Riding Tips - The Shoulder Check

During the last six or so years I have collected a mass of motorcycle-related research, as well as training manuals from all over the world, which illustrate the different perspectives of motorcycle training.  An example of the dichotomy in training is the “shoulder check”.  Training organisations in this country have hung onto this last vestige of old-fashioned motorcycle training, with instructors demanding that shoulder checks are taken before doing anything.  Other countries have realised that with the advent of the full-face helmet and better mirrors, the best way to see behind is to use the latter, with the look behind as a last resort.   A training needs’ analysis, researching motorcycle accident causation factors, indicates that most accidents happen between the 11.00 o’clock and 1.00 o’clock position as a direct result of perception errors.   Hence the DSA introducing a hazard perception test as part of the theory test in the near future.

You should look upon the need for a lifesaver or look-behind as a failure, often an inevitable one, but nevertheless a failure.  If you are resorting to a lifesaver just before you move, then all you are going to know is that it was a Scania lorry that killed you and not a Volvo.  Rearward observations must be made much earlier and more often.  

I teach a four-mirror system:

Mirror course.
   As soon as I determine the need to alter course, speed or direction.

Mirror signal.   A consideration is made to the necessity of a signal (don’t forget Rule 85, which    empowers you not to signal unless it is going to be of value.  I go as bit further that that and say it has to be of value to me.)

Mirror speed.   Whilst adjusting my speed, I need to check my mirror again.  This might be the time that you are at greatest danger.

Mirror check.   Before I make the manoeuvre.These checks must be made relatively close together, so that a full picture is gained of what is happening behind: Nothing precludes adding extra checks.There is still a need for a lifesaver unless they can be planned out.   Position close into the nearside precludes the need for a lifesaver in that direction.  If my mirror allows me to see the kerb line and directly behind me, there is no chance of a pedal cycle coming up by nearside.I know of one instructor who teaches riders to take a wide line into a left turn, not only contrary to the Highway Code but also dangerously, as this type of manoeuvre will require a lifesaver and whilst you are looking backwards you are not looking forwards.   Why take a wide line?   Quicker?  But what happens if you have to stop? 

Better view? But what can you do with that view?  You certainly can’t go faster, in case you need to stop.
So why do some instructors and the DSA insist on lifesavers?   A lot of it is historic.  The original system was laid down by the police, with most being a straight copy from the car system.  In the 1950s, bikes like the Speed Twin and Triumph Saint had no mirrors and no indicators, so even I would have to look over my shoulder, but things have moved on.Didactic teaching methods and the lack of critical evaluation or reflective practice, combined with a summative assessment, has ensured that the lifesaver remains, but things are changing:  Even the DSA has moved away from requiring a left lifesaver when turning left.  However, if you have been conditioned into thinking that it is necessary to look behind, then this article is not going to convince you otherwise.   

But the next time you get on your bike, work out where your blind spot is.   To do this correctly, adjust your mirrors and you should get some parallax behind you:  i.e. the view in the mirrors should just cross!  The mirrors should be set high enough for a good view behind, without the need to see the road surface directly behind.   Remember that even Noddy’s car is a couple of feet high, so you do not need that too low.  Now get someone to walk from the front of you to the limit of your peripheral vision (whilst you are still looking forward), mark the limit point with a cone, and now get the person to walk from directly behind you towards that spot until you lose them in the mirrors.   Mark this spot with another cone: that area between the two cones is you blind spot.  Remember that you only ever need to turn your head to see the rearmost cone and this can be reduced even more by bending your arms and leaning forward slightly, altering the view into the mirror.   

Now consider the space between the two cones: can you completely lose a car or motorcycle into it?   Or is it a fact that you either see the front of the car in your peripheral vision or the rear in the mirror?   If you can lose a car, then get bigger mirrors, because you life depends on it.
Notwithstanding all that I have written here, lifesavers into the blind spot are important, but the number of times that you need to do them should be reduced to a minimum by wither engineering them out by positioning or planning them out, by effective and frequent mirror checks.  T

The need for a lifesaver before each and every manoeuvre has gone.   In fact, it was never here: remember the system always started with consider……. interestingly, DSA is now looking for fewer shoulder checks on the test, and failing people if they are done at an inappropriate time.

Gordon Kemp   BA (Hons)
Serving Police Officer

Sponsored by Andy Anderson

© 2012 Solent Advanced Motorcyclists All Rights Reserved - Website  Designed by Akira Studio Ltd.