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“The wave” is one of the coolest things about being a rider; a way to show some solidarity with people you don’t even know, just because they’re riders like you. But there are a handful of times you actually should NOT wave – see if you agree!


This weekend while I was riding through town, I saw a funny, but unnerving, sight that got me thinking about the topic of this article.

I didn’t have time to really get out of the city and go for a long ride this weekend, but I wanted to get at least a little time on the bike. So I just rode out to the barber shop and stopped for lunch; a pretty short ride through nothing but city streets and intersections.

As I was going down a major street, I saw a rider on a smaller metric cruiser coming in the opposite direction, approaching the intersection I was pulling away from. As he neared me he threw me a big wave…but to do it, he took his hands off the controls while carrying a little too much speed, coming dangerously close to the slowing car in front of him before shooting his hand back down to pull the clutch in and hit the brakes just in time.

The guy almost wrecked his bike just trying to wave to me!

The awkwardness of his riding, the overly eager wave, and the fact that he was one of the very few cruiser riders that waves to a sport bike made me think he was a new rider. Now, I really like seeing new riders. Someone new joining the sport, enjoying the sense of community you start to feel…it reminds me of the excitement I had when I was starting riding. But at the same time, I wanted to tell him: “for goodness’ sake man…don’t wreck your bike just to wave at every rider you see!”

So this got me thinking. If you’re a rider, you’ve seen “the wave”; whether it’s to everyone on two wheels or just to “your own kind,” it’s kind of a universal greeting and sign of respect to the other people out there enjoying the lifestyle too. But when are the times you actually should NOT wave? I thought of a few.


Rundown: When shouldn’t you do “the wave?”

  1. Anytime you need to use the controls
  2. When you’re riding hard/taking corners
  3. At a major bike meet/ride
  4. While commuting
  5. At intersections
  6. To trikes and Can-Ams


when-not-to-motorcycle-wave-collageAll these waves are perfectly fine; but it’s not always this simple!

1) Any time you might need to use the controls

It should go without saying, but what I saw this weekend makes me think it needs to be made clear: do NOT wave when you’re in any situation where you’re using, or might have to use, your controls (primarily the clutch.)

Whether you’re down-shifting into a corner, or clutching through a low-speed maneuver, if there is even a possibility you’ll need your hand on the clutch lever, then don’t wave. We’re all riders and we all use a clutch too; nobody will be offended if you don’t wave because you need to focus on your controls.

Even if they would be offended, that shouldn’t matter. Hurting a random rider’s feelings who I’ll never see again is something I’ll take any day over losing control of my bike!


motorcycle wave flipping the birdHey, that’s not the wave! The photographer must ride a sport bike. (Photo cred: R. Mueller)

2) When you’re riding hard/taking corners

When you’re shredding some asphalt down your favorite windy road, tempting fate around every corner with your pegs (or your knees) dragging, don’t even bother trying to wave. If you ride that hard, you probably already know this; there is no reason to wave when you’re in “the zone,” no matter what kind of bike you’re on.

Even if someone else waves at you, don’t interrupt your concentration just to return the favor; they would rather you just make it through the turn, believe me. On a technical road or going through a corner, the other rider really shouldn’t be waving at you to begin with anyway.


motorcycle wave dragging fingersCloser, but that’s still not the wave (hey, shouldn’t you be focused on taking the corner?)

3) At a Major Bike Meet/Ride

Part of the whole motorcycle wave is as a symbol of solidarity; a sing of respect among riders. Another way riders represent their solidarity is going to bike rallies, rides or meets. But you don’t combine the two. You just can’t – the logistics of waving at hundreds of other riders make that a little difficult.

So if you’re at a big rally or meet, it’s okay if you don’t wave…you just focus on clutching that bad boy forward at 1.5 MPH, and finding a parking spot without overheating. We know you’re there. (Your girl on the passenger seat can wave all she wants, however.)


motorcycle wave riding in large groupsArm…so…tired. Can’t…wave…

4) While Commuting

While everyone has their own criteria for when they wave and to whom, I think most riders will wave when the context is “the ride”; you know, a nice, clear stretch of road on a sunny weekend morning, for example. You assume the other rider is enjoying it as much as you are, and waving is kind of a fun way to acknowledge that shared experience; like a way to say “hey, is this awesome or what!”

