Why Is Riding a Bike “Just Like Riding a Bike?”


[ ♪INTRO ] If you learned to ride a bike as a kid, at
some point you probably left the bike in the garage for months or years before coming back
to it. And though you might have been a little wobbly
when you finally decided to climb back on, you never had to go through that training
wheel phase that you did at the start. The feeling is so familiar, it’s become
a figure of speech. When something’s easy to remember after a
long time not doing it, you say it’s “like riding a bike.” But this kind of memory really does stand
apart from other kinds. Even when people suffer memory loss, memories
of how to do things often survive. So why is riding a bike, just like riding
a bike? Motor memories get stored differently than
lots of other memories, making them harder to lose — but like other memories, there’s
still a lot we don’t know. Motor memory is the ability to repeat motions
and remember motor skills. It’s part of a category of memories called
implicit memories, which are generally things you learn less by thinking and more by doing. And when you learn things without putting
in specific effort to learn them, weird things can happen. Like, back in the 80s, 48 students were asked
to identify what was in some incomplete photos. Some they had just seen the full version of,
but others were completely new to them. But then, 17 years later, researchers got
in touch with 12 of them, brought them back, and compared them to a control group who had
never seen any of the pictures before. Those 12 still did better at identifying partial
photos when they hadn’t seen the full version in 17 years. While the control group didn’t show any difference. 4 of those12 also said they had no memory
of even being in the study, which is part of what makes it implicit. No one ever sat them down to make them study
up on photos because they were going to be tested later, like you might for a test in
school. Those implicit memories also use different
brain systems than other kinds. One of the first on any list of brain parts
related to memory is probably the hippocampus, which is involved in making new memories. But it’s less important for implicit and
motor memories. One reason we know this is from studying patients
with amnesia. When people suffer injuries to the hippocampus
and nearby parts of the temporal lobe, they tend to lose memories from before the injury,
and also can’t make new memories afterward. These are called retrograde and anterograde
amnesia, respectively. And while it would be, of course, massively
unethical to cause brain damage in order to study memory, case studies of people who have
suffered brain injuries can give us unique insight. Basically, if someone damages part of their
brain and loses a certain function, you know that part was necessary for that function. And some of these cases have interesting twists. For example, one patient spent years volunteering
to shelve books at his library after a motorcycle accident caused him to lose his hippocampus,
preventing him from making new memories. But he still learned the Dewey Decimal System
— even though he couldn’t tell you how he learned it. Which means that researchers have to look
beyond the hippocampus to understand how implicit memories work. And for motor memories in particular, we’ve
got a few leads. One of these regions is the cerebellum. That’s a part of your brain that’s separate
from the cerebral cortex. Other brain regions involved in memory, like
the hippocampus, are part of the cerebral cortex, so the fact that it’s separate might
be part of why this learning can be unconscious. And one of its major purposes seems to be
fine-tuning of motion. That includes careful movements like balancing
on a bike or playing the piano. It’s a complicated system, but some of the
tools that make it all work are called Purkinje cells. They collect signals from neurons coming from
other sensory systems, like sight and sound, and convert them into a signal that fires
at a variable frequency, up to 500 spikes per second. That signal gets sent to different motor systems,
like hand grasping or gait, hopefully adding up to a smooth, fluid motion. One of the mysteries, though, is that this
might not be where these memories are stored. Instead, research has pointed to changes in
a number of different brain regions — not all of which are where we’d expect. For example, in a study published in Nature
in 2004, 24 people were split into two groups, one of which was asked to learn to juggle. After about 3 months of practice, they could
juggle for a solid 60 seconds. The researchers scanned their brains and found
changes in the temporal lobe and the intraparietal sulcus in the group who learned to juggle. These weren’t regions associated with memory
per se — instead they had to do with tracking visual motion and planning hand movements. But then, 3 months after that, the volunteers
got their brains scanned again, and those changes were still there, though they were
a little smaller. That’s even though none of them reported
continuing to practice. I guess once scientists tell you are done,
you just stop juggling. Come on! Have some fun! But similar studies found other brain locations
were important — so we probably won’t ever tie motor memories to just a single location
or process. And those neurons in the cerebellum might
not be just for motor skills. There’s evidence some cognitive tasks require
them as well. Some research has even tied them to emotional
experiences. So the next time you get back on your bicycle,
give some thanks at least in part to your cerebellum! It’s one of the major things keeping you
balanced and upright — and contributing to your ability to hold on to that for years. Thanks for watching this episode of SciShow
Psych. We couldn’t make SciShow without the help
of our patrons. Patrons get access to neat perks, not least
of which is the satisfaction of helping to bring free educational content to the whole
entire internet. If that sounds like your jam, head over to
patreon.com/scishow and sign up. [ ♪OUTRO ]

100 thoughts on “Why Is Riding a Bike “Just Like Riding a Bike?””

  1. Im loving all these comments of dutch people proclaiming their love for their bikes 😂 i miss holland 🇳🇱 ❤️

  2. I forgot how to ride a bike, because I first learned riding unicycle, so riding unicycle is for like riding a bike , litteraly

  3. This is like how I saw a video where an old woman with Alzhemier's was able to play old piano pieces from when she was a child and able to link this to some of her memories as a child.

