Kath Bicknell

I struggled last week. I’ve been patiently healing some injuries for the last 4+ years, and as part of this process I’ve learned about some systemic health conditions I never knew I had. Life has been incredible in many other ways during this period, but things have also been very challenging. My world got pretty small for a while. As I get stronger again it’s a privilege to choose what to fill each day with.

One of the best things I can do to keep my body working is cycling. It turns out I’ve been self-medicating since my teens. Last week though, was one of those weeks where managing everything – the daily rehab, the changes in diet, the changes in routine, the effort of it all, the lack of ease that comes with no longer throwing your cares into the wind – it all just got to me. I needed a mental break from it. I needed to get outside, to focus on something different (like each next corner), and have a tonne of fun. Read More

In a nutshell:

Curved edges, firm but not-too-firm padding and comfort for a range of riding postures makes Bontrager Ajna saddle one to try if you’re struggling with the narrow sweet spot on others.

The longer version:

I first reviewed the Ajna for Australian Mountain Bike magazine in 2017. I described the pros as the pressure mapping R & D process, the choice of three widths, and durability in mud. I described the misses as the carbon rails not being compatible with all seat posts (less of an issue these days) and the name being hard for people to pronounce without hearing it first (it’s ‘Arj-na,’ with a soft ‘j’). Having recently contacted Bontrager about a second Ajna, I wanted to offer some long term insights about what makes this design one to seek out for riders (and readers) who are on the hunt for a saddle that works for them. Read More

The answer: as many things as there are trails, bike designs and ways to enjoy them!

Earlier this year, I took philosopher colleague, Wayne Christensen, on a ride at the Ourimbah mountain bike track in New South Wales, Australia. After a lap of the cross-country track on his own bike, a ten year old Cannondale hardtail, I then encouraged Wayne to do a lap of the trails on my bike, the latest model Specialized Stumpjumper with 29″ wheels and a whole lot of bounce.

The video below documents Wayne’s reactions to the new bike after 20 minutes on board, and what this meant for the way he approached the trails. This fieldwork forms part of a journal article we are writing together on affordances – a theory which attempts to explain how humans perceive and respond to action possibilities in relation to the environment.

We argue that mainstream applications of this theory need to better account for the impact of social and cultural factors on affordance perception, as well as the rapid speed at which our awareness of these action possibilities can update. We’ve recently published a handbook chapter discussing the affordances and anticipation, also using a case study from mountain biking, which may be of interest too. Please get in touch if you’d like to know more.

Header photo: Wayne hits the rock garden with new-found confidence (Kath Bicknell).

My partner, an analytical chemist, always laughs at academic work in the humanities  due to the large number of, what she calls, made up words. Something that always makes me smile about affordances, then, is that Ecological Psychologist James Gibson quite freely admits that he invented the term. Quoting from Wayne Christensen and I in a book chapter that’s just been published on affordances and anticipation in sport, Gibson described affordances as:

“what the environment ‘offers the animal, what it provides or furnishes, either for good or ill’ (1979, 127, italics in original). For example, the ground affords walking, stairs afford climbing, a nearby cup affords grasping, a Facebook button affords liking (or, by 2017, other reactions such as surprise, sadness, or love)’ (Christensen and Bicknell 2018, 602).

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This chapter is one of several compelling contributions to the (impressively heavy) Handbook of Embodied Cognition and Sport Psychology. The book is a testament to editor Massimiliano Cappuccio’s work ethic and passion for the topics that fill its 770 pages, cleverly bringing together 26 chapters from thinkers around the world with a shared interest in minds and movement. Most chapters are collaboratively authored, drawing on the complementary expertise of researchers in disciplines such as psychology, philosophy, sociology, exercise and sport science, performance studies, coaching, anthropology, neuroscience, education and cognitive science. You can read more about it here.

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The contribution from Wayne and myself has cemented a joyful, joint writing process and shared interest in using practical case studies to challenge and expand theories of skill from philosophy, psychology, and cognitive science. While affordances is a concept that started with Gibson, it’s since been used widely in a whole number of other academic disciplines, far more than Gibson may have imagined, and certainly not in ways he would have fully endorsed.

Rather than stick with Gibson’s original, strict approach to the concept, we wanted to paint a bigger picture of how the concept has been used and adapted in other fields. We took this chapter as an opportunity to canvas approaches to thinking about affordances in ecological and cognitive psychology, as well as anthropology, theatre and performance studies, and the real life experience of racing mountain bikes in the mud. This encourages science minds to engage with challenges to theoretical claims provided by the humanities, and vice versa.

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The handbook has an impressive contributor list.

If the topics of the book interest you, please seek it out and order it for your libraries if you work at an academic institution. We hope you enjoy the read.

Photos: Kath Bicknell (book) and Gaye Camm (action shot).

