Left, Right, Neutral, First…cha-cha-cha
No it’s not the latest dance craze just four words that get fingers tapping and tongues wagging. Say it–you know you want to:
Left, right, neutral, first.
It’s fun! It floooows somehow. Left, right, neutral, first! A cadence really. Break it into two pairs, left & right or neutral & first and you have the basic recipe for motorcycle forum mayhem. Add a verb and some other fancy embellishments of American English and you’ve got fighting words. Go to a rider’s forum and post this sentence:
“When stopping should I put my right or my left foot down first?”
“When stopping should I be in neutral or first?”
If you have had a strong emotional reaction already don’t fear, I’m not going to argue left, right, neutral, first here. Right now we’re thinking about that feeling you may have on your brain right now. Doesn’t matter if it’s left, right, neutral or first, imagine how you feel when someone picks the opposite.
I think this is one area where riders get overly persnickety. Cross my heart, this is a serious point of contention in some circles. I just googled a couple of variations of “right or left foot down first” and I get threads or articles at:
Triumph675.net, VFRDiscussion.com, Answers.yahoo.com,
All Things (Safety Oriented) Motorcycle,
chosenfewmc.org, ninjette.org, bmwmoa.org,
peterharris.org.uk…and on and on…
Clearly this issue bridges brand, style and national borders. If it’s a discussion thread (as many above are) you find that things start with a declarative followed by agreement, then disagreement and then parsing. Parsing as a verb means to “Analyze (a sentence) into its component parts and describe their syntactic roles”. My father would have called this action “nitpicking” (cool fact–a nit is defined as: “The egg or young form of a louse or other parasitic insect, esp. the egg of a head louse attached to a human hair”.) GROSS! If we really knew what nitpicking means we’d never use the term. I call this parsing the “Yeah, BUT” reaction. Example:
Declarative sentence: “When you stop, put your left foot down first.”
Immediate parsing: “Do you mean stop and put your foot down OR put your foot down as you stop?”
Secondary parsing: “Yeah, but what if you have a bum knee? Or there’s slop on the ground to your left?”
I’m not sure what drives this parsing. Sometimes I think its just human nature to rebel against rules. There’s some feeling that telling someone to go left down first is an unacceptable authoritarian command and therefore must be proven to not work in some bizarre permutation, maybe it’s just a desire to be snide or smart. Once the fuse is lit it can just go nuts–everything from incline to camber, age to ability, style and surface–it is an odd thing what people will find and argue.
I believe it is a symptom, a clue to a greater problem and that’s the “If it ain’t the way I do it? It ain’t the right way to do it.” Spit that sentence out and you’ll recognize it. It’s a sentiment, an undercurrent, a base fear of all things different that we have embraced both as a motorcycle culture and as a society. Think about it. There’s a clustering that we naturally do, a parsing of people by size, color, religion, politics, V-twin, Sportbike, Adventure Touring, brand…just about anyway to create our own individual stamp and then complain about anyone who’s not exactly the same. A puritan need for absolute orthodoxy chimes in and we want every damn person to do it just this way. An odd absolutism comes in and we nitpick to show that your way isn’t perfect. We seem to antagonize instead of embrace.
There are few absolute axioms in motorcycling or life for that matter. Yeah, you got a hitch in your get-along and need to put your right foot down first? No problem but, that doesn’t negate the possibility that a healthy adult might be best served to put the left down first in order to operate the rear brake all the way to stationary. OH, and if you put your right down first? You’re not doing it wrong, you’re doing it differently, but not wrong. It is so minor an issue in our area of effort it is not the biggest concern I have for you.
Are you checking traffic behind you?
Did you position yourself wisely in the lane? (Turning right or left? Going straight? Oil on the tarmac?)
Are you comfortable and stable so you can pay attention to the world around you?
Are you ready to launch when (or if) you need to?
Those aren’t “Yeah, BUT” they are good habits and things you need to do every time you’re stopping in traffic…or anywhere for that matter. Does right down first mean you did it wrong? NO, especially if there’s a good reason to do it. Bottom line is that if you’re obsessing about which foot to put down, or internally debating if you should in neutral of first then you’ve got your processor working on the wrong problem. You want to be stable, comfortable, alert, aware & ready to act. If you can do that with one, two or three feet down I really don’t care. That stuff will take care of itself.
Don’t sweat the little stuff. Do the big stuff first and the little stuff will sort itself.