The All-Important Motorcycle Wave

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wave-top

It was August and I was riding a newly acquired Honda Rebel, my first motorcycle. Riding north on Mills Avenue in Claremont, California, a generously wide, two-lane road with a center turning lane, I saw a motorcycle in the distance riding toward me. This was it, the moment for my induction into the brotherhood of riders, my chance for my first motorcycle wave. As the other motorcyclist approached he casually removed his left hand from his handlebars and threw me a tasteful two-finger salute, arm extended slightly below the level of his grip. My response was to violently and awkwardly throw my clenched fist into the air at a slight diagonal, kind of like a Jersey Shore dance move but on a motorcycle, going 45 mph. It was awkward and completely ridiculous, but I felt the connection. To me, that wave was affirmation that I had been seen an honest to God motorcyclist, who had been acknowledged by another as one of their own.

My wave needed work and after a few years, a lot of miles and much trial and error, I have developed a bit more of a tasteful and subdued greeting. Here is the genesis of how my signature wave came about.

 

fist pump
1) The Jersey Pump
I believe that I am the sole motorcyclist to ever preform this maneuver and it should stay that way. It should also stay in the past where it belongs on that early ride on Mills Avenue. In my opinion, unless you are being led into battle by William Wallace, the fist pump is as overboard as one can get. Calm down bud!

 

wave
2) Howdy! How Ya Doin’?
This is the elevated, straight-armed, open-handed wave. It is also a greeting that I see on the road fairly often. This wave is pleasant and well meaning at its core and it is one that I also tried to adapt early on. The problem is that this wave comes off as the equivalent of an over-enthusiastic cafeteria crush. Flattering but still a bit overboard for a total stranger.

 

peace sign
3) Hey…
Finally, there is the mostly extended, slightly-below-the-bars, two-fingered, “Hey.” After a few tries, I decided that this was the pinnacle of motorcycle greetings. It is polite, casual and, yeah, it looks cool-ish too. This wave simply says, “Hey, have a good one,” and leaves it at that. Its beauty is enhanced by the fact that it allows the rider to more or less maintain the shape of the grip with his hand while waving and keeping his arm close to the controls. It’s the one I use and bet many of you do too.

 

IMG_3389
4) DIY
The greeting you use to signal to fellow riders should be yours and it should reflect your personality. By all means, if you are a freak, go for the Jersey Pump. The main thing is that we are a community of riders and saying, “Hey” keeps us that way. So create a signature wave, practice it and own it when you ride.

When I’m on the road I make a point to always acknowledge fellow riders when I can do so safely. I even wave at the people with the weird Mohawk thing on their helmets. I may not understand their affinity for this interesting accessory but what I do understand is that we share a passion for motorcycles.

So tell me, what kind of wave do you use?

Related Links:
Etiquette: How To Be A More Polite Motorcyclist
Etiquette: Get Off My Bike, Please
Etiquette: How To Share The Road With Motorcycles

  • MCC315

    What jacket is that?

  • Guest
  • Piglet2010

    I always use #3, unless I need to keep my hand on the clutch, then I nod.

    I am occasionally on the receiving end of this type of wave from H-D riders when I am on my Honda Elite 110.

    http://www.mrzip66.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/04/dennis-hopper-easy-rider-bird.jpg

    • Kevin

      #3 results in the least distraction from control of the bike. It’s what I always use and what I see probably 80-90% of the time.

      • Justin McClintock

        Same here. #3 is your friend. Or the YMCA if you’re really bored.

  • Jack Meoph

    Peace out, yo.

  • Alex Carlson

    I wave as if I’m picking up my kid from the playground – exaggeratedly big, overly enthusiastic, sometimes I’ll shout “HIIII!!!” on the off chance they can hear me passing by. If we have enough time to see each other a ways down the road, I’ll start as early as possible, just to make it extra awkward. Really throws them off coming from the burly guy in all black with a mirrored visor riding a beat up streetfighter.

  • Joe Bielski

    Hahaha, I usually do the over-enthusiastic #2 then knock my mirror out of whack putting my hand back on the bars….

  • Cody

    I have developed a #3 that I rock when I’m in traffic or have recently waved at one-too-many other riders. I roll my hand to the back of the grip, turn palm out and slide it just far enough off the end of the handlebar to be seen. That way I don’t have to take my hand 2′ off the grip and them put it back again.

  • phobos512

    I cannot believe(!!) this video hasn’t been posted yet. Pay close attention, this is a test. http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=SloT-TahbiQ

  • Lee Scuppers

    Heavy metal hand, forefinger and pinky. Hard to do in good gloves, but worth it. I’m hoping it catches on.

    I also stick my tongue out like Gene Simmons sometimes, but you can’t see that with the chin bar.

