MMP 17: The Motorcycle Wave – Don’t screw it up! [Podcast]


In this session of the Motorcycle Mentor Podcast, I answer a listener question about “the motorcycle wave.” The what, why, and when of the motorcycle wave.

NOTE: Please post your experiences with the motorcycle wave in the comments section at the bottom of the page. I live in the southeastern part of the United States. How do your experiences with the wave differ?

Tell us (in the Leave a Reply box below)…

  1. Your name (make one up if you prefer).
  2. Where you live.
  3. What motorcycle do you ride?.
  4. What your experiences with the motorcycle wave in your region of the world are?

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Listen to the podcast by clicking on the play button at the top of the page.

More specifically, in this session you’ll find out about:

  • Do we still do the motorcycle wave?
  • What does the motorcycle wave mean?
  • Who I wave to?
  • Who waves back?
  • Do Harley riders wave to me?

Resources and Links

Leave feedback or ask a question

You can also leave me a voice mail message. I might play your voice mail question during an upcoming podcast.

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  1. Click here to open the podcast page.
  2. Then select the blue “View in iTunes” button to open iTunes.
  3. Then select the “Ratings and Reviews” tab.
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Thank you in advance for doing this. And thank you for listening. I hope you enjoyed this episode. Please let us know what you think in the comment section below.

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38 Responses to MMP 17: The Motorcycle Wave – Don’t screw it up! [Podcast]

  1. Rob, from Canada May 24, 2014 at 6:03 am #

    Thanks for the latest podcast. I sent a similar question. Almost word for word similar. It must be a common question. Now that I have had my new BMW ( sport touring ) for awhile I see riders still wave. Cruisers not so much. I still give it a shot though. Scooters always wave back, I think they are surprised I wave to them. I give the two fingers down. I was told by a 70 year old riding buddy that in the old days the two fingers represented the wheels. So pointing two down was saying, safe ride, keep the rubber side down. No idea if it’s true. I always thought it was a peace sign. Anyways. It’s suppose to be sunny tomorrow so I will be out waving to the other riders. Thanks again.

    • MotorcycleMentor May 25, 2014 at 2:41 am #

      @Rob
      Thanks for the feedback. Hope you enjoyed your ride.
      David

  2. Richard May 24, 2014 at 2:11 pm #

    Hi all, Richard here:
    I live in Florida (Orlando area) and I ride an 06 ZX-10 (sportbike). I generally see all bikers wave to each other no matter what type of bike they (we) are on. I always wave when its safe. If my hand shouldn’t be free, I nod my head and I’ve see the same concession returned. I’ll either wave with a peace sign straight out or a little low, but again, I almost always get the same or similar returned. That’s all from me, be safe out there, wheels-side down!

  3. Ted - California May 24, 2014 at 2:51 pm #

    I ride a Yamaha cruiser and give the two-fingered-hand-out-to-the-side wave to all motorcyclists, scooterists included. I give a head-bob when my left hand is busy. I would say that I get a return wave (or bob) from 90 percent of the riders. I do it to remind all riders that we are all in this together and need to look out for one another. Harleys usually give it back because my bike is black and looks like a Harley from afar. It is a great custom and reminds us all to be safe.

    • MotorcycleMentor May 25, 2014 at 2:42 am #

      @Ted,
      See, I knew I wasn’t the only one the see “the wave” as something more then “hey.”
      Thanks for the feedback.
      David

  4. Daryl May 24, 2014 at 3:32 pm #

    I live in the Dallas area and most of my riding is commuting to work. Since I am in traffic much of the time my experience with the wave is probably less than others. I ride a sport touring bike and definitely get less waves from cruisers. I have noticed that folks on cruisers that wear a helmet and riding gear are more likely to wave than the guys that ride without protective gear.

    • MotorcycleMentor May 25, 2014 at 2:43 am #

      @Daryl
      Interesting observation about riding gear as a factor of waving back. Never thought of that.
      David

  5. Ben Christianson May 24, 2014 at 5:31 pm #

    I live in southwest Missouri near Springfield, MO.
    I have two Goldwing’s and a ’76 CB750K. My wife rides a 650 Bergman. We’ve covered this country from the northeast US to the Rockies.
    Almost all riders in the Northeast won’t return a wave. Everywhere else, I think it depends on the rider’s experience. Newbies are less inclined to wave back, especially if they are on American brands. Older experienced riders usually return it. I’ve also noticed that most interstate riders wave anywhere in this country.
    Also remember that cagers are usually zoned out while driving, Especially in interstate highways. The only thing that will interrupt their zone and register is something unusual. A cager usually doesn’t expect to see a waving arm so when they do, it gets their attention. GWRRA has an article on this. So, you can also say you wave for safety considerations in addition to indicating a common bond with other riders. Ride safe.

