Research hub develops in a cycle-obsessed city

Research students from around the world are travelling to Bendigo to work with the exercise physiology team at La Trobe Rural Health School.

Story and photo by Lauren Mitchell
First published on the La Trobe University Bendigo blog November 10, 2017


Forget gold, Bendigo is on the way to being famous for something else of value. Cycling biomechanics research. Cool, hey. Exercise physiology lecturer Rodrigo Bini says biomechanics research is popular all over the world, “but if you filter that down into who’s doing cycling research, it’s only a handful of places”. And we’re fast becoming one of them.

“I think it will be good in the long term, Bendigo has the potential to grow into a good research hub on cycling,” Rodrigo says.

The Brazilian-born academic has been on the Bendigo Campus for almost one year and in that time has helped attract a passionate group of student researchers from around the world, equally enamoured with the science of cycling.

One of those is Sona Jurkova, a visiting PhD researcher from the Czech Republic, who farewells Bendigo today after a month progressing her research into cycling fatigue.

“I’m trying to understand what cyclists do to postpone fatigue while on the bike,” she says. “I’m interested in how fatigue causes changes, especially in race cycling. I’m involved with training children and I want to know how to improve the training process.”

Talking about fatigue… Sona says she’s not looking forward to the two-day flight back home, although the travel pain has been well worth the experience of working with Rodrigo. She’d read some of his research at her home university and decided Bendigo was the place she needed to be.

The work being done in the campus exercise science labs is also getting noticed closer to home.

When the Head of Cardiology at Bendigo Health discovered a pattern of cyclists around Bendigo presenting with heart abnormalities, he contacted our exercise physiology department to see if our researchers could work out why.

Cue post-doc researcher Daniel Wundersitz and PhD student Luke Daly, who are part of a team looking into the problem. The team secured a grant to test and monitor a group of 15 cyclists who took part in a recent Western Australia-to-Bendigo charity ride.

The cyclists were put through an echocardiograph, 12-lead ECG, 24-hour Holter monitoring and blood tests before and after the 21-day ride. Researchers are now studying those test results, looking for any effects and changes on the cyclists’ heart health.

“Because there’s such a big cycling culture in Bendigo it’s very beneficial for the cycling community to understand what’s happening,” Daniel says.

Daniel came to Bendigo from Melbourne chasing research opportunities just like this one. “It’s been really good,” he says. “Just the exposure to research and the number of research areas I’ve been given to work on has been excellent. It’s been good for my career being here.”

Rodrigo would say the same thing. He completed his own PhD in New Zealand, then went back to Brazil to lecture for five years before moving to Bendigo. “I was doing a lot of teaching but wanted to develop something more research-based,” he says.

“During my undergraduate program I got involved in a project to understand cycling biomechanics, or how people use their muscles while riding. It was really interesting, I got really engaged with cycling research and stayed with it. That was 12 years ago.”

He says Bendigo is the perfect place to become a hub for cycling research. Not only does the campus boast a brand new state-of-the-art exercise physiology lab, and a host of dedicated academics, the city itself is mad on cycling. With many groups of social cyclists, mountain bikers and road riders in the saddle every day, there’s no shortage of potential research participants.

To take part in some of the cycling research happening on campus email Rodrigo on r.bini@latrobe.edu.au

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