    • Mykola

      m/

      • http://metabomber.com/ Jesse

        m_ _m/
        Too much metal for one hand.

  • James Stackhouse

    Here in Tasmania people give a subtle nod of the helmet.
    Weird thing is when you ride, or even drive in the countryside, other car drivers often give a strange little wave by lifting two fingers off the wheel. Sometimes combined with the nod……..

    • Aaron

      In the GWN, we call that the farmer wave.

    • Hummbug
    • Piglet2010

      Waving is more of a problem in Commonwealth countries and Japan, due to riding on the wrong side of the road.

  • Michael Love

    I like to wave real cool like and then accidentally mash the horn as I put my hand back on the grip, thus exposing myself as the awkward guy I really am.

    • Michael Howard

      It’s also pretty special turning into a place filled with other bikes and cancelling your turn signal with the horn button.

  • Barnaby H

    So, what about waving to scooter riders? My impulse is to do so (but I also aspire to own a classic scoot some day). Most of the scooter riders aren’t acculturated to waving though, and, sadly, I expect they would not get reciprocity from most moto riders if they started waving at them.

    And in urban riding, I have to resort to the head nod a lot, as I’m operating the clutch, especially sitting at the light, etc.

    • Jack Meoph

      We were riding 192 (foothill) back from a Hwy 33 rampage (this is in Santa Barbara county CA) and I was riding sweep. The group passed a girl on a scooter and no one waved, and then I waved to her…she lit up with a smile, did a happy wave, and it was cool. I’ll wave to scoots, because I ride a scoot around the berg. No one on an MC has waved at me while I’m on the scoot though….oh well.

      • Piglet2010

        I get an occasional wave while riding a scooter, but mostly at dusk when oncoming riders may not realize it is a scooter.

        I get the most people waving back when I ride the Bonnie – no surprise there.

        • HammSammich

          Yep, Bonnie almost always gets me a wave back…

        • Michael Howard

          Oddly, I get very few waves from H-D riders when I overtake them on the highway. On my Yamaha Majesty. Sure puts a smile on my face, though. ;)

    • HammSammich

      It isn’t “Mods vs. Rockers” for me. I wave to scooter riders and usually get the wave back. There have been a couple of times when I got the feeling that the wave wasn’t returned because it was a young and/or inexperienced rider who was simply uncomfortable removing their hand from the grip. But maybe I’m just projecting my own memories from High School of riding a Honda Spree in Traffic that was 5-10MPH faster than my top speed…

      • Michael Howard

        I can’t speak for others but, as the rider of a maxi-scooter, I can tell you that I stopped paying attention to most “real” motorcycle riders after 5+ years of them thinking they’re too good/cool to return MY wave/nod.

    • eddi

      Wave. Anyone who’s on two wheels deserves some acknowledgement and encouragement.

  • Dave Day

    I’ve noticed that you must be riding your motorcycle to get a wave. On a number of occasions my buddy and I have been headed to or from the track, with the bikes clearly visible on the trailer behind my car, and we never got a return wave from a people riding motorcycles. I guess rules is rules?

    • Jack Meoph

      Motorcycle cops don’t wave back either, at least that’s my experience. I’ve heard that some guys get them to wave back, but I never have….and I wave at the every frickin’ time. Maybe I should use more than one finger?

      • eddi

        Couldn’t hurt. I notice the younger ones are more likely to return a wave. But mostly they’re busy checking out the scene.

      • ticticticboom

        If you nod, they’ll nod back. A wave? I don’t think so…

  • SteveNextDoor

    People always talk smack about the H-D riders and them not waving, but I must say that while I’m still mostly a noob to riding (6-months of mad skillz on my CRF250L), the ONLY people to have waved at me so far are H-D riders, and they initiated it no less. I’ve had the ‘commuters’ in Day-Glo “I am your sun god!” bright gear ignore me when I try to wave at them as well as others on small displacement bikes like my own. At best, I’ve gotten a nod from people, but only after I stared at them and tracked their movements like some Chucky doll turning its head, heh. “Look at me… LOOK. AT. ME! Thank you, jackwagon, now go away, I don’t even want to wave at you now.”

    I still laugh, though, as my first wave (from a pack of H-D riders) caught me off guard. Instead of doing the #3, I tossed my head up in the “Sup?” fashion… which put it right in the wind, yanking my head back. I then tried to correct my error by simply waving the fingers on my left hand at the second rider as I was scared to death of taking my hand off the handlebar to wave. I looked like the noob I am and I should be embarrassed but it just makes me laugh thinking about it; as I rode away, all I could think was, “You’re such a dork. muhahaha!”

    • Piglet2010

      People riding cheap Chinese made scooters* usually do not wave since they are both clueless and afraid to take a hand off the bars due to poor handling.

