Which Foot? The Hendon Shuffle - Question and Answer (updated March 07)

Q When I did my DAS I was told that I should always stop in the Safety Position - that is with the left leg down and the right foot on the rear brake. But I was told by an IAM observer that I should stop with the right foot down and the left foot ready to change gear. Which is correct?

A A good question. The Safety Position has been taught by generations of CSM trained CBT/DAS instructors whose approach is that anything other than left foot down is 100% wrong. Some IAM groups do encourage the right foot down approach and some IAM observers are equally vehement about this. Just to complete the confusion, the DSA's own 'Motorcycling Manual' (page 64) says:

"with the clutch lever still pulled in

     use your left foot to move the gear lever selector to neutral
     release the clutch lever
     place both feet on the ground"

So who is right? Well, the only answer must be "none of them"! There are certain circumstances when each of the three methods have value.

Q I've heard about something called the Hendon Shuffle. What is it?

A Well, it's not a North London card sharping technique. It's something taught to trainees at the Hendon Police school which involves a right foot down, left foot up, change gear, left foot down, right foot up to cover brake to get out of gear at a standstill and the same procedure to get back into gear. The theory is that you are always covering a brake all the time you are stationary. It's something many experienced riders dispense with.

Q So what are the advantages and disadvantages of each?

A Assuming a standard left foot gear change, right foot brake...
Left leg down:

    + hill starts are much easier using the back brake
    + allows the use of the rear brake for improved stability and slow speed control, for instance when coming to a standstill or filtering at walking pace where you might have to stop suddenly, or descending a steep hill
    + allows you to show a brake light, improving visibility to traffic behind
    + holding the bike on the rear brake possibly reduces the risk of losing control if you are hit at low speed from behind
    - you have to do the 'Hendon Shuffle' to get out of gear and back in to gear - rather tedious and often unnecessary, and in certain circumstances where you may need to move of smartly (eg if you have filtered to the front of a queue) potentially dangerous

Right leg down

    + you can get in and out of gear easily
    + you can gently hold the front brake for the visibility effect of the brake light
    - you can't use the back brake so have to rely on the front brake only when coming to a halt, reducing stability and control when the bike is least stable
    - hill starts are much more difficult using the front brake
    - unless you are holding the front brake, a gentle tap from behind will send the bike shooting out from underneath you as you WILL put your footdown to recover balance

Of course if you ride an old British bike, you'll have to reverse all that!

Q I never need to put the right/left foot down

A The most important thing is to weigh up the advantages and disadvantages in each individual situation you find yourself and definitely not to get anal about one or the other.

Certainly the left foot down thing should not become a rule - yes, holding the bike on the rear brake is useful on a slope but it's often pointless on the flat, and there are other occasions when the left foot down is equally pointless - for instance when waiting at a pelican crossing - you know the lights are going to change in a couple of seconds so there is no point in worrying about changing in and out of gear, you can select 1st gear as you roll to a halt and just hold it on the clutch.

Q This is a silly discussion - I want to make sure the bike doesn't fall over, not mess around with brakes and gears

A To a great extent I agree. What both arguments tend to overlook is the reason your put your foot down in the first place - it's there to support the weight of the bike. All other advantages and disadvantages are irrelevant if the bike is now lying on top of you.

Many times you would be better advised to put the right foot down to support the bike. For example, when the camber works against you where the rider is particularly short, the bike particularly high or the camber exceptionally steep. Of course on the continent or in the USA the camber would work in the opposite direction so you would have to put the left foot down to support the bike.

Where the surface is poor or oily I will put down which ever foot looks like it has the better grip.

Sometimes you simply need maximum stability when stationary. Strong side winds and when carrying a passenger or a heavy load spring to mind as times when I would probably have both feet on the ground.

So I do whatever makes sense to me at the time. Incidentally, despite what you might have been taught at the time, you will not fail the DSA test for not using the Safety Position - the examiner is far more interested in the way you manage your gear changes and braking, and the overall control, then the precise nature of which foot you put down.

Q OK, one final question. Now I have a better idea about which foot to put down when I stop, what about foot position when I'm riding? Where should I keep my feet on the pegs?

A This is another question that comes up over and again. And like most questions, you'll hear a variety of answers from different people, all of whom insist they are correct.

My point of view is that you should ask yourself what do you need your feet to do next.

If you are on a stretch of road where you don't need to do anything with the controls then you can put your feet wherever they are comfortable. I tend to move them around on the pegs from tip to to instep on a long run up a motorway.

If you are riding a bumpy bit of road, then putting the weight through the balls of your feet can allow you to lift some weight off the seat thus using your legs as active suspension and giving the suspnsion an easier time. Similarly when cornering, feet on the balls can give a bit of extra feedback and if you are really getting on with it, you can weight the pegs to aid steering.

But what about if you are likely to need the gears or rear brake? Well, then it makes sense to have feet where you can use the controls without having to move them - for instance when riding in traffic, using slow control, or approaching a bend, I've got my instep on the peg. The time saved can make a lot of difference, not least on slow control - if you have to move your foot to use the rear brake, you're far more likely to stamp on it than caress it.

However, this position with the feet on the instep is often criticised because on a bike without much ground clearance, or when leaning over a long way, there is a risk of your toes hitting the ground. In this case, I try to remember to get my toes out from under the gear lever in particular and onto the balls of my feet - I've inadvertently hit a false neutral when the toe of my boot hit the road and loaded the gear lever.