The Backwards Brain Bicycle – Smarter Every Day 133

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 Replies to “The Backwards Brain Bicycle – Smarter Every Day 133”

  1. Since he always takes the bike to universities and conferences, I could anticipate him coming to one months before he does and learn the bike
    Free $200

  2. The issue is in the camber of the gear. It's at about zero. If you extend the steering mechanism at the bottom and give it a 3 degree positive camber it would be much easier to handle. Think of a shopping cart caster…zero or negative camber makes it very easy to turn in a tight area. The opposite is also true. Easier to handle, but takes more area to turn around.

  3. You can learn on one thing but you can't excel on the other. Because our brain only supports one at a time. Multi tasking is straight BS that what school taught you.

  4. Jokes on you, I actually did forget how to ride a bike. It’s been over 15 years since I’ve successfully rode one. I tried one day and I just couldn’t do it.

  5. My parents and my aunt were trying to teach me how to ride a bike when I was six. I couldn't ride, then I couldn't ride, then one day I just rode and rode and rode. It had suddenly clicked for me.

  6. Countersteering
    If you ride a motorcycle, you could do it, and I KNOW I CAN
    Look into it
    Study that and in minutes you’ll be flying down the road on that thing
    Check it out, your audiences will go nuts seeing you make it look easy

  7. The word bias is a good way to describe how people see things and it's also a word that's not commonly used. I learned the word bias from a book called father's Wright.

  8. Looks like a good idea. It might even help one psychologically. But $600 is pretty steep such a rudimentary alteration. Also, the gears on the bike in video are very rusted. I think there should be some built-in way to keep the gears lubed and safe from the elements.

    Having said that, I think it’s a brilliant contraption.

  9. U didnt have the "skill".. that bike is also too unstable at the handle. It's not about reverse it's that the bicycle doesn't stay straight..

  10. This reminds me of learning what it meant to counter steer on a street motorcycle. For those who don’t know, After you reach a certain speed on a motorcycle you turn left to go right and right to go left. The physics involved could make for a neat video.

  11. Of course children have more neuroplasticity, but do you think if you had just learned to ride a bike 3 years ago too that the correct way wouldnt be so engrained in your brain? Either way little man would learn faster just wondering though

  12. All you have to do is cross your hands to see how crazy hard this is, I'd think most children have tried this at one point or another. There is no need for special gears for it, or if you want to drive this, just cross your hands, it works

  13. This is very cool and also very ironic in that he is trained to believe in all this space and heliocentric stuff and needs to be untrained from that untruth.

  14. Not sure this is an appropriate analogy for bias. It is a great demonstration of muscle memory. Few are aware of the multitude of muscular contractions continually taking place while riding a bicycle. Once the newly initiated have embedded the patterns within the subconscious, this is when bicycle riding becomes "second nature". The rider no longer has to analyze and react to functions like balance nor pedaling, but is freed to focus on navigation, jumping, etc.

    The difficulty experienced isn't due to bias, but rather due to established training which yields a successful result. With the reverse bicycle, the proven methods have been perverted and the rider struggles with a system which defies logic and observed evidence. When the rider turns the handlebars to the right, the wheel goes left instead of right which is the antithesis of the expected or natural behavior.

    You then invested significant time to learn the unnatural way and program your subconscious to accept and process the illogical. Yet, even in so doing, the demonstration shows the extra effort and mental double processing – "I want to go left, but this bike is backwards, so I must turn right to go left" vs. "I want to go left, turn left". If you want to make a social comment on your experiment, the more accurate statement would be something along the lines of "you can adapt and function in an illogical system through great effort and sacrifice."  This applies very well to a number of today's issues…

  15. great video! I think that in the first bike, it was almost/impossible to control, mostly NOT due the reverse control itself, but because there is a huge slack on the spin movement. Look to 2:49 and put on slow speed. You shall see that when the guy put control left again, the bike doesn't respond; it kept to the right. I mean, the bike it is not properly adjusted to be used. If it is properly adjusted, you can use the head movement to figure out the reverse movement, after some training. It also occur when we reverse the mouse control on PC. So hard in the first time.

  16. Actually "It just clicked" moment is normal with us, just like your bike experience i once learned rotating a book in tip of my finger after a whole a week wasted try …

  17. I am from Augsburg, Germany and in a local repair cafe we also have such a bike and it took me weeks to learn.
    But it is true: when you switch back to normal bike, you need some time to get used to it.
    The problem is, that when you come in a dangerous situation, you have not the time to think, which is the right behaviour and it is basically luck, if you do it right or not

  18. Can you and your son both get off regular bike, get on backwards bike and then go back to regular again? When you learned to ride regular bike again did you unlearn backwards bike?

  19. I think of snowboarding a little the same. Get pretty good at riding one way then try to ride backwards. It's really tough and almost worse than if you were first learning! Doing simple tasks with your "weak" hand is also a funny experiment. I often watch my four year old trying to master small tasks of hand-eye coordination. It looks like it should be easy but then I try it left handed (I'm right handed) and I do about the same as him so I can relate!

  20. So a backwards bike is simply reversing the steering? I believe its backwards steering not a backwards bike as that is the complete bike.

  21. I think you are missing the effect of physics and body lean on the bike. Try this on a trike, something tells me you'll have a much easier time. There is a reason bikes are as stable as they are, and part of that is how the lean of the bike when you counter steer is resisted by the centripetal force of the wheels.

  22. A person who has never known how to ride a bike can easily ride this bike, but for a person who knows how to ride a normal bike will likely face difficulties because in order to learn something new about a subject you have to unlearn something old about that subject. learning is the easier part compared to the process of unlearning this also explains why his child took less time compared to him because child's brain did not completely learnt and got used to the functioning of a normal bike and hence unlearning for the child was easy.

  23. 🤔Like riding a normal bike, it takes momentum for you to actually get somewhere (that’s why a push is necessary for learning to be easier for first timers/kids). If I rode a bike like this this dude 5:56 then it would obviously take me forever to learn how to ride a bike (8 months to be exact)😵😵

    I don’t wanna overestimate myself…but 8 months? Really? Gimme 2 weeks, a helmet and 6.75 dollars wrapped in a4 lined paper and I’d clear it no-stress, no cap. Anyway that’s just my opinion😁

  24. do people who know how to ride a bike backwards (fakies etc) automatically know how to ride the backwards brain bike?

  25. wait.. in the future when your son grew older he will never be able to ride a normal bike anymore, welp thats suck🏄‍♂️

  26. Is there not more to it than right-Left confusion? Turning a bike is about shifting weight to turn it. The steering of a car might not be as difficult?! Or would it?!

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