The Joys of Learning to Ride - The Motorcycle Hand Wave
Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Joys of Learning to Ride - The Motorcycle Hand Wave

What is the secret of the motorcycle hand wave?

Ever since I made the decision to learn how to ride, I've began to notice almost every motorcycle that's crossed my path. Friends chuckle at me as my head turns to find the source of the wonderful roaring of a motorcycle engine as it passes. What used to be so invisible to me is now a central part of my life. I've even found myself asking friends, who have had their bikes since the day I met them, what they ride even though I never cared before now. And as the motorcycle culture becomes more and more salient in my everyday life, I've started to notice things I never saw before.

Thus enters the secret "rider wave." Sure, it's not so secret really; we all know that there is some sort of motorcycle hand wave etiquette. I had always just thought that there was one straightforward way to salute your fellow riders. Luckily I found out that I was wrong before I hopped onto a bike. A little research on the web and a few conversations with some veteran riders showed me that there is an intricate system of waves that can be exchanged between riders and is often attempted based on bike similarity. Just waving all willy-nilly at any bike that passes your path has been deemed a motorcycle riding faux pas.

So then what is the right way to wave and when should a rider do it? It seems to me like there are three basic ways of waving. The first is just simply lifting your index and middle finger off of the handlebar and holding them up with your palm still on the grip. This wave is just a simple "sup dude?" The second kind is taking your hand off of the handlebar and holding it out and slightly down with either a peace sign or a simple open hand with the palm facing down. This wave is a more whole hearted and friendly wave and done less often since it tends to take a bit more effort.

The third wave is more out of disrespect. Back in the day when motorcycle gangs were running the streets in packs, they used to use the motorcycle wave (or lack thereof) as a way to show disrespect to other gangs. Instead of waving at the other riders, this gesture is done by putting your hand, palm down, onto your thigh and leaving it there as you pass. Almost like an anti-wave, this gesture would often cause a confrontation between rival riders. Nowadays, however, the meaning of this wave has diminished and could possibly just mean that the rider's arm is just tired. I would try not to be offended if it's done to me, but I have no intentions of doing it at any point.

The biggest debate revolving around the hand wave seems to be the lines of who should wave at whom. I've heard the typical, "Harley riders will only wave at other Harley riders" and so on. So when can you wave at another rider? It seems like riders base their wave off of similarities such as bike brand or helmet wearing. Personally, I feel like waving at any rider who passes couldn't hurt. It's all in good fun and you may be surprised at who actually waves back. I've heard the term "playing wave chicken" many times since I started looking into this phenomenon. This refers to the idea that waving to another rider is a stand-off. Each rider waits to see who will wave first as to not be the subject of an unreturned wave. Yet what if the other rider is just playing the same game and, in the end, neither person waves? Both people probably will ride off thinking that the other rider was rude to not initiate a wave.

My plan for the motorcycle hand wave when I start riding? I'm just going to give the simple palm-on-grip, two-finger wave to any motorcycle that crosses my path. We're all part of the same family, after all. And if someone doesn't wave back, well, it's their problem and I'm not going to let it get to me. It's just silly to feel ashamed of having been nice.

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      Monday, May 23, 2011 1:21:13 PM
      Rod said:

Interesting trivia about the gang thing...I just ride...accept any and all who take the time to say a friendly hello on the road...just criss-crossed my home state of North Carolina and my observation from about three days on the road almost everyone we passed had a wave cruisers, of all descriptions, touring rigs, sport bikes and anything between.....I'm feelin that there are fewer of us compared to those of the four wheeled persuasion a simple wave is a good thing...wave if you want to I'll probably wave back, there are some constipated folks out there and they won't wave back their loss friendship on the road can't hurt at heck lets go for a ride.....


      Monday, May 23, 2011 12:50:40 PM
      Tom said:

I wave at everyone, myself. I've been riding for over a decade now. those that don't wave back simply don't know what brother(or sister)hood is, and likely ride for the image. Not for the love of riding. I've even opened up to the scooters, because they've got the guts to ride those tiny little things on city streets. We're all part of a family, we have to look or for each other. If you don't wave based on what someone rides, I'm sorry, but you don't belong in it.


      Monday, May 23, 2011 8:45:04 PM
      Bobby said:

Sure there are tough guys and bad asses riding bikes... But nobody's tougher than the asphalt. We all (should) have respect for it and each other... And a wave from a fellow motorcyclist is a simple way to show it. I wave at anything on two wheels.


      Tuesday, June 14, 2011 3:47:49 PM
      Mark said:

I try to wave at everybody, but sometimes it's just not possible. If you're clutching or braking, for instance, or approaching a turn, or in traffic and trying to watch what's going on around you. All too often I notice somebody waving at me just before they pass and I just don't have time to return it. That's in city traffic, though - if it's open 2-lane highway with little traffic it's much easier to see and respond. For what it's worth, if I miss returning a wave I always feel bad about it. I've noticed some people have developed cool and very distinctive waves, but I find them hard to describe and even harder to duplicate.



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