by Pat Hahn
Deep in the conscience of the motorcycle community, there’s this irrepressible urge to raise your left arm, move your left hand back and forth, to and fro, or up and down, and commit some sort of outwardly friendly maneuver in the direction of an oncoming motorcyclist. What’s really great about this urge is that you almost always get a similar gesture “right back atcha.” This is the motorbike wave.
It comes in many forms: a subtle glance, quick nod, gloved-palm flashback, gotcha-pointed finger, howdy-peace sign, rock-and-roll devil fingers, down-low wrist-flipper, and sometimes, the granddaddy of all waves, the “both-hands-in-the-air-roller-coaster-Homer-Simpson-WOO-HOO!” wave. Riders do this because they’re out having fun on a vehicle only one in ten people know how to ride—and they’ve just seen another one-in-ten person. There’s a bond there, a secret you share, and you can’t help but acknowledge it with a little flash of greeting. In a great big world where everyone’s going their millions of different ways, you and that other person have something in common—more in common than you do with most of your acquaintances. That person could end up being a lifelong friend, if you ever met.
Half the riders out there will shoot you one of these gestures without being prompted, and you’ll instinctively return the wave, completing the happy electric circuit. If you wave first, you’ll probably get a return gesture three times out of four. Why don’t they always wave back? Hard to say. Most likely, they’re focused on the road or a particular hazard. (You don’t have to be looking at someone to wave at them, you know!) They may be holding on for dear life (a nod would still be acceptable). They could be lost in thought (not the best time or place) or fiddling with something on their bike (what’s so important down there?) and simply didn’t see you. It’s usually something like that.
However, there’s always the chance that may not actually be riders: maybe they’re squids or posers who aren’t real motorcyclists and don’t understand what riding is all really about, so they haven’t developed the return-wave instinct. They’re simply not riders, so they don’t “get it.” On rare occasions, it’ll be worse than that: an elitist jackass who thinks that motorcycling is only about the bike or the protective gear (or lack thereof), ignoring the rider, the riding, and the road. Since you don’t ride the way he or she does, you therefore have nothing in common. In those cases, you’re better off without the wave.
Pat Hahn is the author of How to Ride a Motorcycle, Ride Hard Ride Smart, and a co-author of Track Day Handbook. He lives in south Minneapolis. You can e-mail Pat at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit his Web site at www.debaucheryball.org.