      *There are non-cheap, proper handling Chinese made scooters, e.g. Wuyang-Honda made.

    • Tiberiuswise

      I have mostly similar experiences here in the New York Metro area. Whether on my DR-Z 400 or Wee Strom, Harley riders are the most likely to wave.

    • AFL

      When I was riding my bicycle around Yellowstone NP this summer I would get waves from Harley riders all the time, sometimes without me waving at them first. I started making a point of waving at anybody I saw on two wheels (the #3 is easiest when cruising on a road bike) and most motorcyclists waved back. I figure we’re all part of the two-wheeled brother/sisterhood and should stick together. Anyone else here wave at cyclists?

      • HoldenL

        Yep.

      • Lee Scuppers

        Waved back at one this morning. Never got a wave before from a bicycle. I used to wave at scooters but they never wave back around here (Maine). Probably nobody ever waved at them before so they aren’t prepared for it.

  • Jason 1199

    I’m usually up for #3 Cept for when I see another crazy a-hole riding in zero degree Celsius on the sea to sky highway, they get a violent thumbs up sky high

  • Khali

    If I am on a good long straight I usually give a nice V.

    If not, I wave with my left foot and nod.

    The foot is also used to say thanks when somebody lets you pass.

    • Zanpa

      That’s interesting. I have never seen any mention of bikers using their leg to thank cars that let them pass on english websites so far, and I’ve come to think that it is exclusive to France (almost every biker that passes me on the road does it). And now I see this drawing, which is in French… Reinforces my belief!

      • Khali

        I am spanish and I do it. But in France almost every car lets you pass, many like in that drawing, even getting in danger. So there it must be very common.

        • Bellaert Jeffrey

          I’m from Belgium and here it is also very common tu use your leg for thanking other car’s that give you room on the road or in a traffic jam.

          • Zanpa

            Seems to be a European thing then!

            • Sjef

              Not in the Netherlands, but that’s probably because nobody let’s you pass and defends their piece of road like a terrier……

              • Khali

                Same as Spain…only in a total jam when you cant pass between 2 stopped cars due to their mirrors, sometimes one of them moves a bit to the side. But in France in secondary roads it was totally awesome. Everyone let you pass moving to the roadside.

        • Afonso Mata

          Here in Portugal we do it too. If the car is on our left we say “thank you” with our left hand, if it’s on our right, we say “thank you” with the right foot. For the obvious reason :P

      • Thatmanstu

        Living in SW France,it is indeed how you thank those who let you pass…which is the overwhelming majority of cars,including oncoming traffic in many cases….the cartoon is a car driver being told by his passenger(wife?) that he is not obligated to say thank you like the bike……Besides having sheltered parking with lock stands at a great many stores and shopping centers,you can almost always pull virtually right up to the door at most buildings.Les motards are generally well treated and respected…which is quite nice ,actually……

    • Strafer

      eeeh! you are not required to respond when a biker thank you

  • John Tiedjens

    Snobbery I’ve found in the alleged 2 wheel brother hood…. 8 out of 10 times perpetrated by Harley riders. I ride a sporty bike… not necessarily a sport bike and it seems all I pass usually give the #3 as I always reciprocate. Harley guys will not…. well lets say 8 outta 10 will not. I always feel like a douche when putting it out there and getting ” I’m too cool for you” as a return on my friendly gesture. I know this as on the odd occasion I ride a buddy’s Street glide the waves from my snobbish HD counterparts come free and constant. So what’s the answer? Snob back? Ironically as most other machines are technically superior it is the Sport and Sport Touring guys who should snub the HD’s…. but I guess we just don’t figure were too cool for anyone. LOL……

    • Justin McClintock

      Lots of people don’t necessarily wave back to me in the summer time. In the winter, when it’s 20 degrees out in the morning, pretty much everybody who’s left does, regardless of what they’re riding.

      • Michael Howard

        Nothing like some cold temps or rain to separate those who ride for “image” from those who ride because they love riding.

        Sometimes people will ask, “How can you ride when it’s this cold?” My response is usually something along the lines of, “How can you NOT?” Takes more than the cold to keep me from riding.

      • Michael Howard

        I’m getting ready to head to work tonight in 16 degree (F) temps (6 wind chill). Supposed to be 3 (-5 wind chill) overnight. Wonder how many other bikes I’ll see. ;)

  • Rowan

    Australia: It’s the subtle nod. No one waves here.

  • MrMotoWise

    I give Harley guys the Trump-style “cobra strike”, unsuccessfully made into a thing by Lorenzo. It gives them something to think about the rest of the day.

  • GTsuperheros

    It’s “Shakas” all day in Hawaii!

