Kath Bicknell

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

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

 

How do you navigate a rock garden when you hit it for the very first time? How do you make sense of the performance capabilities of a new piece of equipment, or a whole new bike? Read More

On 1-2 October, a diverse collection of academics, industry, government, athletes and recreational riders will get together in Cambridge, New Zealand to talk about cycling. The Future of Cycling: Challenges and Possibilities symposium, hosted by the University of Waikato, will be held at the Avantidrome, New Zealand’s Home of Cycling. I describe this place to people on the Western Island as like the Australian Institute of Sport, but just for cyclists. Read More

At a time when funding is increasingly competitive and people have more choice than ever about how and where to invest their energy, how do the arts to compete? It’s no longer enough to create exceptional work and know that people will line up to witness it. We’ve entered an emotion- and experience-based economy where consumers have more options than ever before, and are more critical about what they get from participation in return. So how do we harness the energy of these audiences and keep the arts running high on the list of things that people choose to attend? The Audience Experience addresses this by examining multiple factors that lead to audience enjoyment, growth and participation. While each chapter offers key insights into this area of scholarship, the strength of the book is in bringing these elements together. In doing so, the authors offer an account of audience participation as active, localised, varied and complex.

(Bicknell, Kath, review of The Audience Experience: A critical analysis of audiences in the performing arts, ed. by Jennifer Radbourne, Hilary Glow and Katya Johanson, Austalasian Drama Studies 65, (2014): 326-330.) Read More

Three weeks, three conferences and one interdisciplinary research day. Each gathering brought together academic thinkers from a diverse range of disciplinary backgrounds. Conversation was rich, ideas were shared generously, new working relationships were developed and momentum was built for a busy period of writing ahead. Read More

A lot of the work you see on this website comes from the world of cycling. What many people don’t realise is that the background to my professional work in the cycling and media industries comes from spending most of my life studying theatre and performance.

Earlier this year I joined Dr Robin Dixon and Dr Chris Hay in the Department of Performance Practices at the National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA). This department does the ‘theory stuff’: Performance history and analysis, unpacking scripts against their original cultural and historical moment, looking at how big ideas from those time periods come through in the art that was being created alongside them, critical thinking and theoretical tools for describing work that’s happening right now. Read More

Working in cycling media offers the chance to get stuck in to many different types of writing. Feature articles and interviews, opinion pieces, how-tos, news, product tests…

One thing I really enjoy about testing equipment is the opportunity to weave together experience and critique. You don’t write about a product by sitting in a chair and thinking about it. You get out there, play with it, push its limits and discover how it transforms the experience of an activity you love. These processes sit side-by-side with my academic work as well: investigating the ties between equipment, performance, embodied action and cognition. Read More