    • MotorcycleMentor May 25, 2014 at 2:44 am #

      @Ben
      Good feedback and interesting observations. Never thought about the safety point.
      David

    • Danyel July 7, 2014 at 9:45 pm #

      I think your experience is interesting, maybe unusual. My partner rode a Fat Boy for 10 yrs and now a Road King and we wave at every rider we see, in New England. And two cheers to your wife, the fellow Bergman rider. 😉 happy riding!

  6. Frank May 24, 2014 at 8:16 pm #

    I have a Suzuki DL650A adventure and had SV650 before that here in Harley country Milwaukee, Wi. For the most part I wave to everyone and receive waves from most. The only noticeable exception might be the small sub group of Harley owners that you only see on the city streets maybe showing off their bikes and having to maintain a pose that gives the impression they don’t want to talk to anyone. I still wave at them for fun. Being a Mini Cooper owner I always thought of the wave as an acknowledgement that we are in the same group having fun and probably thought of as crazy by people who think they are the sane ones.

    • MotorcycleMentor May 25, 2014 at 2:47 am #

      @Frank
      Gotta love your DL650A. I took mine for a 170 mile through small towns in TN today. I loved it. I’m so impressed I’m going to write a review on it. Thanks for your feedback.
      David

  7. George May 24, 2014 at 11:46 pm #

    I had to laugh at your podcast. Only an engineer would devote an entire podcast to talking about the wave and an analysis of different waves…..

    My first friendly biker encounter was when I started riding the first time. Many years ago on the east coast we were riding along and got caught in a thunderstorm. Not only were cats and dogs falling, I think it was even raining small children. At any rate, we pulled over in an overpass, put our bikes all the way to the side and climbed up so we were away from the rain and away incase someone ran into our bikes.

    A group of riders of a brand/lifestyle of American bike came up — I’m sure you know the stereotype — leather, bandanas rather that helmets, or helmets that are more like fiberglass yarmulkes than helmets. I’m sure you know the stereotype.

    We were suckered right into the stereotype. We were expecting badness to ensue.

    “Everything OK?” said the leader.
    “Yes, just waiting out the thunderstorm” we said.
    “OK. Have a good ride when you get back on.” And off they went.

    Seems they really just wanted to make sure we were OK.

    Now, regarding waves. We ride almost year-round in the Pacific Northwet. Note I said “we”, not “most people”. In the cooler winter months, when we are bundled up enjoying our heated gear, other riders return our wave nearly 100% of the time. Granted there are only a few foolish enough to be on the road, but they are friendly.

    With warmer weather, the number of riders has increased exponentially, but the percent of returned waves has dropped. I’m not sure if it is because the real friendly riders are concentrated in the winter or that the people starting to ride are afraid to take their hands off the handlebars, but I notice a difference.

    Enjoy the podcast!!

  8. MotorcycleMentor May 25, 2014 at 2:50 am #

    @George
    Than your going to love my 3 part series on “Techniques for covering your front brake.” 🙂
    David

  9. Gary Ruuska May 25, 2014 at 2:37 pm #

    I live in Massachusetts and ride a Suzuki Bandit 1250 set up as a sport tourer. I just started riding again after many years and my first rides this season where on a Hyosung 650 GT. On the very first ride, I was surprised and pleased when another rider gave me the wave. I had forgotten about this symbol of solidarity among motorcyclists.

    I find that, with the exception of some cruiser riders, most riders either initiate or return the wave. I seem to get the same number of waves regardless of the bike I’m riding. I will be riding to a motorcycle show next weekend with three other riders. One will be on a BMW R1200RT, one on a classic BSA, one on a brand new Indian and me on the Bandit. Talk about a brotherhood! We all wave to each other.

  10. Brett Gosteli May 26, 2014 at 1:33 pm #

    I ride a Honda Shadow Sabre and a Kawasaki Vulcan Nomad here in Central Illinois. I almost always wave–never really noticed the pattern I use–sometimes a dew fingers down sometimes the whole hand. Folks almost always wave back. Once in a while I miss returning a wave because I’m paying attention to something else. I attribute this same thing to others who don’t return it. Even in big groups, folks give and receive a wave. I’ve ridden in Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Missouri, Arkansas, Texas, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, and Ontario, Canada and have largely had the same experience throughout. I haven’t noticed much variation between styles of bikes or whether folks wear full gear or no gear in terms of whether they wave or not. That’s just what I myself have experienced. Always happy to see someone else on two wheels!

