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The Secret Motorcycle Wave - primarily for noobs

Those of you who ride motorcycles will know exactly what I'm talking about here. Those of you who don't - will hopefully learn something.

I'm referring to that secret "wave" that oncoming bikers may or may not flash each other as they pass on the highway. Oh sure, it seems customary enough - two fellow riders politely saying "hi" to each other as they approach... but is it? Is it really that simple? Actually it's not.

I've been riding a motorcycle my entire adult life and I've been paying attention. And if you think you're going to get a salutation from just any biker coming your way, then you're wrong. Believe it or not, there are some very subliminal and undocumented rules regarding this situation - and I'm going to share them with you now.

Here's how it works:

First of all, we'll need to establish some terminology to make this tutorial easier to follow.

The person initiating the wave will herefor be referred to as the "initiator". The other person will then automatically be known as the "receiver," and if he responds to the wave, will also be known as the "replier." Note that any reference to said replier assumes he is also the receiver and therefore will not also be referred to as the receiver because otherwise he would have to be known as the receiver and the replier - which just doesn't make any sense.

Next, to avoid any unnecessary political or grammar faux pas, all motorcyclists from this point on will be referred to as "riders" and all persons shall be referred to in the male context, just to make it easier.

Ok, now on to the tutorial...

Equity and the Odds of Engagement
The odds of receiving a wave from an oncoming biker are first and foremost governed by the "laws of equity." This means that the more things you have in common with him the better chance he will engage as either the initiator or the replier.

There are basically three categories in the laws of equity:

1. Brand equity. This means that if you both are riding the same brand of bike, the odds of a wave transaction are increased.
2. Style equity. If you both are riding the same "type" of bike, such as chopper, rocket or touring motorcycle, then your odds are increased as well.
3. Helmet equity. If you both are either wearing or not wearing helmets - odds increased again.

To further illustrate this concept:
IF you both are riding hardtail Harleys and not wearing helmets, the odds of a hand gesture between the two of you are VERY high. Conversely, the odds of a nonhelmeted hardtail rider waving to a helmeted Suzuki rocket rider are almost next to none.

The Big Five
When a fellow biker is approaching, his left arm and hand will tell the story. Whether he is the initiator or the replier, the signals are the same. Following are the five main hand gestures you may encounter:

1. The Nothing - This is the "default" hand position of most cross-encounters. Simply leaving his left hand on the handle bar can mean anything from "not paying attention to the fact you're approaching" to "I see you but I'm not interested in exchanging a greeting" - to the harsher, "I see you but since we don't enjoy any 'equity,' I'm not going to acknowledge your existence." Of course since no words are ever exchanged to clarify, all the rider can do is simply speculate.

2. The Two-finger Flip - The most casual AND most common acknowledgement. Left hand still on the handgrip, but the index and middle fingers raised briefly. This one simply says "dude, how's it going?" Most of the time the receiver will respond just out of courtesy. Of course the whole issue of who goes first really boils down to nothing more than a game of greeting chicken - or whoever's in the better mood at time.

3. The Big One - This is the granddaddy of all greetings. Left hand down off of the handlebar and out to the side. Fingers may either show a "peace" sign or be spread open palm side out. Here, the initiator is sending a clear signal that he acknowledges you. Not replying to this blatant plea for hospitality may be considered rude - and could possibly be interpreted as a strong message of inequity.

4. The Dis - Left hand down and resting on the thigh. This could be viewed as a request to treat the opposing party as a hostile witness - ESPECIALLY if it is moved there while you are approaching. Dating back to the days when rival motorcycle gangs roamed the streets, this signal indicated disrespect to the other rider(s) and was clearly meant as negative and often times led to confrontation. Today, however, the old cultural significance has been lost, and could simply just mean your arm is tired and resting on your leg.

5. The Geek - Left hand raised high in the air as if to say, "Hi mom!" This one is specifically reserved for the new rider, who is "SO excited to be one of the gang!" Also may be seen being used by Moped or scooter riders. Recommendation: Just don't.

