Riders, It’s Time To Start Waving At Scooters

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. 

To Pass Or Not To Pass: That Was My (Neurotic) Question

I turn the corner and accelerate onto the interstate. This is one of my favorite parts of riding. I like the feeling of getting up to speed. I like the way the engine growls as I push the RPMs. I like the rush of acceleration.

I glance over my shoulder and check that my lane is clear to merge. My lane is, but the lane next to mine isn’t.

There are two riders occupying that lane, riding in a side-by-side formation. Both are on big, black cruisers. I can’t tell the make from here, but they’re loud, even through my helmet and headphones I can hear the roar, and they’re both modded up; ape-hanger handlebars and all. Both riders are bearded and helmetless.

And both are wearing cut-off black leather vests.

I pull into my lane just as they zip past me, which gives me an opportunity to see the backs of those cuts. Classic one-percenters, right down to the patch, the top rocker, and so on. It’s not a club name that I’m familiar with (although later research indicates that my hesitation was justified, as the club in question is classified as an outlaw motorcycle club according to law enforcement).

My initial feeling is to give them a wide berth, until traffic works itself in such a way that I end up riding in their wake. They’re dominating their lane, going an easy 80 mph in the left lane. Speed limit is 75 mph.

Most people do 90+ if they can get away with it.

And now the dilemma. I’m behind them, riding in their wake. They can see me. They can see my bike. I’m riding a sport bike, long the enemy of the cruiser crowd. My blue Kawasaki isn’t going to win me friends here. We’re members of completely different tribes, even though we’re all sharing in the same potentially lethal two-wheeled experience.

I know that a big part of OMC culture is the idea of respect, something that’s shared with most gang or gang-like groups. When I worked in a south-side library in a tough part of town, one of my tasks was asking gang members in the library to put away their colors while in the library. It was frequently a terrifying experience; you try to handle the issue respectfully but you never know how the other guy is going to react. Fortunately, I never had a bad reaction.

What counts as disrespect when you’re sharing the highway with a pair of outlaw bikers? Passing them in the right lane seems disrespectful, because it frequently is exactly that, at least when I do it. “Go fucking faster” is what my bike is saying whenever that happens.

I really, really don’t want to communicate that particular message.

But do I follow along? Maybe that seems like I’m trying to edge into their business. Bikers are varied like that. I’ve found some people absolutely love the impromptu riding groups that sometimes pop up. You get into a group of riders, you follow them for a while because you’re all going the same way, it’s pretty fun.

But a sport rider trying to group up with a pair of one-percenters? Who knows what that looks like?

Since my only options were follow or pass, I decided ultimately the ambiguity of following in their wake was more respectful than a “fuck-you-right-lane-pass.” So I kept a good distance, focused on my commute, and wondered what, if anything, these guys were thinking about the blue rider on their tail in the full face helmet.

“Keep your distance, Chewie, but don’t look like you’re keeping your distance . . . I don’t know. Fly casual.”