On Different Wavelengths

 by Kristin Leary

It can be a source of tension between riders on different brands or a symbol of camaraderie among fellow enthusiasts. For all bikers, however, lack of mastery of its different styles reveals that you’re a nerd or a novice. I’m speaking of the wave. You know, the act of removing your hand from the grip to greet other cyclists as you pass one another.

As a new rider, I must admit that the first few waves were definitely nerve-wracking. I took comfort, however, in words once spoken by Henry “The Fonz” Winkler. He admitted that, when filming the opening credits for the show “Happy Days,” he nearly peed his pants when the director made him take his hands off the handlebars and wave to passersby while riding. True story.

It’s a gradual learning process, a series of stages, actually. You must work your way from Low-Speed-Straight-Away waves to Mid-Speed to High-Speed Straight-Away waves. Worked in there somewhere near the Mid- to High-Speeders is the Low-Speed-Curve wave which naturally develops into the High-Speed-Curve wave.

As your comfort level increases, so does the duration of the wave. After considerable experience, a cyclist may wave to a whole string of bikes at high speed on a curve. The only exception to the speed to complexity ratio is the From-A-Dead-Stop-Low-Speed-Upshifting-On-A-Curve-Without-Winding-Out-Your-Engine wave. THAT, my friends, takes talent. Lesser skilled cyclists will just nod.

Aaaahh, but the lesson doesn’t end there. At some point in bikers’ wave-development they must begin to recognize what style of wave to use. Either they can flat out always use their own style wave to represent their own individuality, or they can mimic the wave of the oncoming bike. To make sure you don’t blow any wave opportunities, here are some pointers to prepare you.

  • If you’re on a Japanese bike and the oncoming bike is a sportbike, don’t wave, just stare at the other bike.
  • If the oncoming bike is a Japanese cruiser, raise your hand slightly above the bars. You may even want to keep the heel of your hand touching the bars with your thumb still wrapped around the grip.
  • If the oncoming bike is a Harley, don’t wave until they wave because most times you won’t get a wave in return. The general rule of thumb is: the longer the hair and the beard, the less chance of receiving a wave. This matter is complicated further by the clean-cut suburban boys who are trying to be tough.
  • If the oncoming bike is a Goldwing, be prepared to dislocate your arm with a fully-extended, full-arm wave. Caution: high speeds can do serious muscular damage.
  • If the oncoming bike is a sport tourer, an English or German bike, casually remove your hand a few inches away from and below the bars and extend your index and middle fingers slightly. Do not, under any circumstances, extend your fingers too much or you will appear as an over anxious nerd.

I hope these tips will help you integrate into the cycling world more smoothly and with the least amount of ridicule possible.


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