 

 

 

 

The Centre for Elite Performance, Expertise and Training (CEPET) brings together the collective wisdom, research and interdisciplinary enthusiasm of outstanding researchers at Macquarie University.

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Or perhaps the better question: what are the most important considerations when it comes to person-specific bike fit, regardless of gender?

And the question I wish more people were asking: what has an increased focus on fitting bikes for women taught us about bike set up for, well, everyone?

Having worked in cycling media for over ten years, and often tasked with reviewing bikes aimed at a female market, I’ve heard the ‘women’s-specific’ debate from many angles. Where it gets most confusing for consumers is that a large number of early designs for women were (in hindsight) a load of bollocks. More recently, most of the companies that invested heavily in well-researched designs for female riders such as Trek, Specialized and Scott, seem to have back-flipped and have returned to gender-neutral designs, particularly at the racier end of the spectrum. Reducing the marketing for these changes to single, snappy sentences seems to confuse consumers even further. Read More

How do the skills you’re exploring now relate to the things you might do in the future? Or to answer a question I also get a lot: ‘What is it that you actually do again?’

Mark Parry shot a series of videos answering these questions for the Department of Cognitive Science at Macquarie University in Sydney. It was initially developed as part of a third year undergraduate course called ‘Cognitive Science in the Real World’. The series interviews all kinds of interesting people about the professional work they do, shares advice for current students and cleverly reveals the smaller moments and interests that brought them to where they are today. Like any good content, it’s enjoyable and relevant to people with much broader interests as well. Read More

But most of all, thank you to Ride Guide for considering the writers. No one ever thinks of the writers!

Without words and the perspectives of the writers and journalists, mountain biking may well have been another gear based sport, but there is something more to this than riding and racing. It can be the struggle, the exhilaration, the adventure and mis-adventure, the highs, lows and tragedies. A writer has a gift to transport you to another place and take you on a journey, drawing you in with their with their words, and for a short period, you become transfixed to the page (or screen). The writers below have the ability to do just that, so still do it, while others have moved on. Either way their legacy and future work will continue to shape this sport for years to come.

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The Specialized Epic is one of the world’s most lusted-over cross-country (XC) mountain bikes. It’s the main bike choice of current XC world champion, Kate Courtney, former world champion, Annika Langvad, and a whole stack of privateers – riders who usually pay for their bikes making their vote for the Epic perhaps the most discerning of all.

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The women’s build is designed to be fast and efficient, just like the women who seek this bike out.

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What do we mean when we talk about the connection between bike, body and trail? How do small changes in bike set up change the way you move? How about a whole new bike?

My chapter, “Technology, Equipment and the Mountain Biker’s Taskscape,” was recently published in Women in Action Sport Cultures: Identity, Politics and Experience, edited by Holly Thorpe and Rebecca Olive. Drawing on theory from anthropology and phenomenology, this chapter looks at some of the behavioural and social implications of the cycling industry’s shift to design bikes with female riders in mind. It draws on my work as an academic in conjunction with my work as a product tester working for bike media.

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Abstract:

Research exploring risk in sport tends to focus on the relationship between behaviour and action from a psychological or subcultural standpoint. In this chapter I explore the variable ways technology mediates experiences between body and world, action and perception. I do this by drawing on insights from phenomenology and anthropology to investigate recent developments in bike design aimed at improving the ride experiences of female mountain bikers. This foregrounds the role technology and equipment can have on the development of confident ‘I cans’, demonstrating the impact equipment has not just on performance, but on behaviour and embodied perceptions of risk. By exploring the way new technology mediates individual and social experiences in mountain biking, this chapter reveals the dynamic relations between equipment, perception, cognition and performance.

The book brings together compelling perspectives from a range of academic disciplines on sports including climbing, parkour, snowboarding, surfing, mixed martial arts, roller derby and biking. It makes me proud to be a rider, and proud to be part of this growing, global research community as well. You can read more about the book, including previews of other chapters, here.

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If you can’t track down a copy of the book through a university library, but are interested to learn more, please get in touch.

Photos, including a couple of the local ride crew in Sydney: Kath Bicknell

Imagine if you said ‘Yes’ to every surreal opportunity that came your way for a day. What would you do? And where would you base yourself to do it?

Yes Day: Tropical North Queensland is a short film I wrote, produced and directed with Wade Lewis and Chris Baker (Tokyo Swim Team). It developed in response to the adventurous tourism opportunities that kept coming up when planning and shooting Like a Local. Read More

The Trek Remedy offers riders so many of the best things about mountain biking right now: an efficient suspension design that lets you ride just about anything, anywhere. A frame geometry that delivers super precise handling up front and, due longer than average chain stays, a very planted feeling at the rear. A wheel size (650b) that encourages playful riding and keeps you connected to feedback from the trail. And a parts list that feels like it’s been hand chosen for mountain bikers by mountain bikers.

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