The Motorcycle Wave – What’s There to Say?

Motorcycle WaveI’VE BEEN SAYING TO MYSELF FOR YEARS I WOULD NOT WRITE ABOUT THE MOTORCYCLE “WAVE.” On the one hand – at least in North America – it’s a fine symbol of the brotherhood experienced by riders of all ages, races, religions, creeds, socioeconomic backgrounds, etc. On the other hand, it can be tiring in areas where there are lots of motorcyclists. And of course, at certain times, it’s downright dangerous (like when riding around turns, or any instant when a rider wouldn’t feel confident about taking a hand off the handlebars, or for an inexperienced rider at any time).

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m actually one of those guys who does wave to other riders – the majority of the time. And much of the time, I enjoy the simple acknowledgment to other riders, some whom I may see regularly on mutually and routinely traveled roads (although never having met them except in passing as we travel in opposite directions). But mostly I wave to riders I may never see again.

The reason I have not wanted to write about this is because, to me, to wave or not to wave is really a personal preference and, from my perspective, if you’re going to do so, it should be based on common sense. In other words, even if you are of the persuasion to wave to other riders, it’s smarter not to wave if doing so might endanger yourself or the other rider(s) you are waving to.

Hence, it just doesn’t seem like a topic that would warrant much contemplation.

But, I can imagine there are those sticklers who would argue that one should NEVER take their hand off the handlebars at any time, due to safety concerns.  Although I like to consider myself somewhat of a motorcycle safety advocate, I’m not in the sticklers’ camp.  Yet, I would argue that anyone who lacks the personal self-assurance about taking one hand off their handlebar, even for a fleeting moment, should definitely not do so.

One remark I might note is a change I’ve observed over the decades. Back in the 70’s, it appeared to me then that there were certain bikers who would only wave to other riders who rode machines similar to what they were personally riding. Although it would not be true to say that such a bias no longer exists, personally, it seems like nowadays there are more riders willing to wave to other riders, regardless of their machines.

Having said all that, I’m older now, and my recollections may be somewhat influenced by the perspective that all riders should be able to get along, regardless of what brand of motorbike they might be riding on any given day.  Despite such sentiments and much more to the point of this article, I don’t really care one way or the other who waves to who and for what reasons. I’d rather just ride and be friendly as it fits the circumstances.

117 thoughts on “The Motorcycle Wave – What’s There to Say?

  • THE WAVE ! I prefer the old original “Ride On” (left arm up raised fist) But, as time and “A holes” of the world made it, Most think it’s either a Gang related sign or tapping into a race slur. Both are BS. The Ride On hand sign to a passing brother/sister on the road was just that “Ride On Brother/sister” Plus it was up higher for all to see and the rider comming at you could see as well. I do the lower wave all the time and only about 60% return the jester. Guess one has to have been riding for 50 years to be comfortable to take one hand off the grip. So be it, if that’s the case and your not comfortable to take one hand off a grip for a few seconds so be it, a nod of the head works just as well in my book. Ride on Brothers & Sisters, and remember my saying of 50+ years of riding, ” Ride Safe, Ride Often and NEVER Ride faster than your Angel can Fly”

  • To wave, or not to wave? Everybody’s individual choice! Been riding for well over fifty years, and yeah, I STILL WAVE WHEN I CAN! Sometimes a nod of the head is sufficient and not a full wave! Quite a few sportbike riders do wave, but their weight is on their hands and they will SOMETIMES lift a finger, very hard to see at speed! But they do it! Still a personal choice!

  • Last Saturday I was on a Porsche road rally (I’m a true petrol head) and met a bunch of bikers coming against us. Being a biker I waved at them and got a great response from them, bikers, trikers, beardies, et al. We were sharing some great driving/ biking roads and the sense of camaraderie was palpable.
    I usually lift my left clutch hand slightly to acknowledge any driver who helps me to overtake them. This is an advantage of our right hand drive as you can’t do that with your throttle hand for obvious safety reasons.
    I never wave to the “Bad Boys for the Weekend” cos they’re too cool to wave back. I’m not mentioning any brands but they definitely don’t ride Rice burners! In fact I bring a custom scooter to their annual rally just to piss them off. Guess what ? It does! I have it badged as a Hardly Dav…… And I wear all the Bad Boy gear too. I look like a total plonker ridin this thing around. But hey man whatever you do…..don’t wave at me. I’m tooo cooool!

