Thursday, July 17, 2008

Why Motorcycle Riders Wave

Those of you who don't ride motorcycles probably don't know this. Those of you who do ride probably do.

Motorcycle riders wave to each other. It usually is a small thing - a simple raise of a few fingers or nod of the head in a lot of instances. This article includes some of my thoughts on this great practice.

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It has always given me a sense of community and never ceases to put a smile on my face. It means we're brothers and sisters on the road.

Today, though, it became a lot more - a reminder of what it really is all about.

I was riding home from work when I saw a guy riding a Harley coming into the intersection from my left. He waved, and as I was holding down the clutch with my hand, I just nodded. Then he entered the intersection to turn left in front of me. His front tire lost pressure, his bike lost contact with the road and he dropped the bike.

It took me about three seconds to really get what had just happened. Once it sunk in, I pulled my bike to the median and went over to him. As bad as things can be when you drop a bike, he was relatively okay. But I stood with him and made sure everything was okay. We checked out the bike and noted the scrapes and scratches, and then he got his bike back up and I followed him down the road to a gas station where he refilled his front tire. We talked a bit, making sure that he was good to ride home, etc.

That experience was a bit startling, but not what really drove home to me the issue of why motorcycle riders wave. What drove that home was one of the stories he shared - about a night where he was basically ridden off the road by a van and left behind in oncoming traffic, and about how no one stopped to help until two motorcyclists stopped and helped get him out from under his bike and out of the road.

My point? In many instances, we're all each other has. I've stopped a number of times for riders who look like they might be in trouble. This is the first time for someone who had dropped their bike, and I'm damn glad I did. Thinking back, I am sure I could have handled a situation like that on my own, but I'm sure I would appreciate having someone who understood riding (or even just someone to make sure I was okay) there to have my six, so to speak.

On the rest of the way home, I saw a number of riders. Bikes of all kinds - cruisers, crotch rockets, touring bikes. And every time someone waved, I could feel the camaraderie - and the underlying "when we waive, we celebrate enjoying riding together, but we also say 'I've got your six', too."

So if you ride - thanks. Thanks for being a part of that family that takes care of each other.

If you don't ride, please, watch out for the motorcycles out there. Car and truck drivers have a tendency to not notice motorcycles because they are more focused on the larger vehicles like themselves. I'm asking you to be proactive in noticing the motorcycles out there, and if you happen to see someone on a bike in trouble, consider checking to see if they are okay. The vast majority of the riders out there are not the stereotypical biker gang dude, but rather people who have found the joy of riding motorcycles.

If you are considering taking up motorcycling, PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE consider taking a Motorcycle Safety Foundation course. The VAST majority of serious motorcycle accidents happen in the first year of a person taking up riding. Reduce those odds by taking a MSF course and then riding carefully for at least six months.

If you want more information, take a look at my old "Get in the Saddle - A Motorcycle Rider Beginner Basics" page. It has a lot of solid information about how to evaluate bikes, links to resources, etc. Some of them are outdated, and I plan on doing a revised version here on this Blogspot page, but for now, it is still a useful page.

Also, in checking out articles about riders and waiving, I found an old friend, so to speak -! This was a wonderful resource from when I started riding. It included a forum that was great for discussing all things a learning rider needed to see and read and talk about. I met friends there who rode with me in the Hill Country - what a great ride! Unfortunately, that version of the organization apparently hit a road bump or two and was offline for a bit, but apparently it resurfaced and is back, stronger than ever. I HIGHLY recommend it to any rider with two years experience or less, and would even recommend it for experienced riders who just want to stay in touch.

Keep the shinny side up, folks. And remember - when riders wave, it not only means "ain't this cool?", but also "I've got your back."

By the way, there was a follow-on article that happened soon after the events that inspired this post.  It resulted in this article, "Karma = Good (Motorcycle Version)."


Janice M. Harris, MA, MT-BC said...

