The motorcycle world is all about camaraderie, and there's no better way to express solidarity with your fellow riders than the classic motorcycle wave. You've probably seen the wave in action, but what does it all mean, and why do we do it anyway?
To put it short and sweet, the wave is simply a way of saying "hello" to your fellow rider. That's all it is! Just a simple acknowledgment to another traveller on two wheels. With that being said there's a bit more to it than that, so keep reading for a crash course on mastering the biker wave.
The wave is a universal sign but it still comes with a few rules. There are several ways to go about it, and certain scenarios where a wave should be held back. So if you want to wave with confidence like a pro, let's dive in.
WHAT THE MOTORCYCLE WAVE MEANS
The wave is a simple but effective way to connect with another motorcycle rider on the road. It's our way of saying "Hey friend. Stay safe out there." The beauty of the wave is that it's often shared between two complete strangers. Such is the harmonizing power of motorcycles.
Us bikers are often outnumbered on the road and it sometimes feels like car drivers have it out for us, so it's nice to be acknowledged by other riders. It's a simple way of letting a fellow biker know that someone out there has their back.
The wave can also be seen as a sign of respect and tradition. Not only are you paying kudos to the other rider, but mutually celebrating the joy and freedom that comes from riding a motorcycle.
THE ORIGIN OF THE MOTORCYCLE WAVE
The true origins of the motorcycle wave are shrouded in mystery, but the most popular story involves William Harley and Arthur Davidson. Yes, that Harley-Davidson duo.
When these two pioneers passed each other in the street while riding, they would give each other a little wave just to say hello. This was in the days before motorcycling had really taken off, so everyone who saw the wave assumed this was common practise amongst riders. So naturally, everyone started doing it!
Over the years, this practise grew into a full-blown tradition. Now everyone does it, especially Indian and Harley riders. It became so ingrained in biking culture that in 1946, a group of riders got together and established some proper waving rules. This group was known as the Wave Hard And True Biker Society, or by their abbreviation of WHAT-BS.
MOTORCYCLE WAVES - WHAT DO THEY LOOK LIKE?
Obviously, we all know how to wave, but what's the secret to a good biker wave? There are several variations you can try, but the simplest technique is to raise your arm just a little bit off the ground and wave, all without looking at the driver.
Less is more when it comes to waving. You're still driving, after all, so avoid any over-the-top waves that will not only affect your control of the bike but make you look like an idiot as well. Keep reading and we'll run through the acceptable forms of waving.
THE DIFFERENT TYPES OF MOTORCYCLE WAVES
Left Hand Wave: As mentioned above, this involves slowly raising your left hand with a straight arm as you pass the other rider. The trick is to keep it nice and low. You don't want to be sticking your arm out completely to the side.
Feel free to put your own spin on things. You can do a peace sign, point with just one finger, or use your whole palm like a regular wave. Just remember to keep your eyes forward on the road. This whole process happens purely in your peripheral vision. Eye contact is not necessary.
The left hand wave is used in the US where drivers are passing on your left hand side.
Right Hand Wave: For Aussie riders and anyone else driving on the left side of the road, we do the exact same thing except throw up our right hand instead. Obviously, this is because other riders are passing to our right.
Peace Sign: Hold up your arm at a 45-degree angle and point the peace sign in the air. This one is typically used by people riding Harley-Davidsons. If you pass a Harley rider and throw this sign up but you're not riding a Harley, you might not actually get a wave back!
Head Nod: The head nod is slowly taking over as a popular alternative to the wave, probably because it's subtle, takes less effort, and doesn't involve taking your hands off the handlebars.
A rider might turn their head to look at you after you give them a nod, but sometimes it just isn't practical, so don't get offended if they don't offer anything back.
In Australia and the UK, the nod is actually more common than a traditional wave, while in the States the wave still rules. A traditional rider will probably still prefer a classic wave.
Keep in mind there's a big difference between a friendly wave and a legitimate hand signal that can mean something else entirely. Check out our Guide to Motorcycle Hand Signals to make sure you're not giving off mixed signals on the road.
TO WAVE OR NOT TO WAVE?
Sometimes you'll be in a situation where you want to wave, but face the uncertainty of whether it's appropriate at the given moment. You don't want to break the sacred rules of etiquette, but it might not be a safe time to wave.
Here's a quick guide to give you a solid idea of when a wave is expected and when you should save it for another time.
On the freeway: don't wave. Pay attention to the road.
On a curve: Not necessary.