  11. Vinko May 29, 2014 at 4:51 pm #

    I am new to motorcycles, but here in Hong Kong almost no one waves. I think it has to do with the right hand drive, so opposing riders will be on the right side each other making it difficult and dangerous to let their right hand off the bars.

  12. Damon June 2, 2014 at 9:33 pm #

    Thx for the great podcast and website, David. I’m 38 and from Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. I actually don’t have a bike yet. I start the motorcycle training program Wednesday, June 4/14. But in reference to the wave, because I see it being done a lot while driving, I liken it to Black people saying Hi or giving a nod to each other. I have friends who ask why we do it. I always say that we are like motorcyclists, there aren’t many of us…compared to cars or white people. It’s an understanding like you mentioned. We have to look out for one another because, even though we might not know one another, we are part of a small community that has to stick together. Can’t wait to ride and start giving waves of my own. I hope you mention my comment on the podcast. Thx.

    • MotorcycleMentor June 2, 2014 at 10:34 pm #

      @ Damon
      Thanks for your inputs and feedback.
      David

  13. Jim June 3, 2014 at 1:21 am #

    I have ridden most of my life. I do not remember the first time I was greeted with a wave or nod. It has been a part of riding as long as I can recall! I have experienced this greeting all around North America and Europe. To me it is always been an acknowledgment that we share something that most do not do or understand. What we ride is unimportant, it is the fact we ride. It is a bond we share. Not all will acknowledge this! Those that have an over-exaggerated self importance will never understand.
    Those of us that belong to this tribe of riders will continue to acknowledge, members.
    Ride safe

    • MotorcycleMentor June 3, 2014 at 2:37 am #

      @ Jim
      Great to hear about your experiences with the wave.
      David

  14. Quentin Lewis June 9, 2014 at 11:41 pm #

    I definately wave, and to everyone on any two wheeled vehicle. I have no problems waving at scooters……I was a scooter rider way back too!

    I live in Massachusetts……Central Massachusetts to be exact, in the Worcester area. There are plenty of nice riding roads in Central and Western Mass, and plenty of riders out there too. Most people wave, and I would say that would be in the 90% range.

    I agree though that for some reason, Cruiser riders are less likely to wave…..but that might be because I ride a Suzuki VSTROM…..they might see that as a different “species” of bike…Adventure vs Cruiser, and bike people tend to “stick” with their own kind…..by by kind I mean bike species.

    I was just out at Americade for the past week., and I have to say that NO ONE waved there…..but that was because there must have been 100,000 bikes there and your arm would have fallen off waving to all of them…..so no one waved. In fact, you could tell people who had just “come into town” because they would wave….but after riding past thousands of bikers, they would quickly get overwhelmed and stop…..you could see it happen!

  15. Roy Vanderlinden June 10, 2014 at 2:17 am #

    Hi David.

    I wave most of the time – at least three of four opportunities. I figure I wave first about half the time. If busy, I’ll give what I hope is a noticeable nod of my helmet.

    To me it is an acknowledgement of a common interest, a desire or feeling, desire to travel free of surroundings perhaps like a bird, or on a modern horse. Frankly, I can’t explain it any better than of the others that have already commented.

    But I also make it a point to wave at some that were not mentioned so far — to those in cars, trucks, any vehicle that are stopped at an intersection I approach that stay there until after I pass. I usually wave most often at to those rural intersections where the chances to pause and go are greatest. These people who clearly see me and wait — they deserve to be thanked as well, at least to me.

    I live in Michigan, and oddly common as it seems, I also ride a V-Strom DL650, mine a Red 2006.

    Thank you for this podcast series — keep up this good work.

  16. Randy Smith June 12, 2014 at 2:11 pm #

    Me and my wife tried to wave at every Motorcycle we see even people parked with there motorcycle. The only time I don’t wave is if my left hand is being used on the clutch and even then I give them a nod. The only time I don’t wave is if I don’t see you at the bike in time to do so. If my wife is riding on the back, many times she will wave for me if I don’t see the other bike. And everywhere we go 90 to 95% of the time we get it waved back unless they did not see us. We will even get waves from motorcycle police officers. I don’t know about some parts of the country but everywhere we have been we found the Harley riders very friendly and very willing to wave back, and we have been on our GoldWing or Vulcan. And in this part of the country (Indianapolis, Indiana) I believe there are two Harley riders for every other bike out they’ll.