  4. last time i rode a bike, my foot slipped off the pedal, my knee gave way (preexisting injury) and i wobbled into traffic and got hit by a car. the car was only going at like 1mph so i was fine, but my doctor says im not allowed to ride my bike anymore :'(

  5. As a small kid when adults say how do you know how can you possibly know. What told that? They should see this video.that question shows they don't know anything about learning.
    And if know something they you think you know everything . But the fact they offended by you questioning them shows they think they know everything

  6. One of those cases which taught us a lot about implicit memory, must be Clive Wearing. No doubt, the reason why Hank referenced playing a piano, as Wearing can play the piano despite his severe retrograde and anterograde amnesia.

  7. I suppose this subconscious muscle memory is why motor control isn't a mindful practice (if you want to move something, you don't have to think about the muscles needed to accomplish the desired movement).

  8. I have memorized the algorithms to solve a rubiks cube. I didnt touch it for a year but could still do the algorithms quickly and without thinking. If i tried to do it slowly i would forget what to do.

  9. Some part of muscle memory has to exist in the spinal chord, or the "rest of the brain." The entire nervous system is part of learning, especially when it involves reflexes, and while the part of the core brain can't be overstated; for physical tasks – especially ones involving the legs, like riding a bicycle – you can't forget the important part played by the "lesser" sections of the nervous system.

  10. This is also what happens when I haven't played a song on piano for years. I don't remember (nor did I ever know) any of the names of notes or chords. And the next few movements come flooding back when I just start playing part of it.

  11. "I can tell you the license plate numbers of all six cars outside. I can tell that our waitress is left-handed… and the guy sitting up at the counter weighs pounds and knows how to handle himself. I know the best place to look for a gun is the cab of the gray truck outside. And at this altitude, I can run flat-out for a half mile before my hands start shaking. Now why would I know that?"

  12. I forgot how to ride a bike as a small child. I started young enough that I don't completely remember learning the first time, so it's not terribly surprising that I had to relearn after 5+ years.

  13. Does age make a difference? I learnt to ride a bike when I was six, but by 14, I'd forgotten how, and had to learn all over again.

  14. My memory is awful
    I don't actually know how to spell any of my passwords and I just rely on motor memory to press the right keys…

    Am I broken?…

  15. I actually never learned to ride a bike. Like, every single time I get on one, I'm still in the training wheels phase, and now I'm in my late 20s and I feel like it's way too late to learn. I can mostly keep my balance while going straight, but I don't know how to pedal without shifting my whole body weight from one side to the other, which usually ends up with me tumbling over into the grass.

  16. I thought “it’s just like riding a bike” means you do it very often. But it means the exact opposite

  17. I think it is pretty weird to imagine that my whole ego, memory and all my thoughts are in this squishy wet thing in my head. Its a little bit disgusting….
    Dont know why ^^

  18. Sooo is the Cebellum the part where muscle memory comes from? Or did I just completely misunderstand the video? 😀

  19. Kinda also explains why you might remember where to go when you've not been there for years…

    Since I'm in the adoptee community, too, we often talk about half baked memories which either have only one sensation point (like touch, feel, sound smell), or just a strong emotional attachment, but science hasn't quite caught up to us yet, so we often don't share outside of our community. (*sarcasm* thank you Elizabeth Loftus for shaming us).

    For me, at least in exploring these half-baked memories, the starting point seems to be a strong emotion. Then followed by a strong sensation or a routine. And then other sensations get pulled along with it.

  20. SciShow Psych. How can one overcome bitterness, grievance, spite, grudging feelings, anger or hate? I'm going crazy and it's been years.

  21. I'm guessing it's more natural. Most ("higher") animal behaviors are complex linking behaviors. We try to learn by brute force, kinda mechanical. The rare times you get one on one learning and learning by being thrown in are the ones that stick. I've always figured that's how apes teach. Even new world monkeys. Other animals it's harder to recognize. I'm almost more impressed by instinct from blinking and breathing to how ants farm and create nests without any observational learning or tutor.

  22. Many of the sequences I use for the Rubik's Cube are now muscle memories. Once I see the piece I want to move, I can look away and watch a video until I have to look for the next piece.

  23. Implicit memories are neat, realising people remember the feeling of something before their Hippo-ampus was developed so that even their first weeks of being alive can be remembered in some manner.

  24. I HATE this saying. From age 5 till 14, if I wanted to go ANYWHERE, I had to ride a bike. I was good. I was fast. Never got into any accidents that were memorable enough to…well…remember. I have tried NUMEROUS times to take up bike riding again since I was about 19 (I'm 32 now) and no matter how much I try, I CANNOT. I can't get the bike to stay upright. I can't go more than a few meters without falling over. I feel like this saying was created just to shame me.

  25. ah yes, a metaphor for a thing I didn't learn how to do. guess my only form of transportation using my two good ol' legs to get everywhere

  26. So if someone can’t ride a bike due to difficulties in motor functions what’s going on in their brain that prevents it?