But on a weekday morning, riding to work on your bike to avoid traffic, battling it out with all the inattentive drivers crowding the roads…acknowledging another rider might be pretty low on your list of priorities. Same goes when you pass be going the opposite direction on the freeway, especially where there’s a divider; by the time I wave back, you will have passed me anyway.

It’s okay to not wave while commuting to or from work. So lets just all get where we need to be in one piece (and maybe I’ll catch you on the weekend.)

Where does “the wave” come from anyway?

There are a few stories floating around the internet about the origin of the rider’s wave.

Some say that, in “ye olden tymes”, knights crossing each others path would lift their visors with an open hand. This would show that they were unarmed, and allow them to see each others faces as a sign of trust and goodwill; a tradition that has gradually made its way over to modern-day motorcycle riders. (As one person commented, this is more likely the origin of the military salute than “the wave,” however.)

A more realistic explanation comes from the surge of returning service members after WWII, who bought military surplus motorcycles in droves. The abundance of motorcycles and the solidarity among veterans gave birth to the American biker culture as a whole, and motorcyclists in those days were eager to greet each other with a wave on the road. It wasn’t just as a biker thing, but also as a veteran thing – at that time, it was safe to assume that any male of that age group on a chopped Harley or Indian in those days had served in the war.

There are many types of waves, but the signature “biker wave” tends to be some variation of two fingers pointed parallel or down toward the ground like a “peace sign.” There are many explanations for this too: a “V” for V-twin; a “two” for keeping it “on two wheels”; or just a peace sign that keeps your hands close to the controls.

5) At Intersections

This one depends how you’re stopped. If you have your clutch pulled in with your hand at a light when you see another rider, you might acknowledge him, but not with your left hand. Throw a wave with your throttle hand perhaps, or simply a nod of the head.

On the other hand, if you’re stopped in neutral, and are just hanging out waiting for a green light, wave however you want; maybe even say hello if they pull up right next to you. Just make sure your main focus is on the intersection, the changing lights, and all the cars passing through it that could run a red light at any given moment.

Intersections are kill zones for motorcyclists. I’d rather look like a snob and get through it in one piece, than be the friendly guy that got T-boned because I didn’t notice a car running a red light (but that’s just me.)


motorcycle wave leg wave done wrongI’ve heard of the leg wave, but I don’t think that’s how you do it!

6) To trikes and Can-Ams

Sorry guys, but I just find it awkward waving to vehicles on three wheels. I’ll admit that I’m not a really eager waver in general – but I’ll wave to any bike, even scooters, out on the road when the circumstances are right. There’s just something about the idea of being on two wheels that is inherently dangerous, that creates a kind of solidarity between you and the other folks on the road taking the risk for the thrill of riding.

But trikes and Can-Ams? So much of the risk is gone there; that sense of freedom, and the danger that goes with it, goes away as soon that third wheel is added. I feel like a part of waving is kind of a mutual recognition of each other’s coolness. But waving to vehicles with three-wheels just feels…unnatural. (Don’t feel bad though…I’m certain trike and Can-Am riders wave to each other.)


motorcycle wave harley chopper trikeThat’s not the wave…or a motorcycle! Whatever, I’d wave at him just cause he’s so darn happy.

Author’s Note

April 28, 2014

Wow…the response to this article was a lot bigger than I expected.

After reading through all the comments and emails, I want to thank many of you for bringing my attention to the fact that many of those who ride on three wheels are disabled, and a lot of them rode motorcycles for decades before having to make the switch to stay on the road. I will admit, that really didn’t occur to me when I wrote this, but I appreciate our readers taking the time to make that known to me. Certainly no offense was intended.

As a veteran myself, I am especially disheartened that some people drew a line from my comment about not waving to trikes/Can-Ams to me disrespecting disabled veterans. I am extremely proud to be part of veteran community, and me having a lack of respect for any of them really couldn’t be further from the truth.

So thanks for all your feedback, and for sharing some some new perspectives on the matter; I’ll have them in mind when I ride in the future.

-Aaron Cortez

When do you wave – and more importantly, when do you NOT wave? Let us know in the comments!

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