 

 

So there they are. All the secrets behind those mysterious motorcycle hand greetings revealed (not to be confused with the standard hand "turn" signals). So the next time you approach an oncoming rider, take note. He could be sending you a very intentional message!

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35 Comments

Thanks for that mc!  Guess what?  PG is a GEEK! HaHaHaHa!  She's a GEEK!  HAHAHAHA!  Oops, gotta go.  Here she comes! By!

Crap.........I'm a geek!  Oh well, what the hell, I'm happy and excited to be a new rider and I will continue using my geeky wave for the next 20 years!!!Laughing

5. The Geek - Left hand raised high in the air as if to say, "Hi mom!" This one is specifically reserved for the new rider, who is "SO excited to be one of the gang!" Also may be seen being used by Moped or scooter riders. Recommendation: Just don't.

looks like a right hand turn gesture??? or is it???

Whatta do you think PG?? 

I just gotta say, when I'm on the highway going 70 MPH, and see another bike coming towards me, I have maybe 2 seconds AT MOST to wave. (usually #3). I don't have time to notice what they're wearing, what they look like or even what they're riding. All I see is someone who enjoys something like I do. So if it's safe to do so, they get a wave. If they don't wave back, no problem. Maybe they didn't see ME in time, they're having a bad day, or just don't wave. It doesn't bother me. The type of wave matters not.

Just my 2 cents worth.

i will give you 5 stars on all that. just for the time to type it out. interesting stuff. makes sence. but if you are going down the hiway say 60mph how do you know what kind of bike they have? yes im a newbee.

Very interesting and informative. Only slight changes for Australia - right hand is used as the receiver passes on the right and only index finger is generally lifted in the gesture known as the "Laconic Salute." This gesture is also commonly used to signal other drivers when the initiator is behind the wheel of a car.

Very instructive info... LOL!

CoolHI; I just wave. Surprisedhalf way up.JPGI don't really care how it looks. If I wave at kids it's the HI MOM LaughingI'm having more fun than you wave. I wave at everyone as long as it's safe... I'm just HAPPY to be riding..Smile Nice post...scruffy

Scruffy! I've told you before you DON"T wave with THAT finger! lol

Informative but,......a bit deep and meangful for me.  I wave if I think about it and if I am able.

What do I think spirit...........well............Fb always takes the lead (I like to make him think he's in charge, lol!) and when we meet fellow bikers on the road, FB does the #3 wave, so cool, and the fellow biker does the same back.  But then there is me (the GEEK) and my arm is way up in the air and guess what?  That fellow biker waves back at me just the same, arm way up saying a big "hi" back at me!!  So I think bikers will wave back at you as how ever you wave to them.  Go ahead and try it the next time you are out on the road, be sure you aknowledge them first, wave low, they will wave low back, wave high, they will wave high back.  Flip them the bird, they will flip it back at you!!  There, the wave problem has been solved!! LOL!!!!!!

Very educational. Most riders pass me pointing and laughing, is that a good thing?

Pioneergirl, I really like your style!  I slso wave all kinds of ways and still get a wave back---sometimes the bird, too!  Hell, I don't care!  I just have fun out there when I'm riding!!!

Right on all of you!!!

Wave too---it's fun!!!

Great read, well done mcornelsen.  I think you missed one term: A receiver who does "nothing" or performs the "dis" would be called the spoilerTongue out

 

Now maybe this is only Indiana, Bot I notice the sporties will do the two fingers off the grip, The geek wave is done all by GOLDWINGERS. I assumed the Honda dealer teaches them this, as for the sportie, with all the weight on your arms, they are in fear of falling and chipping a tooth on the bars, My 2 cents, But I love your pics

Ah, my brother of 2 wheels, GREAT post...educational with a twist of funny. However, you left out an important part of any possible riders...proper wave information for passengers.

