"The Wave" Protocol or Endangered Species?

by John Cerilli


How many of you have "waved" or gave some other sign of acknowledgment to passing riders, only to have nothing happen in return? Are you offended or insulted by this? Do you "attain happiness" when a passing rider returns your gesture? Do you not wave at all, or is this mannerism completely irrelevant when riding a motorcycle? This topic almost borders on the question: "What is the meaning of life?" and my sense is that it may have the same philosophical ramifications.

Let me start by stating up front that the majority of my research was gathered from on-line "riders" on one of the more popular electronic Motorcycle Forums, which will remain anonymous in respect for those who responded, and, for the fact that I neglected to state "up front" in my message that I was researching material for this article. For all you aspiring free-lance writers, this is an electronic on-line and ethics "no-no" and the head "SysOp" (Manager of the Material, On-Line Big Brother, Keeper of the Text, etc.), quickly reminded me of this. They also tend to discourage "surveys and other opinion polls" when they appear on-line. I agree with this position 100%, and I learned a valuable lesson for future reference on being clear of my intents when asking questions on-line.

I apologize in advance for all those respondents who were not aware of this, when I asked the question: "What is your opinion on waving to other MC riders when you are passing them on your bike? I am just curious as to what your feelings are regarding this informal gesture?"

Well, I did not expect the number and the variety of responses I received! Talk about opening Pandora's Box! I mean, do other rider really care? Personally, I have waved, and not waved, depending on the immediate situation at the time. I have seen "big-rig" tractor-trailer drivers wave at one another, and on certain occasions, I have seen vintage car and hot-rod owners wave at one another, and especially if they are attending a rally or a run. I can't remember however, when was the last time I saw two Chevy Caprice or Ford Bronco owners salute each other when passing.

Two common themes were evident in many of the responses. The first is when riding in the city, or in heavy traffic, it's acceptable not to wave if you are too busy watching traffic and/or using the clutch. The second is waving is generally accepted protocol to passing riders only when it is convenient and safe, and that usually means "on the open road. That's understandable and sounds reasonable to me.

Most people said they wave to all bikes, regardless of brand, whether they get acknowledged or not, and that's my credo, especially on the open road, 500-plus miles from home. I recall in 1990, on the road during the 50th Anniversary at Sturgis, a small group of us were on some pretty desolate highways in Wyoming. Anyone who has ridden up there knows why they call it: "Big Sky Country..." I remember going through small towns out on the plains where there were only two establishments to be seen: the church and the tavern! I was "more than happy" to pass other riders on some of the longest and loneliest stretches of highway imaginable. As far as I recalled, we were happy to seen other human beings on those roads. I remember thinking, boy, if one of us breaks down here, we're hosed!! On that trip, 1300-plus miles from home, you gladly waved to all riders, and they in turn, always waved back.

There were more than a few responses that said Harley riders tend to wave only to other Harley riders. Another set of responses stated that the "sport bike crowd" or "crotch-rocket riders" tend to wave "only to their own kind." Then, I received a few folks that said they would only wave if the other rider waves first." Another rider informed me that in the United Kingdom, a "nod" is much more acceptable than a "wave," (leave it to our stodgy, British brothers). In reality, this is because British enthusiasts ride with their left hand "on the near-side."

The most interesting response was from a guy who said that once a "platoon" of Harley riders gave him the "clenched fist salute" in unison as they passed. Obviously, that group had been watching the McLaughlin Drill Team too many times. Then there was the guy on the Sportster who "elbowed" his female passenger when she waved to another rider on a Japanese bike. Now that guy needs some therapy! So what were the statistics for this little, informal sampling? The results are fairly simple:

  • Always wave 74%
  • Wave only when it is safe 22%
  • Nod or other gesture 4%

So, when the results were tallied, everyone does something to acknowledge the other rider, and I think this is a good thing. One person summarized this whole question by stating: "I've met some nice people and found some great roads, just because of a wave." After all, isn't this one of the benefits of riding motorcycles? Today, motorcycle technology has advanced to the point, where one rarely sees another rider "broke down" on the side of the road, with the exception of an occasional flat tire. Think about that next time you wave to a passing rider. In time of need, the person you waved to may be the only one who stops to help you.

In its simplest form, I guess it boils down to camaraderie of the saddle, and personal pride to say to the other rider: "Hey, this is a great sport and I am having fun... how about you?"

For myself, I will always wave to the other rider, and always when it's safe to do so, for in that, we all share the spirit of the open highway. Until next time, ride safe, and I'll see you on the road.

About the author...
John Cerilli has been an active motorcycle rider, toy motorcycle collector, and enthusiast for the last 25 years. He is a current AMA and Life H.O.G. (Harley-Owners- Group) member. He has written articles for Motorcycle Collector, The BMWMOA News, and several other motorcycle magazines. His e-mail address is: johnc2@cox.net.