The Backwards Brain Bicycle – Smarter Every Day 133

Hey it’s me Destin. Welcome back to Smarter Every Day. You’ve heard people say, “It’s just like riding a bike” meaning it’s really easy and you can’t forget how to do it, right? But I did something. I did something that damaged my mind. It happened on the streets of Amsterdam and I got really scared honestly. I can’t ride a bike like you can anymore. Before I show you the video of what happened I need to tell you the back story. Like many six year olds with a MacGyver mullet I learned how to ride a bike when I was really young. I had learned a life skill and I was really proud of it. Everything changed though when my friend Barney called me 25 years later. Where I work, the welders are geniuses, and they like to play jokes on the engineers. He had a challenge for me. He had built a special bicycle and he wanted me to try to ride it. He had only changed one thing. When you turn the handlebar to the left, the wheel goes to the right. When you turn it to the right, the wheel goes to the left. I thought this would be easy so I hopped on the bike ready to demonstrate how quickly I could conquer this. – And here he is ladies and gentlemen, Mr Destin Sandlin. First attempt riding the bicycle. – Yeah, yeah. I couldn’t do it. You can see that I’m laughing but I’m actually really frustrated. In this moment I had a really deep revelation. My thinking was in a rut. This bike revealed a very deep truth to me. I had the knowledge of how to operate the bike, but I did not have the understanding. Therefore, knowledge is not understanding. Look I know what you’re probably thinking. Destin’s probably just an uncoordinated engineer and can’t do it. But that’s not the case at all. The algorithm that’s associated with riding a bike, in your brain, is just that complicated. Think about it. Downwards force on the pedals, leaning your whole body, pulling and pushing the handlebars, gyroscopic procession in the wheels, every single force is part of this algorithm. And if you change any one part it affects the entire control system. I do not make definitive statements that often, but I’m telling you right now, you cannot ride this bicycle. You might think you can, but you can’t. I know this because I’m often asked to speak at universities and conferences and I take the bike with me. It’s always the same. People think they’re gonna try some trick or they’re just gonna power through it. It doesn’t work. Your brain cannot handle this. For instance, this guy. I offered him two hundred dollars just to ride this bike ten feet across the stage. Everybody thought he could do it. [crowd exclaims] No no no. You didn’t understand. So.. this way, not that way. [crowd laughs] Alright so, whenever you’re ready. Remember you have to keep your feet on.. [crowd laughs] [laughing crowd] You’ve gotta start rolling at least. And go. Keep your feet on the pedal, go. [laughing crowd] Just keep your feet on the pedals. Alright, one more time. Once you have a rigid way of thinking in your head, sometimes you cannot change that, even if you want to. So here’s what I did. It was a personal challenge. I stayed out here in this driveway and I practiced about 5 minutes every day. My neighbors made fun of me. I had many wrecks. But after 8 months, this happened. One day I couldn’t ride the bike, and the next day I could. It was like I could feel some kind of pathway in my brain that was now unlocked. It was really weird though. It’s like there’s this trail in my brain, but if I wasn’t paying close enough attention to it, my brain would easily lose that neural path and jump back onto the old road it was more familiar with. Any small distractions at all, like a cellphone ringing in my pocket, would instantly throw my brain back to the old control algorithm and I would wreck. But at least I could ride it. My son is the closest person to me genetically and he’s been riding a normal bike for 3 years, that’s over half his life. I wanted to know how long it would take him to learn how to ride a backwards bike so I told him if he learned how to ride a backwards bike he could go with me to Australia and meet a real astronaut. Are you gonna give up? – No. – Go ahead. This is how it starts. Look at this. This is such a big deal. Get up, you got it. Did you see his brain get it? So he, in.. How many weeks we been doing this? Two weeks? In two weeks he did something that took me 8 months to do, which demonstrates that a child has more neural plasticity, am I even saying that right? Than an adult. It’s clear from this experiment that children have a much more plastic brain than adults. That’s why the best time to learn a language is when you’re a young child. Alright, today’s bike log. I can ride smooth, I can ride fast. I’m thinking the experiment is over. OK now I’m in Amsterdam, a city that has more bicycles than people. The question is, can I ride a normal bike now. I mean I have spent all this time unlearning how to ride a bike, If I go back and try to ride a normal one will my brain mess up. So I’ve tweeted a Smarter Every Day.. meetup, if you will. And I’m gonna see if somebody brings a bicycle and I’m gonna try to ride a normal bike. It’s backwards, it’s backwards. This was one of the most frustrating moments of my life. I had ridden a normal bike since I was six, but in this moment I couldn’t do it any more. I had set out to prove that I could free my brain from a cognitive bias, but at this point I’m pretty sure that all I’ve proved is that I can only re-designate that bias. So what you’re not seeing is there’s a group of people here, looking at me. Looking at the strange American, that can’t ride a bike, cause they think I’m dumb. But I’m actually two levels deep into this, because I’ve learned and un-learned. Alright. After 20 minutes of making a fool out of myself, suddenly my brain clicked back into the old algorithm. I can’t explain it, but it happened in a very specific moment. [laughter] I’ve got it, I’ve got it, I’ve got it. I’m back. Oh it clicked. It clicked. I’ve got it, I’ve got it. OK there it is. There was the moment. OK I can ride a bike. I tried to explain this to the people around me, and they just didn’t get it. They thought I was faking the previous 20 minutes and I couldn’t get anybody to believe me. That looked like I faked it, didn’t it. You think I’m faking. You don’t believe me. – It looked so weird… – You think I’m lying don’t you. I’m not lying. I felt like the only person on the planet who had ever un-learned how to ride a bike, and I couldn’t articulate it to anyone because everybody just knew that you can’t forget how to ride a bike. So I learned 3 things from this experiment. I learned that welders are often smarter than engineers, I learned that knowledge does not equal understanding, and I learned that truth is truth. No matter what I think about it. So be very careful how you interpret things because you’re looking at the world with a bias whether you think you are or not. I’m Destin, you’re getting Smarter Every Day, have a good one. OK if you wanna support Smarter Every Day you can download a free audio book at I recommend Commander Hadfield’s book which is An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth. I read it, it was awesome. If you think about it, I had to learn how to ride a different kind of bicycle and my son did it as well, but Commander Hadfield had to learn how to ride a different space ship. Not only that, but a different type of space station. He was on Mir and the International Space Station. Anyway, if you’re interested in supporting Smarter Every Day,, An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth. I’m Destin, you’re getting Smarter Every Day. Have a good one. [crowd cheers] Everything is wrong… My instinctive reaction is wrong. (Destin) Why don’t you ride it? You just build it? – I can’t ride it, I just build it. [laughs]

