To wave, or not to wave – that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of Harley riders,
Or to take arms against a sea of bikers,
And by opposing end them?
Somebody asked me recently why most motorcyclists wave at each other on the road. It shows solidarity, I told her, and it’s just a decent thing to do. She looked unconvinced and, after thinking about it for the first time in decades, so did I.
After all, if we are truly all in this together and watching out for each other’s backs, then we’d say hello when we pull in to a gas station. But no – if we’re strangers, we usually ignore each other completely. So why wave?
The misty-eyed answer is because back in 1904, Arthur Davidson and William Harley apparently passed each other while riding their motorcycles on the road in Milwaukee and, since they knew one another and worked together, each offered a wave of greeting; somebody saw this and thought it pretty cool, and next thing you knew, everyone on a bike was doing it. This is surely a wonderful, long-ago fabrication of the Harley-Davidson marketing department, but whatever. If you want to believe it, knock yourself out.
I didn’t really think about this again until I rode the BMW C400GT scooter last month, and then wondered if I should be waving at motorcyclists. I did, more out of habit, but not many waved back. It was kind of like two or three decades ago when no self-respecting Harley rider would wave at a person on a non-Harley. That does still endure, but it’s less common now to be ignored; many Harley riders, including myself, like to wave at others and be acknowledged back. Brand ownership is not quite so territorial as it used to be. But scooterists? No, they don’t get a wave.
There is some truth to the element of solidarity, though. It used to be that Jeep Wrangler owners would wave at each other, but now every other vehicle on the road (and they’re almost always on the road) is a Jeep Wrangler, so that’s slipping by the wayside. It also used to be that Mazda Miata drivers would wave at each other, but only if the top was down; that’s also less common now. Nobody cares about your poxy Mazda Miata, except your kids, who wonder how much it’s worth.
Motorcycle riders, though – we’re a minority on the road and we appreciate others who share our passion. A wave of feel-good acknowledgement goes a long way to making a ride better.
There are some right ways and wrong ways to do it, of course.
• Use your left arm, because you want to keep your right hand on the throttle and ready for the brake lever – yes, even if you have cruise control. A right-handed wave is just a dick move.
• Don’t even think about waving if you need both hands on the bars, like while going through intersections, or around corners.
• Don’t bother waving on a divided highway, or during a rally, or in traffic, or at night.
• Don’t let your wave be mistaken by others for a left-turn hand signal. Either raise your arm up at least 45 degrees or more, palm forward and one or two fingers extended, or lower it to 45 degrees downward, pointing toward the roadway. This is supposed to mean that you’re pointing at the other bike’s tires, and saying “keep the rubber side down.” Riders with big fairings, like Gold Wings, tend to point up for better visibility while cruiser riders tend to point down. Sport bike riders just flash a finger wave, barely lifting their hands from the bars. To each their own.
• If you’re going to wave, then wave at all makes and models of bikes. Don’t be ignorant and acknowledge only the same brand or style as you.
• Do wave at trikes, and Can-Am Spyders and Rykers if they’re outside Quebec — their riders have a motorcycle licence. In Quebec, where three-wheeled Can-Ams are legal to ride with a car licence, waving is optional.
• Do not wave at Polaris Slingshot drivers, who probably have only a car licence, unless it’s raining and they’re getting soaked and we’re all in it together.
• Don’t wave at 1%er bike gangs (unless they wave at you, which means they’re not really 1%ers but probably a group of dentists with tattoos on their way to Starbucks).
• Definitely do not wave at electric bicycles, especially when their riders are on the daily beer run.
• Don’t wave at sportbike riders with mohawk helmets, either. They’re in their own world and have no idea what you’re doing.
• But do wave at scooter riders. Trust me – it makes their day.