Interesting post. I'm glad you explained that bit of the biker culture. I think I feel similarly toward the pedaling kind of biker--motor vehicles don't see them either and accidents seem to happen more and more. You be careful!

Kessel said...

Well told. In a different age, this is why people lived in a small town: this same feeling of casual contact and understated acknowledgement but always knowing they could rely on each other in a pinch. Now Americans move every 3.5 years on average, text page or e-mail our friends, never speak with our neighbors (who are in the same socio-economic bracket as us since we live in homogenous subdivisions distinguished from each other by the cost of the home), and buy our lunches over a loudspeaker in drive-through at the fast food restaurant. We have lost this part of community.

I think the most significant part of the story is something I experience at the race track: race, income, social status, and gender don't matter. What matters is the shared passion. I can't tell you how cool it is when the guy driving the Ferrari comes over and asks "Is that the new Subaru STI? How does it handle on the track compared to last year's model?" This is what a community is all about...not caring how much you paid for something but how well what you have performs. I would not be so enthusiastic about going to the track if this wasn't the case...and I know that the same is true for you with motorcycles!

Now can you explain the one fingered salute in Easy Rider? LOL

The Wall said...

hey man! GREAT post. Between you and what Kessel said I think you both bring really good points about today's culture. It's almost like we need a really big disaster to wake us back up and help us get back into our community. I'm not talking about volunteering, but saying hi.

It's amazing how simple a wave can be ... and yet how powerful, how warm and how welcoming.

Kevin Lindstrom said...

Thanks for the feedback guys - interesting that such different communities have similar experiences (bicyclists, race track drivers, etc.)

Thanks for letting me share your comments.

ERic said...

I just read an article on MSN about the increase in bicycle sales and riders. I expect that there's been a similar jump in motorcycle/scooter sales. And I expect that your culture group is going to get a lot larger over the next few years as gas prices keep going up.

Both sad and cool at the same time, and I hope enough of the newbies learn the culture to keep it alive.

Not that I'm in that group. But I hear and agree with what everyone's saying regarding community and relying on each other.

Kevin Lindstrom said...


Definitely. Those that take the Motorcycle Safety Course will learn it - the teachers in those courses are usually salt of the earth types who have laid down tens of thousands (if not six figures worth) of miles and it is a bit of a religion for them.

And the fact that young guns on crotch rockets who are zooming past me waive tells me that they get it.

It really is a unique class - a bonding that is hard to describe to those who haven't done it. Even comparing it to the sports groups I'm a part of. Motorcycling at a basic, I've-never-met-you-before, but-you-ride level is comparable to someone I've stood with for a season or more with the Stars or FC Dallas or the US national teams.

I think in large part, it is because you have to be pretty serious to learn what it takes to ride - you can't just hop on and go, no matter how easy it seems. And because if you're not careful, you can get into a pretty nasty mess, pretty quick. I think that gives riders a deep and sharp dose of perspective that we're all each other has, so watch each other's six.

That isn't to say that I don't see it in other groups - and I'm very glad to see it. I appreciate my brothers (and sisters) in arms from soccer and hockey very much so for that reason.

Scott said...

Thanks for the post. It's been almost 20 years since I was "in the saddle" and I just got my first street bike this weekend. I've always seen the "signal" and realized that it had some purpose -- just wasn't sure what.

It only makes sense that riders should stick together, kinda like cowboys of the Old West -- the tip/tap of a hat signaled "welcome" or "howdy" while passing one another on the trail.

I'm happy to once again be part of a very special strata of society...

Anonymous said...

Nice post.. I have been riding for maybe 3 months now. I live in Minnesota so I can't ride all year round. Can't wait tell I can take the bike out again. I have a 2004 yamaha r6. I think everything you said about the rider's community is really true and the Signs we give to each other is a good warm feeling of someone having you back. I will always have a six on a different rider!! I will be getting into the classes to learn more about the safety and riding. I heard its a good way to learn more and also meet other riders. Thanks again I enjoyed you post.