100 thoughts on “The Backwards Brain Bicycle – Smarter Every Day 133”

  1. OOHHHH I love this video,….absolutely love it, & to be taught that Knowledge does not = Understanding….BOOM!

  2. Hmm im twohanded and have dyslexi and dyskalkylia and i think its easy to do it fore us? we see everything diffrent, can you try this?๐Ÿ˜Š

  3. The Dutch are master cyclists, they learn to ride a bike in their infancy and continue to ride it through out their lives every single day. I wouldnt be surprised if they could learn how to ride your bike within a day.

  4. I bet I could ride this first try it's called invert view I have a bike I know how to ride but I have had so much practice using inverted controls and adapting to new things a believe I could do this easily

  5. When you know she likes big suprises so you get her a big box with your meat in it.
    Not knowing she wanted a big ninjago set from lego
    Knowledge โ‰  understanding

  6. Just SO interesting my friend,๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿป๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿป๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿป๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿ‡ฌ๐Ÿ‡ง

  7. have you tride riding the bike without the hands ? that might help i think… like a lot… and a lot of people ride hand free even in small streets…

  8. i can really relate to this because i have an understanding of this universe many people don't understand and i cant explain it, and even if i do people only get the information not the understanding.

  9. I think that its not only your bicycle experience that gets in the way of learning that inversed way of riding but also all your driving experience (like with a car). Your brain knows that turning right gets your vehicle right. So it's not only a "physical challenge" but also reversing a logic condition. My 2 cents… Also, I saw back in the 80's an experiment with a British University an a women that was wearing a reversal (mirrors) type of glasses. I took her a while before the brain did the trick (few weeks) Imagine seeing everything backward all the time!! She made it and struggle again when they took the device of her face…

  10. At my former University – the German University of Sports Science in Cologne, Germany – they've built a bike similar to this one. Added twist: you also have to peddle backwards in order to move forward and the breaks are reversed as well. It is a proper mindfuck trying to ride this thing.
    One of the biomechanics engineers was able to ride it for about 20 meters though.

