. To my customers, I love you guys! Its been an enjoyable journey so far, long may it continue!

If it wasn’t obvious cycling and bicycles are my life. That might sound a bit sad, but things could be worse. We find happiness in the things we love.

I hope you enjoyed reading my first ever blog post. I have tried to ‘keep it real’ and hope you appreciate that. I would assume by now your probably on the verge on falling asleep so I will bid you sweet dreams. I will be writing more so any feedback or recommendations are welcome!

Many thanks,

Josh (Mr Bike WorkX)

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