  • Answer me this: Why do motorcyclist wave to other motorcyclists? Car drivers don’t wave to other car drivers, Ford drivers to other Ford drivers, etc. When in your cage do wave to riders or other cagers? Hmm, wonder why? Do I initiate or acknowledge a wave, yes? I also give a thumbs up to cagers when they are courteous by letting my group proceed or other gesture of mutual respect for sharing the road. Thumbs up to bicycle riders who also share the road with us.

  • I can’t understand the wait on bringing this subject up, look at the interest and comments it generated. All who pursue the pleasure of riding in spite of overwhelming odds deserve recognition.

  • Pretty amazing the breadth of emotion on this topic.

    I’ve ridden a range of bikes (currently a bmw gs), and typically wave or nod as I can. Seems to fit the situation when on two lane vs. highways, and in lighter traffic. For me, it isn’t a wave – but an acknowledgement of being out on two wheels and sharing the enjoyment.

    I will wave or nod to anyone on any brand – and often share a nod with bicyclists and even some folks in cars who seem to wish they were on a bike. If they don’t wave back? No worries – it’s me signaling the joy of riding vs. expecting others to do something in return. Maybe relax and enjoy things a bit more.

    I’ll also stop to help anyone – in a car or on a bike. And I have to agree with Doug – if someone is flipping me off due to the type of bike I ride, they are welcome to enjoy the side of the road for a while.

  • I generally wave – IF conditions allow. Most times, I get a wave back. Been doing this since 1974, from the saddle of the same MotoGuzzi Eldorado that I bought new in December of 1973. Nuff said.

  • Hello, I ride a bmw and wave at every rider I see, including scooters. And a nod back is as good as takin’ yer hand off the tiller. I feel a sense of solidarity with all two wheel riders, although not all of you feel the same. Oh well, I’ll keep saluting you all just the same. Peace

  • Isn’t it wonderful that the wave is not required by law. I consider the gesture a sign of friendliness. I am wondering if more friendliness was displayed, would the world be a nicer place to live?

  • I took up biking in my 50’s. I know not everyone can or should ride a motorcycle, so it’s worth it to me to wave to others as an acknowledgment of my connection with others who’ve made that cut… I don’t require a wave back. I wave for being part of something I worked very hard to achieve.

  • I’ll always wave and if it’s not returned so be it. Ride on and be safe out there!

  • Well after a few months, I wish I never made a comment on the wave. .A ass didn’t wave, & gave the last person the bird, & on the way back, we found him in need of a tool, to fix his HD, & we went on our way, no help from us today! Well your readers said I was the ass! So I guess the ( five ) of us,I must be the only ones that feel that way, out of your group. So I we now say, U win! We give up!!( not one of your readers, were on or side)




  • I wave as most do when it is safe. If the other rider does not wave back it is okay; just because the message is not responded to does not mean it is not worth sending. Other bikers may be old, grumpy, having a bad day, tired of waving for the day (or for life), missed my wave or ??????

    I wave in hope to lift another’s spirit. If it does – great. If it does not – at least I tried and that lifts mine.

    (PS I wave to scooterists)

  • I ride a BMW R1200r. Unless I’m braking or shifting, I’ll wave to anyone riding two wheels with an engine. It’s a small gesture of community in an isolated world.

  • DO NOT BUY a new model TRIUMPH BONNEVILLE OR THRUXON… as all H.D. rider’s will wave and sport bike riders also … never B.M.W. as they are to good to wave to non b.m.w. riders ..but save your arm and buy a scooter. no one wave to them and if they tried it would go out of control

  • Brendon …. “To busy being old or to comfortable to care” ??? You made me laugh. … Spoken like a true hot dogging puppy dog. I’ll bet you have all the answers, it’s just most of the questions you aren’t familiar with.

    Really, a good laugh here 🙂

  • I ride supersport bikes and will only waive to others in supersports also as w share a common passion. A lot of other riders out there use it as a means of transport only and not for the love of riding. Not sure if riders on cruisers wave to each other, they might be too busy being old or too comfortable to care.

  • Sarah, Regardless of what people say, a Sportster 1200 is no ‘half Harley’! In fact, many women can’t manage it and so go into a Softail Heritage, for example, which is easier to balance for a woman. Some Honda guy told me (also) that ‘even some Harley guys consider a Sportster half a Harley’. I told him: I rather ride ‘half a Harley’ than a WHOLE HONDA!” lol (P.S. to you Honda guys/girls, not really. but I didn’t tell him that)

  • I remember giving a thumbs-up to bikers when I was a child in my mom’s car. The biker would wave back. I got a charge out of it! — I always wave unless I feel that it is unsafe.