  27. What is even stranger to me, is that i still "forget" how to ride a bike.
    I mean, i've been doing mountain biking for almost 15 years now. It's a unique skill to be able to ride on rough terrain without slowing down too much. However, if for some reason i don't ride off-road for a while (few weeks), it takes a good half an hour or even more to refresh the skills. Of course, the basic riding skills are there, the fluid movement is what missing at first.
    The same thing with parkour. I can do vaults easily without thinking after hundreds and thousands of repetitions, yet if i have to stop because of an injury, i still have to re-teach myself for the motion. It takes just a few jumps and my body starts to remember, but these more advanced stuff seem to be fading away easier than the basics. Yet, they're still there even after a very long time.
    Our body is amazing.

  28. I never fully learned how to ride a bike. I know how to swim, dive, climb walls and trees, and mountain ski, but I do not know how to ride a bycycle. I tried to learn 6 times in my life, last time just about 3 months ago. I did not succeed. I have first tried to learn when I was 9 years old. Did not succeed.

    Can you explain why, @ScishowPsych

  29. Look up "demand features" for experimental psychology, the problem with studies like this is that they have built in (implicit) – see what I did there – demand features that make it clear to participants what is required of them, even if only unconsciously. One reason demand features might occur is that we are highly social creatures that desire to satisfy not only our own needs and desires, but the needs and desires of others – say, a researcher for example. It's a big problem in any study that is not completely blind, making it a problem in long-term psych/brain/behav/economic research.

  30. Nobody:
    Hank: so the next time you ride your bike say thank you to your cerebellum okay it's the nice thing to do

  31. But but but! My ability to ride a bike got replaced by the ability to ride a motorcycle. Then last time I tried to get on a bike I fell over.

  32. What about the upper spinal cord thing? I remember hearing (long time ago back in the 80s) that there was some evidence that this kind of "motor memory" was partially stored in the upper part of the spinal cord…though none of the articles I read back then mentioned just where…but I had got the impression they didn't mean the cerebellum or even the medulla, but the spinal nerves themselves. Was that debunked?

  33. I went 20 years without riding a bike. 1 minute after getting back on one, it was like I'd never been away from cycling.

  34. I don't think riding a bike is a good example for such skills. Riding a bike is less about motor skills, and more about trust. At one moment you realise that a bike doesn't fall over without you balancing it; it simply rights itself if yo keep pedaling and just avoid any jerky movements.
    The training wheels phase is a crutch to replace that trust; it's really counterproductive, as it doesn't let you lean into a curve. My generation learned to cycle mostly without those.

  35. I'm glad that, in my experience, playing musical instruments is like this. It would be very sad to lose those skills while I'm focusing on other things, but it doesn't seem to be happening.

  36. and still i bet there are people out there worrying about having brains uploaded to computers. scientists need a wee bit more time for that.

  37. This is why when I teach people how to do stuff on the computer, I never touch the keyboard. I make my student make the movements as I tell them, perhaps pointing to a key or 2, but never making the movement myself. It is the pupil who will work with the computer, not me.

    A number of times someone has quickly done the movements on the keyboard for me and I've said, "Wait, what'd you do?"

  38. I actually had to learn to ride my bike twice.

    Growing up in the mountains of Colorado I could only ride my bike during the height of summer. Add to this a very large growth spurt over the fall and winter months after I learned the first time, my size and center of mass were very different when I got back on a bike and I just couldn't do it.

    I went back to training wheels and had to work up to riding freely again. While it was easier the second time, I always take the saying "it's like riding a bike" with a grain of salt.

  39. There's very interesting work on the recently-investigated role facia plays in proprioception. I wonder if these signals combine with "muscle memory" to refine and remember our movement skills. Fascia was previously regarded as only the lubrication and sheath for muscles but now is seen as yet another organ like our skin. Please do a segment on this work.

  40. "Get access to neat perks, not least of which is the satisfaction of helping"

    So you give perks which are less than that?

  41. When I was a kid growing up in Chicago, I climbed a lot of trees, some not on our property. I left Chicago when I was 13 (1967), and I never had a reason to re-examine the trees I was familiar with. However, about 45 years after I left, I looked up my old address on Google Maps. I was surprised to discover I still remembered the procedure to climb the trees. You put your foot in a particular V, and then swing your body up and around – and so on. Apparently, humans keep climbing procedure knowledge for decades.

  42. Except apparently with me cause the following year after finally learning to ride a bike, I cannot actually ride anymore and crashed it 3 times until the handlebars weren't on straight, and repeat 3 times, and i didn't actually get 5 seconds of attempted riding before those crashes

    I have massive balance issues than to Aspergers

  43. Smarter every day did a series interesting series on that topic
    The Backwards Brain Bicycle – Smarter Every Day 133 – YouTube

  44. What's interesting about my personal experience with learning how to ride a bicycle was that I spent about a few months attempting to learn, but could not figure out how to balance properly and would fall frequently. I eventually gave up and did not attempt to ride a bicycle until a year or more later where when I got on my bicycle it was as if I never had issues at all. I've seen similar "delayed learning" in other individuals where someone was able to get (exceptionally) better at Guitar Hero after not playing for an extended period of time.

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