Monkeys and Torches: Aus Gravity Enduro Series Round 3

Women's winners L-R: Gen McKew, Jackie Schapel, Rosie Barnes.
Women’s winners L-R: Gen McKew, Jackie Schapel, Rosie Barnes.

In terms of riding goals, I’ve been feeling a little lost lately. The transition period between completing a PhD in the humanities, and finding an ongoing, stable workflow is said to take five years. The constant instability of it all has been more challenging than I expected, and is taking a lot of energy away from other things.

I’m in the lucky position right now where I’m busier and more satisfied, work wise, than I have been in a long time. The additional challenge this brings is trying to find ways to enjoy riding that also keep me feeling motivated and refreshed.

I think this is the big reason behind my attraction to gravity enduro; new experiences, new ways to move and pace yourself on the bike. Technical sections of terrain have become something I sit back and relax on in XC and endurance events, Enduro is motivating me to learn how to ride them much faster.

Incidentally, these experiences have become part of a new research project, one examining skill acquisition and cognition with a talented crew in Cognitive Science at Macquarie University. I’m tentatively calling it ‘Learning to Fly.’

Welcome to Adelaide. We hope you enjoy your stay!
Welcome to Adelaide. We hope you enjoy your stay!

Round three of the Australian Gravity Enduro Series was hosted by the Inside Line downhill club at Fox Creek in Adelaide. I’ve never ridden in South Australia before, so the idea of a couple of days sessioning my favourite type of trail in a new place made it an excellent choice for a weekend away; a breather, a time to meet a whole bunch of likeminded people, an attractive way of discovering a new place while doing an activity I love.

And that’s pretty much how it went. Except it was made even better by staying with local legend, Jaclyn (Jacs) Schapel (Liv/Giant), and joined by talented Sydney duo Gen McKew (Knolly bikes) and Jay Tolson.

Discovering the trails with a great crew on day one. L-R: Jay Tolson, Jacs Schapel, Gen McKew.
Discovering the trails with a great crew on day one. L-R: Jay Tolson, Jacs Schapel, Gen McKew.

I borrowed my partner’s Specialized Camber Evo again for this race. It’s a lot of bike compared to what I’m used to, and I found I was fighting it on the trails instead of trusting it. Half way through day one Jay started schooling me on how to really move on it. Simple techniques I know well, but had forgotten while being out of my comfort zone. ‘Get your arms out like an excited monkey,’ he said, ‘and light up your path on each corner by shining a torch out your belly button.’*

Frothing, giggling, shredders, Gen and Jay.
Frothing, giggling, shredders, Gen and Jay.

Torches and monkeys. Got it.

Within seconds, my riding reached a whole new level. I could feel moments when I had that familiar sensation of dancing on the bike again. The trail smoothed out, I was braking far less, pushing the bike rather than fighting it, and I grinned as I felt the rear wheel start to drift around corners. Success! (Or a good start at least!) I could have ridden each trail forever.

Race day for me was all about torches and monkeys too. The transitions between timed stages were all about meeting new people and hearing more about the Adelaide riding culture.

Jacs hurt her elbow badly at round one. Even though she's still nursing the injury, she blew the field away at round three.
Jacs injured her elbow badly at round one. Even though she’s still nursing the injury, she blew the field away at round three.

Jacs won the elite women’s with total time of 19 minutes and 11 seconds, a six second margin over Gen after four very different stages. Canberra mate, Rosie Barnes (Swell Design Group, Onya Bike Canberra), rounded out the podium in third. I was thrilled to come equal sixth with new riding buddy Anna Puckridge, just over two minutes back.

Staying with Jacs added a whole extra element to the weekend away. Friday night we dropped into a local pub to see the track cyclists and the roadies go head to head at roller racing. Saturday night we met more people at the Banff Film Festival. Saturday morning, she got up early to take the Liv/Giant road ride which encourages more women to get out on bikes. During the practice and race days I watched her as she chatted to almost every single person at the event.

Jacs is one of those people who has a positive, apt and encouraging thing to say to everyone. And by everyone, I mean downhillers, cyclocrossers, BMXers, roadiers, XCers, from recreational to elite. The cheer from the crowd as she stepped onto the podium was so loud. And so it should be. She’s one of those people who are such great role models and ambassadors for the sport. You can follow her adventures via her blog here.

On the start line we learned that there'll soon be around 100km of trails at Fox Creek, built around the playful capabilities of 5-6inch travel bikes. Niiiiice!
On the start line we learned that there’ll soon be around 100km of trails at Fox Creek, built around the playful capabilities of 5-6inch travel bikes. Niiiiice!

Enduro is still fairly grassrootsy, but that’s part of its appeal. I booked a flight to Adelaide feeling pretty cooked and in need of a short holiday. I jumped on the plane back to Sydney feeling energised, motivated and refreshed. New goals, new friends, new role models and renewed motivation.

Thanks bikes. You’ve weaved your special magic once again.

Thanks team! Love your style.
Thanks team! Love your style.

Photos: Kath Bicknell (except that last one. Thank you nice man!)

*Actually, this is the paraphrased and more politically correct version of Jay’s golden advice.

What Does it Mean to Excel in Cycling?

2013 World Champs featureThe morning after the 2013 MTB World Champs I woke up feeling excited. I was inspired by seeing Australians excel across the board and admire that many of them have been able to do so despite little funding from the governing bodies for our sport.Continue reading “What Does it Mean to Excel in Cycling?”

On the Topic of Flow

‘Flow State – On the Topic of Flow’ is a feature article I wrote on the psychological experience of Flow for the mountain bike magazine of the same name. It took the academic work I’ve been doing in this area and shared it with the community that’s been the subject of that research.

I like the way the story was laid out for print. As you turn from the opening page to the next, a rider appears on the trail ahead. For me, Stirling Lorence’s images immediately conjure up sensations of pumping the bike behind a smooth and skillful rider along a timeless section of trail. I love that mountain biking brings on experiences like this so frequently.

The article talks about the characteristics common to these sought-after states and how they relate to optimal experiences on the trails. Examples of an absence of flow are discussed as a way of looking at how riders can change how they think about or approach the trails. This helps to make the euphoria of a flow-type state more likely to appear, leading to increased enjoyment and smoother, better riding as a result.

Academically speaking, this work opens the door to new ways of understanding embodied problem solving and filtering strategies – such as those riders use to stay in flow longer. It also helps us to better understand the techniques athletes use to perform as well as possible when things aren’t just ‘happening’, or simply don’t go to plan.

This research demonstrates the active and important role of thinking during such scenarios. The risky, variable and fast-paced environment of mountain bike races means participants discuss these phenomena in insightful and articulate ways.

Flow state p1 Flow state p2-3

PDF of full article in Flow Mountain Bike, Issue 2:

Bicknell – Flow state – Flow Mountain Bike – issue two

Weblink to an academic paper I wrote on this topic:

The Feel of Five Minutes

Published Proceedings from the Australian Cycling Conference

The proceedings from the Australian Cycling Conference, “Everybody’s Cycling?” have now been published online. Even if you’re not into the academic side of things, I’d encourage you to take a look. There are so many interesting projects happening in the cycling world and it’s worth flicking through to get a sense of how broad these are: cycling for people with disabilities, transport and town planning innovations, uptake issues among women riders, the list goes on. The study that surprised me the most was one that examined the reasons cyclists cite for breaking the road rules – a choice that is often made when it feels safer than an obvious alternative.Continue reading “Published Proceedings from the Australian Cycling Conference”