    Great exercise for neurologistics. Must put quite the strain on your synpases and thus the entire sympathical/parasympathical complex.

  11. You realize the steering is also a lot looser than a normal bike is one reason itโ€™s so snappy

  12. It's not hard to ride because it steers the opposite direction, it's hard because it's extremely hard to balance the loose/wabbling/ non geometric/non centered streering.

  13. Proverbs 4:20-27 New International Version (NIV)

    20 My son, pay attention to what I say;

    turn your ear to my words.

    21 Do not let them out of your sight,

    keep them within your heart;

    22 for they are life to those who find them

    and health to oneโ€™s whole body.

    23 Above all else, guard your heart,

    for everything you do flows from it.

    24 Keep your mouth free of perversity;

    keep corrupt talk far from your lips.

    25 Let your eyes look straight ahead;

    fix your gaze directly before you.

    26 Give careful thought to the[a] paths for your feet

    and be steadfast in all your ways.

    27 Do not turn to the right or the left;

    keep your foot from evil.

  14. This was an awesome video documentary truly inspiring in mind opening. It really pulls back the veil on our cognitive thinking

  15. Why the first time you failed is because when you turn and itโ€™s reversed it would transfer all the weight to the outside of the side you turning to.

  16. You could make something deadly like this if you had reverse steering, AND reverse pedalling, so you pedal backwards to go forwards.

  17. If you started with a child who had never ridden a bike and taught them on this bike, the child would learn it as easily as a regular bike, but wow that would be cruel

  18. What about a bike with opposite direction and also opposite direction on the pedals?
    I am going to build one:))))

  19. i have actually tried one on a dare from a friend.

    at a carneval where i live did a guy have one of these bikes to try, but there was a catch. you payed 20 swedish kronor or about $2 to get 5 tries, you had to be able to ride the bike for 10 meters and if you managed to do it did you win 500 swedish kronor or about $50. my friends dared me to try it and in the dare did they give me money, so if i failed would i look like a fool in front of all my friends but earn almost 1000 swedish kronor or about $100 and if i nailed it would i have earnt $150 and look like a hero in front of everyone.

    first try was a disaster, just like everybody else, second try was almost as bad. then i took just one hand and put it on the other handle bar and gave it a try, it kinda worked and on the 4th try did i actually manage to do it but i fell after 11 meters so it wasn't much to it.

    i made $150 and the guy having this bike did change his rules to both hands on the handlebars. but i wouldn't be able to ride it without my little cheat and i have no idea if i would be able to do it now, almost 10 years after i tried the last time.

  20. Serious question (that you might not actually ever see ๐Ÿ˜Š)…but when you did this experiment and retrained your brain on the backwards bike…did this impact any other โ€œsteeringโ€ activities in your day to day? (Driving a car, backing a trailer, riding a motorcycle, etc)

  21. welders are smarter than engineers because they made the bike or…? Not sure how that got conveyed through the video

  22. I could ride that bike if I went realy fast I would probs hurt myself but it would minimise the need to turn and therefore I would do it

  23. just ride it like "Bike" not like Bicycle . its easy to do it just you need some practice

  24. I started off watching this video thinking to myself "this is stupid" but by the end of the video, I was amazed ๐Ÿ˜

  25. Dustin, do you ride a motorcycle?
    Itโ€™s like a motorcycles counter-steer. When approaching a corner my handlebars turn the opposite direction I want to go.

    Now Dustin, if the answer is no then I really want to see someone try this bike who is a keen motorcyclist!

  26. looks like a deliberately intended sloppy steering system to me, it's got too much slop in it for it to ever work right

  27. This was extremely interesting . no way I would have even attempted that bike . way cool thanks for sharing ๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿšด

  28. I would be extremely interested to se more along this line of experiment. In earthmoving, backhoes and excavators have the same digging arm construction and movement's but can come with 2 completely different hand control settings. ie, you are doing the sam as the bike. Different controls to do the same thing and I've seen many operator's that master both.

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