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Brock University professor builds “backwards bike” to learn how our brains work, extends challenge

Remember that absolutely mind-boggling "backwards bike" we showed you a few months ago? The one declared to be utterly un-rideable?

Remember that absolutely mind-boggling “backwards bike” we showed you a few months ago? The one declared to be utterly un-rideable?

It turns out there’s a Canadian version now, too.

At Brock University, professor Robert McGray, part of the school’s Faculty of Education, has built his own, inspired by the hilariously cyclist-defying bike seen on the SmarterEveryDay YouTube channel. Like the original, McGray’s bike, built using the resources and assistance of Brock’s machine shop, is almost what you would expect to see when our favourite two-wheeled, human-powered vehicles. There are key differences, though — and it’s those differences that make the “backwards” bike such a wild steed to mount.

In other words, you’ve heard that you never forget how to ride a bike? In this case, as with the original bike we showed you a few months ago, that old belief goes right out the window.

“If you want to go right,” McGray said, “you turn [the handlebars] to the left.” Already, somewhere around 200 people have tried to successfully ride the bike, something nobody has been able to accomplish on their first try. It sounds simple enough to do — just remember to do everything oppositely, right? — but as all of those individuals have learned, the reality is much, much different. The point isn’t just to confound would-be contenders, though. As McGray says, it’s to learn the intricate workings of our brains, specifically those workings related to the ways they learn new information.

“One of the coolest things about my job,” McGray said, “is that I get to think about how adults learn. How do we learn behaviours or even ideas in ways we don’t even know? It turns out that offering an explanation as to why it’s so hard to learn is almost as difficult as learning to ride the bike itself.”

On Tuesday, Nov. 10, at 2 pm, McGray is extending that challenge to members of the media, inviting them to try out the bike in front of the Schmon Tower on the Brock campus. As a series of videos can attest, though — like the one published with this video (see above) — it’s been hard enough for McGray’s colleagues at the university to master the tricky, near-impossible machine.

Participating reporters, it goes without saying, are in for quite a ride.