Riding a Bike: The Skill We Never Forget

November 12, 2019
Riding a bike is something that we'll never forget how to do, no matter how many years go by. If you've ever wondered why, we're going to answer that question in this article.

“It’s just like riding a bike…you never forget.” You’ve probably heard this phrase used hundreds of times, but why is it true that we seem to never forget how to ride a bike?

The first “vehicle” we use when we’re little is a bike. And, in order to use it well, like everything else, you have to learn and practice. First you learn with two training wheels (also called stabilizers), and, eventually, you’ll be able to balance without any extra help.

Riding a bike is something we never forget how to do

Quite often, when we get to a certain age as children or teenagers, we decide the time has come to leave our bike behind. However, years later, as adults, we sometimes decide that we’d like to start riding a bike again. We ask ourselves: “Will I be able to ride the way I did before?” The answer is always yes! We never forget how to ride a bike!

The information on how to ride a bike is recorded in the synapses, which are the areas of the brain where one neuron communicates with another. That’s why when a person starts to ride a bike again, even many years later, the neurons are able to find that ability to ride again.

Is it possible to teach others to ride a bike?

However, having said all that, teaching others to ride a bike isn’t as simple as it sounds. The mother, father, or anyone who teaches a child how to ride a bike can teach them with their own methods, or teach them the basic concepts. But, as it’s a learning activity, the child won’t be able to do it until they practice on their own.

The effect of memory on learning

Atkinson and Shiffrin’s memory model states that there are three types of memory:

  • Sensory memory
  • Short-term memory
  • Long-term memory

The sensory memory is the shortest of the three, and in a few seconds transmits the acquired information to the short-term memory.

Short-term memory is also called working memory, as we find the understanding and reasoning processes within this type of memory. We could say that this is our learning memory.

However, we can find the answer to our original question in our long-term memory. That’s where our brain consolidates our memories.

Riding a Bike: The Skill We Never Forget

Long-term memory

As the name implies, this is where we retain our long-lasting memories. We record all the facts that may be important in our lives in this area.

In turn, we can divide this type of memory into two:

  • Explicit memory
  • Implicit memory

Explicit memory

Explicit memory is also called declarative memory. It includes objective knowledge and also the meaning of places, people, or facts. Again, this type of memory divides into semantic and episodic memory.

Semantic memory refers to our memories of the objective knowledge and meaning of events, people, and places that we’ve learned about in our lives. It’s all external knowledge. For example, knowing that Christopher Columbus conquered America is part of our semantic memory.

Episodic memory is similar, with the only difference being that it refers to memories and events in our personal lives. For example, the first day you went to high school.

Implicit memory

Implicit memory refers to the skills we acquire at particular moments in our lives, and that we never forget again. We store these memories in implicit memory.

Riding a Bike: The Skill We Never Forget

It’s in this part of the long-term memory that we store information on how to ride a bike, and other skills such as driving a car or using a computer keyboard. As we said before, it’s a learning activity that’s acquired through practice, and it’s difficult to forget.

The reason that these memories aren’t erased is that they’re located in the center of the brain, in the basal ganglia. This area has a great deal of protection inside the skull. It doesn’t generate new nerve cells on a regular basis, which other parts of our brain do.

That’s why it’s far more unlikely that these memories will be erased, and that’s why we never forget how to ride a bike!

  • Brennan, A. E., y Smith, M. A. (2015). The decay of motor memories is independent of context change detection. PLOS Computational Biology, 11, 1-31.