Why we never forget how to ride a bike


Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2018/11/15/why-we-never-forget-how-to-rid.html


Mrs Johnson has forgotten how to ride a bike.
What does this mean?
She refused to ride a 3-wheeler, so I got these “adult size” training wheels for people with balance problems.

Years ago we had a tandem and she was the only person I’ve ever known to be perfectly comfortable riding in back, not having to bother with things like “steering” or “balance”. Perfectly content to be “dead weight”.


Back in 71 or so. I learned how to ride a Unicycle. I was pretty good…could go down stairs and bounce over obstacles, balance in place etc.

I’ve often wondered if muscle memory of that skill is also like riding a bike.


Muscle memory is pretty cool. I can be so drunk I can’t walk a straight line but can pick up three balls, clubs, beanbags, or such and throw a cascade without any issues. No tricks mind you but a basic juggle no problem.


Our brain can surprise you from time to time, especially once you get older and “aware” of what he’s doing. Also connected to the muscle memory is a phenomen known with drivers. If you’re having the same exact road with two street lights which you’re passing everyday from work, at one point you will go from your office to your home and you will not remember if you had a red or green light while passing through the street. I mean, obviously you passed through a green light, but since the whole process is so meaningless to your brain the road, looking at the light and driving the normal speed went in to your muscle memory and, thus, it wasn’t that important.

Same thing happens to people who live on a higher level floor in a building, where they have to climb three-four-five sets of stairs until they reach their apartment - sometimes it happens that you feel like you just not entered the building, but all of a sudden you’re in front of your door. Why? Because you repeated the same process so many times that your brain just doesn’t feel like it has to be “on” for those four sets of stairs.

Crazy… Love this little things, shows us how little we know…


@Glenn Dude, edit the link.


It is not. People forget how to ride the unicycle, which casts doubt on the whole article.


There’s a youtube video where a guy describes how it took 6 months of concentrated effort to learn how to ride a bike with reversed steering. He claims that as a result, he was unable to ride a normal bike, and had to re-learn it.


Paris. Paris is the capital of France, just in case someone is wondering.


No, they are just ashamed to admit that they used to ride unicycles.

#11 Unicycles are not to be ridden backwards at excessive speed.


As a kid, it took me three years to learn how to ride a bike (age 7 to 10), and even then I never felt very confident about it. Freshman year of college, I rode a bit to get to one class on another campus. I did a few trail rides with friends in my twenties. Now I’m 50, and I work at one of those tech companies that leaves bikes lying around to get from one building in the compound to another. I tried one of those. Nope. Not going to happen. I’ll walk, thank you.


I learned to ride a unicycle when I was 12. I was never great at it, doing any stunts or much more than going forward and steering a little awkwardly. Recently I picked up a unicycle at the thrift shop and found I hadn’t lost the ability, I was a bit more awkward than when I was 12 but I was safe.

“Riding” a unicycle is an odd phrase, because it implies coasting, like you can do on a bike. Being on a unicycle is constant work. Maybe that’s the important difference with regards to both learning and remembering how to ride a bike.


Maybe it’s that we forget how to be fearless.

When I was a kid, there was a public swimming pool in our town. It had three diving boards: a low one, a medium one, and a high one. I was a so-so swimmer—had taken some lessons for safety’s sake, but really only went swimming to be with my friends. I only used the low diving board. But one summer, for some reason, I dove off the high board. It worked out okay, and I kept doing it many more times all summer long. When the next summer rolled around, I went up the ladder of the high board—and just couldn’t do it. I was too scared. I haven’t dived off a high board since, and I often wonder how it was that I was fearless that one summer.


Maybe I should have explained a bit more. I had a friend who learned to ride the unicycle and was quite good. Years later, I offered him an unicycle for his wedding. He found out he could not ride it any more. After a week of exercise, he learned it back, though.


Unicycles are not quite the same as bicycles. You are using a A LOT more of your sense of balance and you can’t rest your weight on the pedals.


Muscle memory is astonishing. I took up winter mountaineering a few years ago, after not having done it in decades. I went out with a friend who was much better than I at it, and at the top of a steep slope, my snowshoes lost their bite in powder. I started slipping - slipping far too fast for safety or comfort. I dropped to one knee, made a telemark turn, and braked to a stop in front of my friend, who exclaimed, “I thought you said you’d forgotten how!” while I was thinking, “WTF just happened?” I surely couldn’t have managed that manoeuvre consciously - it’s rather an advanced skill on snowshoes - but somehow my body remembered what to do. My buddy said my form was just perfect.


That’s an interesting point. “Riding a bicycle” must have become the go-to “never forget how…” meme because it’s in the sweet spot between being complex enough to be remarkable, but simple enough to be locked in procedurally. No one ever says “You never forget how to open a door!” or “you never forget how to hold a pencil!” even though we all had to learn at some point (my one and three year old are learning these two right now!) So, while the OP presents a binary, there is definitely more fluidity.


This phenomenon of not noticing things when you do them is what Julian Jaynes suggested is unconscious thinking. His hypothesis is that we did not become actually conscious until a few thousand years ago.

Of course this hypothesis engenders the fundamental problem of consciousness. You can’t argue for the start or existence of a human characteristic that lacks consensus of what it even is.

It is outlined in “The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind” - a fascinating read regardless of whether you agree with his hypothesis or not.



Balance problems is the main thing I notice among older people who stop riding bikes. I’m not sure if that is related to the increase in hearing problems, or some other cause.