Summer is often the time we decide to get back on our bike – perhaps for the first time in a while. For most people there simply isn’t room in daily life – either we live too far from work, the roads are busy or it’s raining – but cycling on holiday is appealing, even if it is something we do only once a year.
So how is it that a skill learnt in childhood can so easily resurface? The answer is that it’s a bit like walking. Almost all of us are born with the ability to walk – thanks to bones, joints and muscles – but each of us has to learn how to do it.
Walking is not automatic at first. It takes trial and error to co-ordinate how the leg will swing when the pelvis tilts and when to bend the knee to stop the foot dragging on the ground. But once the circuits in our brain to predict and control have been wired up, they’re with us for life.
Cycling exploits the same learning pattern. Unlike walking, the equipment – wheels, pedals, brakes – is manmade but learning and remembering how to use it is exactly the same – and it’s the kind of thing we’re built to do. So it’s neurobiology, as well as great design, that makes it the world’s greatest invention.
Dr Daniel Glaser is director of Science Gallery at King’s College London