  • The 1st time I rode my bike, I did not wave. Not because I am a snob, but I did not know I could let go of the handlebar. LOL 2nd time I rode, was on a straight stretch w/ no traffic. I waved back and was amazed that I could do so. Now, I wave all the time. Unless I am going around a sharp curve, or just don’t think it safe. I ride what many riders call a half a Harley. A Sportster 1200. Here in AZ, seems like everyone waves to everyone, no matter what they ride. Overall, I have found the biking community to be made up of an awesome bunch of people. Glad to be a part of it!

  • MCg, I agree with every thing you said, so there isn’t much to add. Having said that, and having read some of the comments here, frankly, I don’t understand some of the attitudes. I enjoy the wave and sometimes people don’t wave back. I don’t care. Maybe it’s my independent nature, but I don’t give a rip one way or the other. It’s difficult enough to judge the motives and reasoning people I’ve known for a lifetime and get it right. I would not presume to be able to judge the intentions or total character of any one for something that is as fleeting as a passing wave (or flipped bird). Some people who flip the bird are nice folks having a bad day. Some of those who wave could be baby rapers and serial killers for all I know.

    I do the wave because I enjoy the ride and I have a generally friendly disposition. If someone doesn’t wave back, I figure either there is a personal reason or maybe they didn’t see me coming soon enough because their focus is taken up somewhere else, or maybe they’re like me, just independent enough to make their own decision for their own reason and they just don’t really give a rip what others think of it. I could be wrong, but it seems to me that an independent spirit, at least in some measure, is a requirement for any one who loves the ride. I think that sets us apart from the rest of the traffic more than the wave that acknowledges it. If the wave doesn’t happen in return, it’s still true that the guy (or girl) who didn’t wave back has more in common with me than those who don’t ride. That’s good enough for me. It seems to me that the thing to do is ride on, and don’t give much thought to what’s on the minds of other people, most of whom I’ll never meet in person any way.

  • I give UP! I told my story, & everyone said I should have helped the guy that gave us the bird ,a hour before. (From now on I will give the bird to every one, & they will help me & others) Wow,, thanks for great idea, they might buy lunch also!

  • Hard to believe been riding for 43 years now. Have seen a lot of waves over the years. I’ve adopted the low, aerodynamic wave, and try to keep it up. The only exception is at big motorcycle rallies where one would be waving constantly on end.

    When I go riding in the vicinity of a motorcycle manufacturing plant, no names, (hint: York, PA), I notice that you may not get a wave if not riding a cycle of the same manufacture.

    Keep up the wave, it’s a good tradition!

  • Waving is a nice gesture, particularly when it’s returned back. That saying, I normally don’t wave to every passing biker on a city commute to work & back; you see, in India, there are MUCH more bikes than Cages on the road and after a period of riding here (which has been over 3 decades in my case), you simply would feel less enthusiastic. What I definitely do most of the times is a gentle nod of acknowledgement to riders / drivers that gives me a pass or wait for a fraction of a second to let me change lanes or any other such brotherly action & what particularly makes me feel better is if I was the one who waited & was being acknowledged back.
    Offcourse when on ‘tours’, the sense of camaraderie is much higher, whether its a solo or group trip. Those times, I wave most often than not & usually find motorcyclists on tours themselves feel more genial to respond back. Perhaps it’s got to do with the mental difference between going to work & going on a long holiday.

  • You must not have read the (2nd part) the same rider gave the last one in our group the bird! the finger! f–k you sign! what ever the call it. So you can go ahead & help him the next time. Glad I didn’t. Thanks, any way.

  • Doug,
    Seriously, not helping just because he didn’t wave???!?!?!?

    Find me on the side of the road with a disabled bike and waving is the last thing on my mind as well!!!

    How arrogant!!!!!

    It’s a good thing I took a few minutes to calm down before I told you what I think of your attitude. You make me feel bad for ALL riders everywhere. No wonder so many cagers try to take us out, they are looking for you!!

