“It’s as easy as riding a bike” the popular saying goes. The common expression is used to refer to a skill that you can always remember, but I wonder if riding a bike is a skill that you really never forget.
Can you forget how to ride a bike? It is nearly impossible to forget how to ride a bike because it is a procedural memory, a type of knowledge that is easy for your brain to retain. According to Live Science, procedural memory is part of your long-term memory that stores how to do certain physical tasks.
Why You Never Forget How to Ride a Bike
When you’re riding a bike, unless you are just learning or haven’t ridden for a long time, you don’t have to think about it. For the most part, it seems to come naturally, you barely need to think about it and your mind is free to think about other things. But riding a bike isn’t a simple task; you have to maintain balance while coordinating various motor skills and try not to crash into anything.
So how is it that you never forget such a complex task? The reason you never forget how to ride a bike is because of how the information is stored in your brain. How to ride a bike is information that is stored in your procedural memory. In simple terms, procedural memory is remembering how to do things. Procedural memory is where you store memories about tasks that involve cognition and motor skills.
Compare this to declarative memory, the type of memory where you store concepts and information like birthdays or the state capital.
Procedural memory is a sub-component of a category of memories called implicit memories. Implicit memories are the type of memories that allow you to remember how to do things based on past experiences without having to think about it. A procedural memory is usually one that you have learned so well that you don’t have to think about it, like walking. For example, when speaking your first language, you don’t need to think about all the rules and syntax the way you would if you were learning a new language. It just flows naturally. This applies to a lot of other skills, like playing an instrument or driving. Once you’ve learned how to ride a bike and have gotten enough experience, it becomes something that you can do without having to think about it very much.
Cases Where You Would Need to Learn Again
While you may never forget how to ride a bike, there are cases where you may need to learn again. This can be caused by brain injuries, strokes or other physical issues that impair your balance or your ability to carry out certain movements. You would need to relearn the skill while adapting to your condition. This isn’t the same as forgetting how to ride altogether.
In these cases, the affected person needs to relearn a lot of physical skills to adapt to their new condition. In these cases, people can be affected in a number of different ways.
- They may lose the ability to feel objects or the position of some of their body parts
- They may have partial numbness or paralysis and they could experience dizziness or disorientation among a number of other symptoms.
Relearning a skill is not the same as forgetting how to do something. If you were experiencing any of these symptoms you would still know how to ride a bike like you used to, you just wouldn’t be able to ride a bike the same way.
If someone is experiencing these kinds of symptoms, especially an avid cyclist, there are a range of options. There is a huge variety of different bicycles to meet the needs of people who have conditions that impair their ability to ride a regular bicycle. This includes adult tricycles and hand-peddled bikes among many other options. Biking can also be part of the physiotherapy process for people who are going through rehabilitation after an injury. This may require starting with a stationary bike and working up to a regular bike. Even if you have to relearn how to ride a bike, there are a lot of solutions to meet your needs.
Learning as an Adult
Even though it’s nearly impossible to forget how to ride a bike, there are plenty of adults who are just learning how. It is fairly common for someone to never have learned how to ride a bike at all. According to a poll by YouGov covered in Five Thirty Eight, roughly six percent of Americans don’t know how to ride a bike. There is a wide range of reasons why someone would never have learned how to ride a bike, like not having anyone to teach them or not having access to a bike.
According to bike riding instructor Andree Sanders while speaking with Vogue, many of her adult learners share a similar story, they gave up learning to ride a bike as a child after crashing. In these cases, the people didn’t forget how to ride a bike, they just gave up learning how to as a child.
Riding a bike may be harder to learn as an adult for several reasons. For one, adults are a lot more self-conscious about learning how to ride a bike. Adults feel embarrassed struggling to learn a skill that is usually mastered in early childhood. On top of that, biking is a deceptively complicated task. You need to maintain your balance, while coordinating various motor skills and avoiding obstacles. Adult learners tend to overthink or let their embarrassment get the better of them. Even with these challenges, it is not a very difficult skill to learn. Most people can learn to ride a bike in an hour or two.
There is no shame in learning to ride as an adult.