In the rain or at night: Don't bother. They probably can't see you anyway.
Riding on two lanes with relaxed conditions: A wave is expected.
At a rally: Not needed
In traffic: Don't wave. Paying attention is more important.
As you can see, as long as the conditions are nice and mellow then a wave is expected. If you don't wave, some people might even consider it rude.
On the flip side, don't get in a huff if a rider doesn't wave back as expected. They simply might not have seen you, could have been manipulating their clutch, or maybe they gave you a head nod instead and you just didn't see it.
TIPS ON HOW TO WAVE WHILE RIDING
If you want to wave like a pro then don't overdo it. An enthusiastic wave is not only incredibly uncool but impractical. An energetic wave takes a lot of your concentration off the road and will make you look like a newbie.
A wave should be done at the right place and right time. Don't worry about waving if you're going around a bend or riding in heavy traffic. The same goes for riding in the rain or at night. You're simply not in a position to do so. Other riders won't take it personally.
It might seem like we're throwing a ton of rules at you, but relax and don't try too hard. As long as you give another rider some form of acknowledgment they'll probably appreciate it.
The aim of the game is to stay on two wheels, so don't lose your head trying to throw out the perfect wave. Keep it nice and simple.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN WHEN A BIKER WAVES?
So what exactly does it mean when a biker waves? A wave is just a friendly gesture shared between two riders. It doesn't have any major significance. The biker wave is just our simple way of saying "Hey friend. Stay safe out there".
The wave is a simple, straightforward way of communicating that cuts through the noise of the open road. It's a great symbol of solidarity between riders and a pretty cool aspect of the riding community.
WHAT IS THE BIKER WAVE CALLED?
What is the biker wave actually called? You can honestly just call it a biker wave, but it can also go by the names of the 'motorcyclist salute' or the 'motorcycle wave'.
As mentioned above, the 'Harley' or 'Cruiser Wave' is when you raise your arm at a right angle and give someone the peace sign. Just keep in mind that unless you're riding a Harley, a Harley driver might not feel obliged to salute back.
HOW DO YOU WAVE TO ANOTHER BIKER?
Newer riders might not know exactly how you wave to another biker. The trick is to keep things nice and simple. Avoid anything over the top.
The most recommended wave is simply sticking your preferred arm out, keeping it nice and low. From here you can put your own spin on things. Throw up the peace sign, one finger, or even just a standard wave.
It doesn't really matter what you go with. The other rider will most likely appreciate the gesture either way.
WHO STARTED THE BIKER WAVE?
No one knows for sure who started the biker wave. The most popular story goes that it was accidentally invented by Arthur Davidson and William Harley - the same inventors of the Harley Davidson!
In 1904 when motorcycles were still relatively new, people witnessed the duo giving each other a small wave as they passed each other on the road. Spectators naturally assumed that all bikers did this, and thus a timeless part of motorcycle culture was created.
HOW DO YOU WAVE WHEN RIDING A MOTORCYCLE?
So how exactly do you wave when riding a motorcycle? There are a few ways to go about it, but the trick is to keep things simple. Don't throw your arm in the air like you're hailing a taxi. A small gesture is all you'll need.
Holding an arm out low to your side is a nice and simple method. With your arm sticking out, feel free to simply wave, do the piece sign or just point with one finger. Alternatively, give a passing rider a nod if you'd prefer to keep your hands on the handlebars.
WHY DO MOTORCYCLE RIDERS WAVE AT EACH OTHER?
Why exactly do motorcycle riders wave at each other? What's the whole point? It's simply a way of showing camaraderie with other riders. A wave or nod is our special way of saying hello and showing solidarity.
Motorcyclists are often outnumbered on the road, so it's nice when riders show that we have each other's backs. At the end of the day, it's not super important, but a pretty cool aspect of motorcycle culture.
WHEN SHOULD YOU NOT WAVE ON A MOTORCYCLE?
We've talked about how to wave, but when should you not wave on a motorcycle? In certain conditions where extra concentration is needed, you shouldn't be waving to other drivers. This means driving on freeways, in traffic, or while taking a curve.
Don't bother waving at night or in the rain either. Not only is it unsafe, but the other driver probably can't even see you. If you're worried about seeming like a jerk to other riders then don't be. If the conditions don't call for a wave they certainly shouldn't hold it against you.
The perfect time for a wave is when conditions are smooth. Open roads with little to no traffic are the perfect conditions to salute your fellow riders.