  • Been riding 60 years on all types and brands of motorcycles all over this land, always with a helmet, so I think I can comment appropriately. First of all, I would say I observe the riders with helmets most always wave and a lot of helmetless riders do not wave at those of us who have on helmets, jackets, gloves, long pants, etc. I suppose they feel we are not of their mind-set, hence ones who should be ignored. I wave when it is safe to do so at almost all riders, yes even scooters out on the road, (There are some big 650 CC scoots running just like the cruisers). The exceptions I personally make are the riders without helmets and those wearing t-shirts, flip-flop and shorts. I just think it is wasted energy as those types won’t be around long anyway. I also wave at cagers who wait to pull out at intersections & those who do not tailgate trying to pass but wait and then swing a little wider when doing so. I do not observe rudeness from any one brand over another as rude and ignorant riders are on all types of bikes.

    I normally do not wave in traffic…it is hard enough to watch ahead and two rear mirrors without taking a hand off to wave. All we need to do is not concentrate for a spit second and Whammo!

    Now, the one thing I try to do is to give the LEO’s a left-hand High Five as they approach. I feel it is important to somehow let them know we appreciate all they do for us, even in this small way.

    Just the views from my saddle…

  • I recently moved from New York, just outside of Buffalo to Seattle, WA. In Buffalo, just about everyone waves. Here, it seems like the stereotypical long-time riders on the big bikes are less interested in ‘the wave’ than those younger people on smaller bikes. Maybe they’ve been waving for SO many years, they’ve had enough! lol.

  • I ride and have always been on a Honda. Don’t care what others ride, Usually wave but it seems to mean more in the winter of Massachusetts when there aren’t too many of us on the road. I’m 60 and cranky but I still feel the connection of the wave.

  • Good practice to wave to cagers who do things right. I wave to those just as you mentioned. I never see if they wave back, but I wave just the same.

  • If you wave to me or not it`s ok.. Here is the plan fellow riders wave when and to who you want ,but let`s change our image and wave to those that stop and wait for us as in left hand turn cagers and those that pull over to let us pass and those that do not pull into our lane from the side streets and those that smile and want to wave to us on those lonely backroads we travel! Let`s all start to wave to them and they will start to understand that we are friendly and not all adrenaline junkies.

    Changing our image is what we want to do ! Be safe and you will see the waves back and the smiling faces.

  • Just an easy way to express a connection with a fellow rider in our disconnected, isolated world. It still means what it used to mean; that you share something that few people have the time or talent to do. I don’t expect everyone to wave, but unless I’m shifting or braking, I will.

  • Christine,I went to MT.Rainer WA. & I must have did the wave,400 times! !!!!!!!!!!!!after 400 , I just did the the next 100, Worked ok…….

  • Funny Doug. Anyhow, who am I to judge?? Today I was preoccupied and missed waving. I saw him wave out of the corner of my eye. I felt bad. I try to just wave at any and all and don’t even bother to look to see if they wave back most of the time. We do have a strip here in my corner of NY where everyone rides up and down. Waving seems kind of silly when there are SO many of us! Oh well…the idea is still nice. Gosh, I hope I don’t comment any more. I’m boring myself.

  • This is sort of funny. I wave at most all other MC riders or my wife does it for me when we are riding two up. She gets a kick out of it. A couple of years ago I bought her a new VW Beetle Convertible and she has taken to waving at other VW drivers when they pass by each other. It’s fun to see how excited she gets when one of them waves back.

  • I like to give the wave – I think it links us as riders. I admit I haven’t seen another rider sometimes and have missed the opportunity, but I don’t care what you ride as long as you ride!

    I ride a Honda ST1100 with some of the nicest folks I know. I was also an associate member of the GWRRA, and have never been snubbed by a a Wing rider, even on my old VF750C Magna. Lots of harley riders wave, some don’t – sometimes I wonder if it’s due to the handling characteristics of choppers and those with ape hangers (how long can you ride with your arms above your head, draining blood? Doesn’t look comfortable to me, but I’m a staright up UJM rider.) I digress.

    It used to butter my beans when someone didn’t wave back, but it may not have been safe, they might not have seen me, whatever.

    I wave – I like to wave, it connects me. I also like to be safe – I’m a geek with head and tail light modulators, camaro yellow bike, yellow jacket, HiViz helmet, and yellow/black gloves.
    If I can’t wave like at an intersection or curve, I give “the nod” most everyone returns it. Most riders “get it” and give it back.

    Ride the wave and Ride safe!

