They’ll cover it in the MSF beginning rider course, even though it really has nothing to do with safety. Or you’ll learn its importance from the friend or family member who taught you how to rider (even though, seriously, go take an MSF course). Or you might just pick up on its importance after you’ve noticed your fellow riders flashing it at you as you pass each other like screaming chrome ships in the night.
That’s right, we’re talking about the motorcycle wave.
When you buy a motorcycle, you’re enrolled in a club. Enrollment is automatic and opting out is frowned upon. Like any good club, there are various traditions and disagreements about what behavior is proper and acceptable, but the bottom line is this: motorcyclists wave at one another.
For the non-riders out there, here’s how it works. If you’re on your bike and a fellow rider is coming towards you in the opposite lane, you stick your hand out in some fashion to that rider. Exceptions are made for circumstances such as when one’s left hand is busy with a shift or turn (in those instances, a head nod is acceptable if one can manage it).
There’s a lot of flexibility in what gesture you can make, as long as it’s not the raised middle finger, because that’s both rude to your brother or sister rider and also because we need to save that special gesture for, well, every single brain dead SUV, pickup and minivan driver that’s trying to kill us.
Me? I like a simple raised index and middle finger V (basically a peace sign) held out at a low angle towards the road. “Living the two wheeled life” is what it means to me. I have no idea if others interpret it that way. It doesn’t matter. It’s my wave and I like it.
Even with this tradition of waving to one another, there’s a lot of tribalism in motorcycle culture and that’s without even getting into the topic of motorcycle clubs or gangs.
You’re judged by what you ride, how you ride it, and what you’re wearing while riding it. Generally speaking, cruisers don’t like sport bike riders, and vice versa. Sport riders especially hate squids who tend to make sport riders as a whole look bad. And Harley riders hate everyone aside from themselves. They might even hate themselves. I don’t know any Harley riders, so I can’t verify.
I kid, I kid. You can’t take my opinion on Harleys seriously. I’m a Kawasaki rider.
The only thing all riders can agree on is a unanimous hatred of scooters.
Scooters don’t get the wave. At best, they get ignored. At worst, an icy glare and a feeling of smug superiority as one thinks of all the various ways scooters are doing it wrong and how we motorcycle riders are just so much better.
Confession: I’ve been guilty of this.
“I don’t get scooter riders,” I’ve said. “I almost never see a scooter rider wearing a decent helmet, much less gloves, boots, or a jacket. Do they think that riding a scooter means the road will be somehow more forgiving when they go down on it because they fell off a scooter?”
Worst of all? “Scooter riders don’t even know about the wave. I can count the number of scooters who have waved at me on one hand and have five fingers left over.”
You know what I’ve begun to realize, though? This animosity between motorcycles and scooters is ridiculous at best and pernicious at worst.
Let’s go back to the wave and why we do it.
I’ve tried to get a general sense of what rider culture is like with regards to the wave, so I’ve paid close attention to who initiates waves to me or who reciprocates waves that I initiate. My evidence is purely anecdotal, of course, since I don’t take the time to write down my findings while riding.
But what I’ve noticed is that Harley riders are the most responsive when it comes to waves in terms of both initiating and reciprocating, and that’s even coming from someone who is very clearly neither a Harley nor a cruiser rider.
Other cruiser brands are more hit-or-miss; I have to assume some of it is due to cruiser vs. sport bike rivalry. Sport riders are generally good about waving at me if and only if they’re a rider like me: full face helmet, jacket, gloves, etc. If the sport rider is in sandals and shorts i. e. a squid, I tend to get fewer waves than from any other group.
My feeling for this is based on the general rider profile. Harley riders, in general, tend to have a larger percentage of “the old guard” in their ranks and among the old guard, it seems that a rider is worthy of a wave no matter what he or she is riding. Other groups have less adherence to tradition, so there is correspondingly less waving.
How does this pertain to scooters?
My thought is this: maybe scooters don’t know about waving because so few motorcyclists take the time to wave to them. We haven’t invited them into our club. And why haven’t we?
It can’t be a gear thing, because many riders go without jackets, boots, or a brain bucket of any kind.
It can’t be a matter of engine size. We don’t judge a rider who putters by on a Honda Rebel 250. We think “there goes another new member of the tribe,” because a 250 is a fine bike to learn how to ride on, so we accept them as a member of the tribe or because it’s a cheap bike to buy and maintain and a cheap bike is always better than no bike.
Scooters tend to be cheaper than even little bikes like the 250. But regardless of the reason for why a scooter rider has chosen such a mount, the fact is they’re out there on two wheels, the same as us. They’re in it, just as we are, even if they don’t look as cool.
But that’s what the wave is all about, isn’t it? We wave at other riders to acknowledge that we’re all out here facing the same risks. We’re 37 times more likely to be killed than a cager and that breeds a certain solidarity, no matter what one is riding. Scooters are facing those same risks. They’re enjoying the same freedoms. I think that’s worthy of membership in the “wave club.”
And that’s why I wave at everyone now. Scooter, cruiser, Harley, tourer, it doesn’t matter. The wave is about solidarity. It’s about showing that we’re all in this together, that we’re all facing down the Grim Reaper when we swing our legs over our mounts. We’re all out there living life on two wheels. We’re all family in that regard.
. . .
Motorcycles just happen to be the cooler uncles and more awesome cousins of that particular family.