Wednesday, July 15, 2015

‘Like riding a bike’

Cartoon image of Cynthia M. Parkhill's Bitstrips avatar riding a bicycle on a residential street, rendered in bright pastels with a smiling sun and fluttering butterfly to suggest an idealized setting. The caption reads, 'Just like riding a bike.' Would it be obnoxious if someone said that to you?
Cartoon image created with Bitstrips
I'm always fascinated when the links I read and share, speak to seemingly disparate interests. A recent Wall Street Journal headline resonated both with my interest in colloquial expressions and my passion for traveling by bicycle.

The headline proclaims that “It’s like riding a bike” “means nothing” to adults who didn’t learn to ride in childhood. (Far from meaning “nothing,” one interviewee said she “cringes every time someone says: ‘It’s just like riding a bike.’” Clearly it does invoke very negative connotations. “Humiliation” perhaps? What word would you assign to the emotions this might invoke for someone in the interviewee’s circumstances?)

My fascination with the invoking of this expression stems from my awareness of the autism-spectrum tendency to assign literal meanings to expressions. Even when someone uses an expression with which I am already familiar, I must often consciously process what was said to arrive at the intended meaning.

I looked up the meaning of “like riding a bike” to refresh my understanding of what was being communicated. Wiktionary states the expression is “said of [a] skill that, once learned, is never forgotten.”

With that meaning in mind, if I resumed a piece of knitting after neglecting it for months and found that I retained the muscle memory of how to handle the needles and yarn, I might say that the resumption of my knitting was “just like riding a bike,” even though the two activities are really not similar at all.

Traveling by Bike
As I indicated above, this article resonated with two interests, the second being my passion for traveling by bicycle. And the article, by Miriam Jordan, concerns people who enrolled in bike lessons for adults.

I don’t share with these adults the experience of having to learn this particular skill, but there are plenty of skills that I did not master in childhood that I had to acquire as an adult. I admire these adults for taking ownership in an area that they want to improve and enrolling in adult bike-riding courses.

So with the belief that adults learning to ride should be encouraged and supported, was it really necessary to include onlookers’ unhelpful comments, about “everyone” already knowing how to ride where one onlooker was from and another, a child, asking “how many years old” the adult riding students were?

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