    MotoSage
    Randy Smith

  17. Jim D in Colorado July 17, 2014 at 2:50 am #

    I’ve been riding for about 3 years now.I started writing in a Honda Shadow 750, which is a cruiser. I now ride as suszuki V Strom DL650A, a small adventure bike. I recently add a Yamaha WR250R, a dirt bike / small dual sport bike. 2 weeks after I started riding, a friend told me about the wave. Once I knew to look for it I see it everywhere. I try to wave at everyone that I pass no matter what type of two wheeled vehicle they are riding.

    My experience is that I get about 80 to 85 percent response from all riders, no matter what they are riding: cruisers, Harleys, sport bikes, dirt bikes, even scooters. It doesn’t seem to matter which bike I am riding, I get a response from my two wheel brothers and sisters.

    • MotorcycleMentor July 25, 2014 at 6:02 pm #

      @ All
      Thanks for all you feedback. We all enjoying hearing your experiences.

      Keep them coming.
      David

  18. Leo July 25, 2014 at 1:55 pm #

    Thanks David,

    Not everyone could do a podcast on the motorcycle wave. But I’m glad you reminded me of one of my favorite motorcycle moments.

    I was riding into Middleburg, Virginia on route 50. There is a wonderful motorcycle restaurant which often has several dozen bikes outside, there are spectacular two lane roads in every direction and it was a beautiful day. Lot’s of bikes were out.

    I came up behind a woman on a scooter. Her full face shield helmet on a tiny frame and colorful riding jacket on a scooter made her look like a bobble head toy. I backed off the throttle to figure out how to get past her. I ride a Harley super glide with loud pipes and I was afraid I would scare her if I tried to pass. She seemed so fragile. A couple blocks go past and coming towards us are two of the baddest looking, huge, big beards, helmets from the soldier section of the toy store, black leather and studs everywhere riders on big, loud, decked out Harleys. I thought oh boy, what a contrast. About that time, her little finger comes out, does the wave, which was immediately returned by both Harley riders. David, it’s a fraternity.

    I now wave at everybody. Why not?

    • MotorcycleMentor July 25, 2014 at 5:52 pm #

      @ Leo
      Exactly, why not!?
      David

  19. Razor Ammo July 29, 2014 at 11:34 am #

    We ride on the left side here in Australia, so we can’t really wave to the riders on the opposite side of the road, so a quick nod or a headnod-and-twist of the neck are done.

    BUT… we do overtake to the RIGHT of slow riders, so a courteous 2 fingers down or a low wave is done when overtaking, especially on highways and country roads – a reply wave is not necessary or expected.

  20. MadGuitarist September 5, 2014 at 9:44 am #

    Thanks for your podcast it is an interesting listen keep going!

    I ride a Suzuki SV650 in London UK, we also drive on the left side of the road so headnod-and-twist applies.

    • MotorcycleMentor October 1, 2014 at 3:58 pm #

      @MadGuitarist
      Thanks. I currently ride a Suzuki DL650. Great engine (power/weight/performance/economy). Plus, mine will go on dirt 😉

      David

  21. David Spriggs May 26, 2015 at 1:00 pm #

    Hello David!

    First I would like to thank you for your Pod casts. It is an awesome resource for all riders. As an Army First Sergeant, I’m always encouraging my soldiers to attend safety courses and any additional enhancement that is available. Your Podcast will now be on my recommend list!
    Now on to the wave, I ride three different bikes, Kawasay Concours(Sport/Touring), Harley heritage classic and Honda CB 450 converted to a cafe racer. Only my wife prevents me from having more motorcycles.

    It is really interesting when I’m riding,the responses that I have all depend on what bike I’m on. Let me first say I wave to Everybody, no exceptions, 2 or 3 wheels. I also live in the Ohio/Kentucky/Indiana Tristate area.

    On the Cafe racer I get such a positive response. In my opinion its because of the old school look catches everyone’s attention. You can see the head snaps of “what the hell was that?” So I get 99% return wave. Have to leave 1% for those that might just be too busy.

    On the Concours I get 80%, don’t know why but it is typically the Harley riders who don’t wave back.

    On the Harley I get 95% the 5% are typically the crotch rocket racers that are in my area that are typically breaking the law with all of their stunt riding/street racing. It is warming when I wave to a scooter and they are shocked to see me wave.
    Wrapping it up, I say that riders need to look past the brands, size,type of motorcycle and realize that we all enjoying the pleasure of being on the open road. All exposed to the elements and taking the same risks. Watch out for each other and be safe’

    David Spriggs

  22. Trudy May 29, 2015 at 1:57 am #

    Hi David!

