Unlearning How to Ride a Bike: How One Engineer Figured Out that Knowledge Isn’t Understanding


By Jack Day

At some point in the American childhood, kids generally learn how to ride a bike. The mechanics can be tricky so adults invented training wheels to help the kids along, but once a kid learns, the understanding turns into a lifelong skill.

One engineer learned how to ride a bike, unlearned and then relearned. Sounds complicated, but the experiment proved that the brain is amazing at adaptation.

Destin is the founder of “Smarter Every Day,” a YouTube creator who produces science related content. In this experiment, Destin uses a bike built by a friend to prove that if something like direction is changed, the brain will have a hard time mastering an old skill. Destin took a bike that was altered to steer in the opposite direction that the handle bars would move (handle bars to the right, wheels to the left and so on). He found that no matter how hard he tired he just couldn’t ride it.

Fast forward to eight months later. After more than half a year, Destin finally mastered the skill of riding the “Backward Brain Bike.” He wondered if it would be just as difficult for his 6-year-old son to learn. At that point in his research, Destin notes that his son had been riding a bike since he was 3-years-old.

What took Destin eight months to learn only took his son three. Destin managed to prove that the child brain is more plastic than the adult brain by showing how little time it took for a young person to master a new skill.

Destin wasn’t done yet. After unlearning how to ride a regular bike and mastering the “Backwards Brian Bike,” Destin wanted to see if he could ride a normal bike again.

He couldn’t.

It took more than a half hour for his brain to figure out how to carry out the old skill.

Now Destin is on a mission to learn something new everyday, funding his projects through Patreon and his YouTube following.

What do you think of Destin’s bicycle experiment? Does it really prove that kids are more open to learning than adults? What does this say about memory and age? Could his finding benefit the medical world? Tell us your thoughts in the comment section below.

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