The Backwards Bike: Neuroplasticity In Action

by Deane Alban

on September 14, 2015

You’ve heard the expression, “It’s like riding a bike.” But I bet you didn’t know it was all about neuroplasticity! Usually a skill — like riding a bike — once learned is never completely forgotten. But you may need a short period of practice to kick your neurons back into gear.

Engineer Destin Sandlin is the creator of the educational science website Smarter Every Day. Like most of us, he learned to ride a bike as a child. In one experiment, he modified his bicycle with a pair of cogs to create a “backwards bike.” So when he turned the handlebars to the left, the wheel went to the right and vice versa. Sandlin thought he’d master this new way of riding in a few minutes, but that’s not what happened. His brain was so strongly wired, it took him 8 months of daily practice to unlearn the old way and learn the new way of riding his bike.

Interestingly, when he went back to riding a normal bicycle, he adjusted quickly since that neural pathway was still there. As you might expect, kids have more brain plasticity than adults and we lose brain plasticity with age. That’s why Sandlin’s six-year-old son was riding his backwards bike like a pro in just two weeks.

Enjoy this fun, real life example of brain plasticity in action in the video below.

Read our article on how you can make yourself smarter and happier by harnessing the power of neuroplasticity here.