    I just discovered your podcasts tonight and am enjoying listening to them. I wanted to share a funny story. I’m a new rider, only riding for 5 weeks now. I don’t know anyone else who rides so I had never heard of the wave. My first few times out on the road I was concentrating so hard on the mechanics of riding that I kept forgetting to manually turn off my blinkers after making a turn. On one trip, there was a rider coming the other way and he pointed towards me as he neared. I thought “did I leave my blinkers on again and he is trying to let me know?”. Sure enough, I checked my controls and my blinkers were still on. The next time I rode it happened again! I forgot to shut my blinkers off after making a turn and ANOTHER rider pointed at me! I had no idea they were actually saying “hi” to me until I read about the wave in a forum later that week. It still makes me smile when I think about it.

    I’ve been riding for 5 weeks now and logged over 1,000 miles. I ride a Honda Rebel and wave to everyone and love when people wave back. I agree with you that it signifies more than just a casual hello. I live in an urban part of northern NJ and find that almost everyone either initiates a wave or returns mine. I’m a small woman on a small bike, dressed in a neon green (hi-vis.) jacket and helmet. I’m always surprised when these guys go by on big bruiser bikes with their tough looking gear and wave to me. I love it.

  23. Rachel C. June 10, 2015 at 2:43 am #

    Hi David,

    As a new rider for over a month now, I still revisit Motorcycle Mentor to check your podcasts to refresh my knowledge and learn a lot from other new riders like myself.

    I’m a 28 year old New England girl from New Hampshire. As a SportBike rider, riding a 2002 Suzuki GSXR600, I wave to every rider regardless. Whether I come across a Harley, metric cruiser, touring, dual sport, fellow sportbike rider, or even scooters and Cam-Ams etc, I will always wave to them. If I’m stopped at an intersection or taking a corner, a nod to fellow riders is good enough for me. My way of waving is the usual left handed peace sign pointing down, palm facing out front. If I pass by an intersection with a fellow rider stopped at either my left or right hand side, on overhead peace sign does the trick.

    Some fellow riders can be very helpful at times as you encounter them. There was a moment a few days ago in Central Massachusetts as I approached a fellow rider (a Harley guy) and he gave out the “Slow Down” hand signal. Apparently an officer was perched at a park entrance a quarter mile ahead and I was going a bit too fast and had trouble knowing what was the actual Speed Limit at that particular segment of the road. Thank goodness I am not reckless (as many label most SportBike riders). I was just unaware and was really glad to quickly pick up on the oncoming rider’s hand signal. Eventually, I just slowed down within limits and was good to go.

    It’s always a blessing not only for us riders to wave at each other, but also alert us for anything (hazards, emergency vehicles etc) that may come our way. We are indeed like a family in a way.

    – Rachel

  24. Laura F October 23, 2015 at 5:15 am #

    I live in Oakland, CA and started riding 10 months ago on a Honda Nighthawk 250. On the first day I went for a “real” ride (more than just around the block), a big dude on a shiny blue Harley rode past me at an intersection and nodded to me. To me that nod said “you’re one of us,” and I loved it! But I didn’t know yet that it was common.

    I started taking practice rides along Redwood Road in the Oakland hills. It’s common to see lots of motorcylists there on the weekends, and the large majority of them wave. Sport or touring riders are a bit more likely to wave than cruisers.

    I don’t tend to see waves in city riding. Maybe that’s because traffic here tends to be heavy, and either the left hand is busy, or we don’t see each other soon enough to wave. But I’ll start waving more myself, and maybe I’ll see more responses.

    A few weeks ago I switched to a CBR500R. I haven’t ridden the new bike long enough to know if I get different waves now.

    I don’t wave to scooters. I guess that makes me a snob, but it seems to me that a scooter is what a hipster rides, and there are too many hipsters around here.

    Laura

  25. Jim Howe December 17, 2015 at 2:30 am #

    Wisconsin, Harley, I wave to everyone!

  26. John Sullivan February 11, 2016 at 7:36 pm #

    I ride a 2104 Royal Enfield Classic 500. When I am out riding around here in Central Texas I get waves from just about everyone regardless of what they are riding. My bike is unique in that people are always trying to figure what the heck it is and what year when they pass by or see me at a light.

  27. Cdb March 17, 2016 at 3:59 pm #

    KC,Missouri. I wave at every bike I see that’s motorized and on two wheels (or trikes). It’s about the road not the bikes. Also because you asked I ride a Harley Dyna. Stage 1,custom paint,mini apes, screaming eagle. Ride Free!

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