  • OK, I’am the guy that did’nt give the H.D; a wrench,we were on dualsport bikes, with mud & dirt all over us.We have lots of tools with us. NOW, the rest of the story;I did’nt see it; but the other rider in front of me, later, said, did you see that H.D. give us the bird? WOW, I’am so glad that now, that I did what I did!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Right on, Brett. You bring a nice breath of fresh air to this topic. I will just wave when I can safely do so and not expect a wave back…but be happy if I do get one. I know some riders simply ignore ALL wavers…their choice.

    I do think the guy who didn’t lend the wrench to a non-waver set a poor example. He should have taken the high road on this one.

  • I’m surprised at all the whining about “X person didn’t wave at me!”.

    I ride a HD. I am not stuck up and I love to wave, but often I am not scanning the road for every opportunity to do so and I miss more than a couple. I didn’t just snub you, I may have waved too late!
    I went to wave at someone recently and nearly bit it because I didn’t notice something in the road. Waving is a great way to welcome fellow riders, but chill out if someone doesn’t wave back.
    Do you really think HD riders can really tell from 100 yards away if you too are riding a HD? I certainly haven’t memorized every model in the catalog.
    Also, if you don’t help a fellow rider out just because they didn’t make a special effort to acknowledge your presence, I wouldn’t want to associate with you either.

  • Last year on a ride with our dualsport bikes, ! did the wave to a H.D. & he didn”t wave back. About a hour later, on the way back, here is the same H.D. rider on the side of the road. I stopped & he asked if I had a adjustable wrench, & I said yes, but it’s for only for riders that wave, so of we go! A week later,we went the same way & he was gone, so he did get help.

  • @ Christine. . For the last 12 yrs I’ve ridden a Harley Road King. I also had a BMW 1150gs for 5 of those 12 yrs. Loved them both for totally different reasons. Over the decades I’ve owned all sorts. The Harley has just departed and I’m now on a BMW Roadster but I’m still me (just older and wiser, but I still take the occasional refresher course to stay sharp) . Harley, BMW, whatever, I’m glad you consider yourself a motorcyclist first, who just happens to ride a Harley.

  • Responding to John’s observation about certain brand riders waving more than others: My brother rides a huge Honda among his other Japanese bikes and I don’t know if he waves or not…but his little sister (ME!) rides a Harley and he doesn’t have much good to say about Harleys. He’s a motorcycle/car mechanic, used to sell Bridgestone motorcycles years ago. He knows his bikes and I don’t know why he looks down on Harleys. I will have to ask him if he waves at Harley riders.

    I chose a Harley b/c my ex- boyfriend rode one. And I chose that particular type (Sportster 1200 ) simply b/c I liked the way it looked and felt when I sat in it, knowing absolutely nothing else about it! Had I been with my brother, I’d have probably ended up with a Honda. I have no loyalties to one brand or another so can’t understand men’s prejudices regarding brands.

    A Honda man took a look at my Sportster 1200 just yesterday and informed me that most Harley guys consider Sportsters ‘half a Harley’. WHY would he say that to me?? That put me on the defensive and I wanted to say: I’d rather ride half a Harley than a whole Honda! LOL. Not true…I REALLY don’t care, but I think that’s how prejudices start by such stupid comments.

    Sorry to get off the subject.

  • I wave at ALL riders, that being said….All riders do not wave back. That”s Ok with me till I break it down to what they are riding….

    HD riders wave 50% of the time….

    Metrics wave 80% of the time…

    I am not even going down the road with The Guys On The Gold Wings……We hear …You meat the nicest people on Honda”s…….

    That is the only pile of shit I have heard and experienced first hand!

    Wing riders do not wave unless you are on one.

    Just my opinion.

    Ride safe and ride with ATGATT.

  • You know, the wave is a nice gesture of brotherhood (or sisterhood) but it does get kind of tiresome. I’m a new rider and even I am tiring of having to wave each time…because I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. There are times when I’m going at high speeds, rounding a sharp curve or whatever, that waving is just not safe. When I DO wave and am ignored, I feel slighted…I don’t want to make others feel that way, so I will continue to wave whenever I can safely do so.

  • Hate to see you go. Sometimes change requires changing yourself. If the wave symbolized the joy of traveling on two wheels, things haven’t changed all that much in the last 50 years…

  • Sorry everyone, I’ll be deemed stuck-up. I tired of waving years ago, I encounter a motorcycle of sorts every 5 minutes (except in the winter here in the Pacific Northwest) . I’m tired of waving to everyone. In the fifties, sixties, and seventies I waved…I’m done, old, and cranky now, I wish it meant what it used to mean.

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