Of all the things humans have endeavored, that was once learned, why did the bike become the expression in our lexicon?
Well, there’s a neuroscientific explanation for why we never forget how to ride a bike!
There’s a particular nerve cell in the brain the controls the formation of memories for motor skills. They’re called ‘molecular layer interneurons’. These never cells encode electric signals leaving the cerebellum – the part of the brain that controls coordinated movement – into a language that can be stored as memory in other parts of the brain.
This process is true for all other motor skills, from throwing a ball to dancing the tango…so why have we singled out the expression…’ It’s like riding a bike?’ Why not it’s like dancing the tango???
For some reason, we’ve chosen riding a bike as the benchmark by which all motor skills are to be judged?
I personally don’t know why this is, I’m sure no one really knows…but science has a theory:
“Intrinsic stability” meaning that the modern front steering wheel of a bike, when at speed, will steer itself. For example, have you ever ghost riding a bike before? You get up to speed and jump off and you watch the bike go! The bike will even make small steering corrections to keep upright. It can be suggested that our brains feel a sense of instability with a dash of fear when we learn to ride a bike – we quickly correct and encode a permanent skill out of necessity?
Or…..I like this theory. It may have to do with childhood when most of us learn to ride a bike. It’s one of the few universal skills taught to us by a trusted adult. That leap of faith when the trainers are removed and the person holding the seat to keep you steady… (but has secretly let go). I ofter dream about the time when I was riding my bike for the first time on my own. I remember looking back and seeing my dad blocks away…and thinking….”this is the best feeling!”
I’ll never forget that moment…