 

I am a "Big One" all the time, no matter what you are riding..but if you dis me..you get the bird. Yea, I know should not be that way and I am working on it. 

Nice post, man, but one thing is missing!!! What about us, with ape hangers? Since hands are already in the air, most of the times the easier thing to do is just raise a hand a little bit doing the peace sign. There is no way the other rider not to see you, since you don't look just like a monkey (well... ape), but also like a waving one! HA HA HA HA! Take care man & ride safe.Smile

Excellent hilarious description of the wave. Never noticed the wave thing between riders before we started riding. I'm more of the geek waver, wifey is more of the "the big one" waver. Thanks

Time well wasted! LOL I kind of feel bad when I don't return a wave. On the other hand I'll just mumble "dick-wad!" under my breath if someone doesn't.

Thanks for the tutorial! Here in NZ we also have the "nod" which is an upward movement or a slight twist of the head.

What ever it is it's all good!Laughing

Hahaha Great post Smiley-laughing

I wave when I can but nod my head most of the time when I am driving in town or when I have to keep my mind on the road for some reason. If someone gives me a "Hi mom" wave I wave "hello mom" back if I can haha. I sometimes put my hand dawn and sometimes lift my fingers while still holding onto the bars, or just nod my head. I just do it all Smiley-laughing

I agree with you that it is more likely to get a wave from someone riding similar bike as you are. I know we cant always see what bike they are riding but most of the time we can see what kind of bike we are approaching. I would expect a biker with ape hanger to wave "hello mom" but a guy riding a racer to put his hands down, because of the position their hands are already in. Now I know that a "real biker" would never give a Hi mom wave hahaha

There are so many new riders on the roads today so you old timers are the minority. If you get irritated because of all the different waves you are getting then I feel sorry for you guys Smiley-laughing I will defiantly give a hello mom wave to everyone who sends me one if I have the opportunity to do that Smiley-laughing

Ride safe and enjoy the ride and remember to give a high Hello mom if you are enjoying the ride. Just make sure you are in control of the bike Smiley-laughing

Gunny Smiley-laughing  

Bloody brilliant post, very funny!Laughing

nice post lol i enjoyed this i usually do the peace with the left arm down symbol if i cant for some reason ill nod or if ill cross my right arm inbetween my handle bars and give a peace sign becuase my other hand is holding in the clutch or if im stopped or i sometimes do the 2 finger flip over all its just a fellow greeting and a way of saying hi and have a safe travel on the road.

funny, love the hi mom

lmao

That's just plain comedy.......

We don't have waves in my part of Aussie. It's just an almost imperceptable nod, and only to real looking riders who aren't pretenders.

great post..thanks for clearing up all the confusion..lol...I always wave to/at everyone...I've always been an initiator...I noticed however that you didn't include the ever popular 'one finger flip'  lol...

It's a respect thing...
but if the other guy or his ol lady doesn't return the "wave" I always assume they weren't paying attention... or were too busy hanging on. no biggie, hello anyway
Sometimes you just can't safely let go of the scooter to wave.

Or they were just awestruck by your ride Don and were incapable of returning the wave. lol

I wasn't going to go there Al, but you are probably correct.:)

Well Don. It looks pretty cool to me.

In town I do the head nod, on the road whatever is comfortable. When Im really feeling good it's a fist in the air with a shout of joy!

I don't usually bother with young riders on crotch rockets. Older guys know what being part of the motorcycling world was about in the older days. When everyone put you in the same box coz you were on a bike. You could have been a man of the cloth or an outlaw club member the general community saw you as threat. So in that instance that fact you rode a bike made you all part of the biker group regardless of your background. Motorcyclists stopped to help motorcyclists while the rest of the public mostly continued past. We acknowledged each other as being a part of a fraternity.

cool info. i try to wave at everyone i see or notice but sometimes i miss them. ride safe and wave to all we are all a part of something special

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