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Which Foot? The Hendon Shuffle - Question and Answer
Although this is another tip written a long time ago (I note that I updated it in 2007), it's still an active topic for conversation - I had a trainee out the other day who is retaking his RoSPA test and told me that the local examiner "likes to see the Hendon Shuffle". Yet as you'll see in the answer to the first question, there's been no consistency in how putting our feet down has been taught over the years. And in each case, one very important point gets overlooked - we put our feet down primarily to support the bike at a standstill. Everything else is a secondary decision.
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. To my knowledge, some IAM groups encourage a right foot down approach and some IAM observers are equally vehement about this. Just to complete the confusion, the old DSA's 'Motorcycling Manual' used to say (page 64):
"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 foot-swapping procedure allowing the rider to find neutral at a standstill - right foot down, left foot up, change gear, left foot down, right foot up to cover brake to get out of gear. Of course if you ride an old British bike, you'll have to reverse all that!
The same foot-swapping procedure is needed to get back into gear. The theory is that we are always covering a brake all the time you are stationary. It's something many experienced riders dispense with. It's time-consuming, it's debatable whether it's ever 'necessary' and in certain circumstances where we may need to move of smartly (for example, we realise the car behind isn't stopping) potentially dangerous.
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 we might have to stop suddenly, or descending a steep hill
+ allows us to show a brake light, improving visibility to traffic behind
- we have to do the 'Hendon Shuffle' to get out of gear and back in to gear
- Right leg down
+ w can get in and out of gear easily
+ we can gently hold the front brake for the visibility effect of the brake light
- we 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 more difficult using the front brake
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 we find ourselves and definitely not to get anal about one or the other.
I don't believe that putting the left foot down 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 - we 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, we can select 1st gear as we roll to a halt and just hold it on the clutch.
Q I was told that keeping my right foot up on the rear brake was safer if hit from behind when stopped
A Does it seem likely that the rear brake of a motorcycle will stop a few tonnes of car in its tracks, even if it's only a gentle tap? No. Even if we do manage to keep a foot on the rear brake, the bike will be shunted forward. And then, speaking from personal experience, both feet go down to try to keep it upright. The biggest plus is that the brake light is on, which will hopefully prevent a car hitting the bike from behind but the best defence is to keep a good lookout in the mirrors and to be ready to move forward in an emergency.
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 wer put a 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 us. Many times we would be better advised to put the right foot down to support the bike. For example, when the camber works against us, we may be struggling to reach the ground when turning left at a junction here in the UK. Of course on the continent or in the USA the camber would work in the opposite direction so at a right turn next to the kerb, we might 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. On that slippery surface I might need both feet down. And if it's a windy day, or I'm carrying a passenger or riding a heavily loaded bike, I would probably have both feet on the ground too.
And just occasionally, we know we're going to be sat waiting for a long time. Perhaps we know the lights sequence or we're at roadworks. Now, if we're out of gear, it gives our clutch hand a rest, but I'd probably put both feet down. I might even put the bike on the side stand!
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.
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