  • HoldenL

    Usually a No. 2, often with a peace sign. But sometimes, just for grins, I wave overenthusiastically with both hands, like in that famous YouTube video by mordeath13. Often I yell, “Hi!” It doesn’t matter that they can’t hear; I don’t care if people don’t wave back. I’m trying to brighten up their day — a gift that requires no reciprocation.

  • fromwork789

    First time I ever experienced the wave was from a lady on the back of a Harley. I was caught off guard and panicked, returning the worst wave (picture how Mickey Mouse waves to children at Disney World).
    I like to imagine that her husband later scolded her for waving to such a goofball on a wr250r.

  • Gabe

    I definitely go with #3. Seems to be the trend up here in Chicago. I was told it also meant “keep your two wheels on the road” so that’s pretty cool.

    I also thought it was interesting to see that Can-Am made sure to include the wave in their 2012 commercial as if to say, “Look at us! We are accepted by the motorcycle community! Can-Ams are super cool!”

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wUUNU-WQVuM

    Lastly, I’m still unsure where I stand with scooters. But mostly cause they never wave back.

    • kinscore

      I’ve also heard that story for the two fingers down salute. So is the correct greeting to a Can-Am a three finger salute?

    • Michael Howard

      It blows my mind that some places allow you to take your motorcycle driving test on one of these. That’s as sensible as testing for your auto license on a lawn mower. Not knocking the Spyder but the required skillset is world’s apart (that little 2-wheels vs 3-wheels balance and countersteering thing).

  • juliansr

    I’m do a low “shooter”, moving my thumb like the hammer. Bang bang, i’m an iron horse cowboy.
    I bet most other riders think I’m a total weirdo. And thank god for that i guess.

    Of course, cruiser riders never wave at me (legit old dude riders, and couple’s day duos being the exception). Even on my old airhead instead of the VFR. they’re just too fucking cool to be bothered or cant ride hands free.

  • Ben Barbeau

    The wave is just stupid to begin with, only in the U.S. to people take offense to something so trivial. Keep your hands on the bars and focus on riding, NOT paying attention to you need to feel accepted by random strangers.

    • John Tiedjens

      Hey this is a trivial post for fun …. nobody on here take waving at another rider seriously. Attempting to some left handed slap at riders in the US because we’re enjoying a conversation about this bit of light hearted minutia I guess makes you feel superior? Then you missed the point hater…..

    • ticticticboom

      Don’t feed the troll.

  • PracticalBatman

    This has been my fav for a long while http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8zKQv2dc-cM

    OMGhi2u!

  • Smitchell

    I hate number three, hate it with a passion. I just lift my left index finger, if I do anything at all. I remember the wave being important when I first started, but it gets old. We’re not THAT select a group of people.

  • Michael Howard

    If you have to think about how you’re waving, you’re doing it wrong. Just wave. Or nod. Or whatever. All that matters is you’re acknowledging another rider – even if they don’t do the same.

  • HammSammich

    I usually drop my left hand down by my side and give my wrist a quick downward flick…

  • Justin McClintock

    Maybe I just need to start giving everybody the “shocker”.

  • Rowtag

    Browave

  • mirage2k6

    I play rock paper scissors. Paper seems to win most consistently.

  • Louis Tessier

    I like to blow a kiss (NoHomo)

  • Jorn Bjorn Jorvi

    I ride a speed triple and have bar end mirrors so I can’t comfortably move my hand down or to the side without looping my hand around the mirror or leaning back awkwardly. So my wave is a relaxed point with my arm about shoulder height

  • Bargle

    I use #3, but with my fingers together instead of deuces.

    This has always been my favorite on the subject…

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gqykEhOIaRk

  • jej

    I tip the visor of my MX or DS helmet at my fellow motorbiker, because I’m a classy fellow. I’m never sure what to do when someone on a Can-Am Spyder waves at me though.

    • ThruTheDunes

      I wave at them because some trike riders are disabled and can only get out there on three wheels, for some, it is the only way the Mrs. will participate, and in the end, they generally face the hazards we do on just two wheels. At least they are out there having fun.

  • Bryan Burnett

    Does anyone else tap the top of their helmet to signal “Cop ahead”?

    • Thatmanstu

      Absolutely…Heads up!!

  • Sérgio Oliveira

    Here’s #4, if you need both hands on the handles trough traffic, just extend/drag one leg away from the bike. Think this started in France, as a wave and as a thanks to motorists to give way.

  • Carter

    It’s okay not to wave back (from the Book of Buell)

  • 1destroyed_student1
  • ThinkingInImages

    I nod. I never got into the wave “thing”.

    The Real Life Motorcycle Signals are not quite right. You signal for a bad road is the rider is up on the pegs or swerving/waggling. You can’t do that if you have one hand off the bars to wave.

  • Rich Wentz

    I got a good chuckle reading this.