It is more common than you think. In some cities there are even classes specifically for adults. The best way to learn how to ride a bike is to have someone who already knows teach you. It is much more difficult to learn by reading instructions, or just trying. This is because how to ride a bike is tacit knowledge. According to Knowledge Management Tools, tacit knowledge is knowledge rooted in actions that is difficult to communicate. Tacit knowledge is the kind of information that is difficult to explain to someone and much easier to show them. It is something that you have to experience to understand.
As such, it is easiest to get someone else to teach you to ride a bike. Getting proper instruction from someone can be especially valuable if you plan on riding to get around and not just for fun. Riding in traffic can be much more complicated and it is important to learn the local rules of the road.
If you’re an adult who never learned to ride a bike, don’t let embarrassment get the better of you. It’s a fun way to stay active and it’s an experience you will never forget.
Will Aging Make You Forget How to Ride a Bike?
As you get older, you may struggle with memory loss. Some memory loss as you age is normal. Normal memory loss would be something like forgetting the name of a movie that you’ve recently seen. Other types of memory loss can be symptoms of more serious conditions such as dementia. Normal memory loss related to aging is more of a use it or lose it situation, like muscle strength, according to Help Guide. Just as you need to stay physically active to stay fit, you have to keep your mind active to keep cognitive abilities. Just like amnesia, the type of memory loss associated with aging mostly affects declarative memory.
You may start to forget things like birthdays or the name of your third cousin, but you will likely still remember physical skills store in your procedural memory like riding a bike.
A study published in Neurobiology of Aging found that procedural memory was not affected by aging in animals. Though the study looked at animals, it helps to understand what happens to brains as they age. The results help to support the theory that procedural memory is less affected by aging than other types of memory.
As you get older, there are more serious conditions associated with memory less, most notably dementia. Dementia involves serious mental deterioration that includes memory loss as a major symptom. Even if you had dementia, you would most likely remember how to ride a bike. Like amnesia and aging, dementia affects declarative memory. A study conducted with people suffering from dementia found that the subjects were able to maintain procedural memories. What this research suggests is that procedural memory is more strongly retained in your brain than other kinds of memories. However, these types of conditions would impair a person’s ability to complete other complex tasks related to riding a bike, such as navigating traffic and obeying traffic signs.
As you get older, the more relevant challenge to riding a bike will be your physical condition. You are more likely to have a physical condition that restricts your ability to ride a bike than to forget how. As was previously mentioned, cognitive abilities and physical skills need to be used to be maintained. Biking can be a great way to stay in shape as you get older, especially since it is a low impact workout where you can set the pace.
What If You Have Amnesia?
Amnesia isn’t just a plot point in Hollywood movies, its memory loss emerging as a symptom of something more serious like an injury or health condition. Amnesia can be caused by a lot of different things such as brain injury, stroke, psychological trauma or alcohol abuse. According to Medical News Today, there are several types of amnesia that vary in severity, but most cases resolve themselves without treatment. Even if you had amnesia, you would still remember how to ride a bike.
Someone may have forgotten where they live or what year it is, but they will still remember how to ride a bike. This is because amnesia impairs a different kind of memory. Amnesia affects declarative memory, the type of memory that stores information like dates and names. It does not affect procedural memory, which is how your brain stores how to ride a bike and other skills.
Someone with amnesia will probably have trouble recalling certain facts, or may have difficulty retaining new information, but they would still have the ability to carry-out tasks that they have a lot of experience with such as speaking their first language. Not only would someone with amnesia remember how to ride a bike, they would also retain other abilities stored in their procedural memory like skiing or cooking. According to the BBC, there are numerous cases of musicians who have experienced amnesia, but maintained their musical abilities. It includes one example of a cellist who couldn’t remember the layout of his own apartment, but was still able to play his instrument. One study looked at patients with severe head injuries who were experiencing amnesia and found that they still maintained procedural memory. So even in an extreme case of memory loss, like amnesia, you still wouldn’t forget how to ride a bike.
- How do I learn to ride a bike as an adult? The best way to learn to ride a bike is to have an instructor. There are professional cycling instructors that teach adults. A common method is to start riding the bike without using pedals, just pushing off the ground, then start using one pedal, then start using both pedals. The gradual approach allows learners to practice balancing before worrying about pedalling.
- Can I relearn how to ride a bike after a stroke or brain injury? It is possible to relearn to ride a bike depending on your physical symptoms. You may regain some abilities through physiotherapy. There are also specialized bikes that can be used depending on your physical abilities.