I was attracted by the strange title of  Simon Mattews piece : what a nodding donkey has to do with motorcycling? Quite different from the serious articles coming out of the IAM (Institute of Advanced Motoring) community. This was probably 10 years ago and, while I kept the text with me, I cannot trace today the first source.

Not only I kept the message on my files, I went back to read the message every time I had to discuss the Roadcraft: the police rider system for better, safer driving.

The Roadcraft riding system “endorsed by the emergency services and civilian driving organisations, is presented in the Motorcycle Roadcraft and it is a system suitable for all emergency service riders and members of the public wishing to take their riding skills to a higher level”.

This system is used by many MC training schools and academies around the world and by hundreds of thousands of biker who took the time to learn it and the patience of applying it. The manual is available in Kindle and Paperback format at Amazon

Bert, the nodding donkey © Simon Matthews. Senior Observer LAM.

I was making my way to work last week and I came across a fairly well ridden Honda Blackbird. Decent line, reasonable smooth, clearly there had been some ‘advanced’ training going on. However Bert (let us give a name to the Blackbird rider) was committing the cardinal sin of reading the book and only half understanding it. (The book of course being MC Roadcraft: The Police Rider’s Handbook). This in fact made Bert and his riding LESS SAFE.


Bloody nodding donkey head checks all over the place: turning the head on one side and then on other side to control what was or was not behind: what the book calls “lifesaver”. No rhyme or reason for such lifesavers, just chucked in all over the place.

Head checks or lifesavers if you prefer, are important in the right place and they need to be considered for various reasons: most important to control the blind spot of the rear mirror before initiating a maneuver involving a change of direction/lane.

Sometimes incorrectly timed ‘donkey’ head checks can be put down to training not having focused on the flow and simplicity of ‘advanced’ riding. Riders can misinterpret how the System is used in this situation.

I suppose Bert logically followed each part of the System subconsciously. He looked, considered adjusting his position and then speed. Then comes the problem: during this, the System say’s ‘consider’ a Life Saver and this is where Bert tended to just chuck one in because the book said so.

Remember how flexible the System is meant to be, and that consideration is required to many things, including head checks.  However the System should not be used by rote. In fact good riding should be so well planned, that it’ll appear as if the rider isn’t doing anything. Small corrections to speed and position are done so early for a hazard that you hardly notice… beautiful… this translates to the best road an track riding…

… Anyway looking over your shoulder at the wrong time or place could affect your safety. One should “consider” that while looking right, let and behind one does not look ahead and at 50 K/H the bike covers almost 14 meters, two seconds of “life-saver”, two second looking over the shoulders are 30 meter of blind riding.

So when planning your ride think about the priorities in terms of danger to you. Approaching a hazard will normally take priority. Consider this accordingly and use the System. Remember if you are part way through the System for the first hazard you saw and then something more important [dangerous] has taken priority, start SYSTEM again for the new danger. SAFETY comes first, then everything else.

Head checks are ideal just before you commit to a maneuver that puts you at extra risk. Notwithstanding all this, good mirror work on the approach to a hazard should have built a bank of information. Also applying a lifesavers (look over the shoulders) just before an overtake can sometime be bad news. This is particularly the case on country roads, when traveling at speed.

When Bert was in the overtaking position, he was close to the car in front. At this point Bert does a lifesaver, but if he really had to do one I would question if he have been paying full attention up to this point because, at this precise point (overtaking position) life-saver it is VERY dangerous. Bert was traveling at speed, close to the vehicle in front; then he looked over his shoulder.  What is going to happen if the car in front brakes? If the driver decides to change direction? 30 meters blind is not a safety margin.

So, the System suggests to “CONSIDER a LIFESAVER before you accelerate or move” Sometimes they are ‘lifesavers’ and sometimes they are not!

NOTE: on the subject is worth to expand the knowledge reading “BETTER RIDING: THE LIFESAVER, A LIFE SAVER”

By Paolo Volpara

"Si sta come d'autunno sugli alberi le foglie"

One thought on “Bert, the nodding donkey”
  1. Simon is a good friend of mine and we have been ‘teaching’ and riding together for 35 years. We don’t always agree on a subject but I would always listen to what he has to say and use as part of my decision making process. I will see if I can get him to Update his thoughts. Simon now a IAM track Instructor as well.This article is probably one of the earlier and better examples of a push back against ‘The Dogma of Advanced Riding’ which had started to appear at this time. Nodding Donkey head checks ,never show a brake light when going into a corner,the ‘Hendon Shuffle’ placement of feet at a stop , 4 fingers on brake and clutch levers , off set following positioning when group riding are all examples of “RULES” that seemed to be set in concrete with some so called Experts. Advanced Riding [life in general] can be reduced to 6S and 2C .
    1/Safely – ah the biggest misconception of Advanced Training. Check the dictionary and Safely says without Risk.Motorcycling is never without Risk.We can only reduce the Risk.
    2/System – IPSGA being a prime example of a system.It is not the only system. And a system may not be a formal document. How many Moto GP riders know IPSGA ? But they could all tell you how to get the safest / best lap time.
    3/Speed – the appropriate use of Speed for the ride at the time or as desired by the rider.[Limits are Dogma , discuss !]
    4/Smoothness – keeping it all together. An Advanced Rider is one who can make maximum Safe progress with the minimum of effort while showing quiet efficiency in their actions.
    5/Sparkle – as Simon noted about Bert , it was clear that he had some understanding / training as an Advanced Rider.No matter what the skill is , if you train long enough hopefully you will Sparkle & Shine. [see the 10 Year Rule article]
    6/Shit happens – go back to first S. Hence we wear helmets etc. Don’t want to crash , don’t ride.
    C1 -Consider what you are doing within the/your System
    C2- Compromise where appropriate. Bert should have reduced the Donkey Head Checks and Considered more ‘Eyes Front’ safety checks.
    All the above requires a Thought Process and is not Dogma.
    NB link to learn the Hendon Shuffle – https://www.survivalskills.co.uk/riding_skills_43.htm#next

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