Origins Of The Wave

Tradition has everything starting one day in 1904, when Arthur Davidson passed by William Harley on the road. Since they knew each other, they just simply waved. To them, it was no big thing. However, another rider saw the two "Kings of Motorcycles" doing that, and thought this was a biker necessity. Then low and behold, a tradition was born.

The waving tradition continued throughout the years, but it was always haphazard. There were riders doing the "Bye-Bye Grandma Wave", others were doing the "Howdy Wave", and still others were doing the extremely feminine "Princess Wave". Eoo!

Enough was enough. So in 1946, after several years of these image-destroying gestures, a group of crusty old bikers got together and decided to put some proper waving rules in place. So with that, they formed the Wave Hard And True Biker Society - or WHAT-BS for short. This resulted in everyone finally being on the same page. But perhaps more importantly, the true 'biker image', was fully restored.

To Wave Or Not To Wave

To wave or not to wave? That, is the question. We have all faced that moment when we felt obligated to wave, but then became unsure. First the worrying begins, and then there's that overwhelming feeling of guilt - is this the right time or not. Well, worry no more. Here are some general 'wave rules' to help guide you:

  • On the interstate = unnecessary.

  • On a curve = unnecessary.

  • In the rain or at night = unnecessary.

  • On a mellow two-lane road = proper.

  • On a highway with little traffic = proper.

  • At a rally = unnecessary.

  • In traffic = unnecessary.

There are, however, times when not waving is just down-right rude. So, if at all possible, you should reciprocate whenever another rider waves at you.

If it is the proper place and time, and you receive no reciprocal wave, don't get your due-rag in a bunch, and think you've just passed a moron. You just never know. They could have been doing the right thing all along. That's because there are some acceptable reasons not to wave. These reasons are as follows:

  • You simply weren't seen.

  • Clutch manipulation.

  • A biting itch.

  • A head nod was substituted.

The Five Basic Waves

Left-Handed Low:

Sometimes this wave is called the Harley or cruiser wave. These are typically used by cruiser-style or custom-chopped motorcycle riders. It is characterized by a fully extended left arm, which is aimed down towards the street in a 45° or less angle, with one, two, three, or five fingers extended. The direction of the palm is also critical to the look and feel of this wave. The palm must either face the other rider, or face the road. A classic variation of the finger positioning is to throw a peace sign ("duce") or a thumbs up. A low wave with an angle greater than 45°, and/or with the palm facing up or back, and/or with the use of four fingers, is telling the biker community at large, that you are either a new rider, or you just don't get it. If someone has a cruiser and can't get this wave to work for them, then they might consider the 'Left-Handed Straight Out' wave. And if THAT isn't working, then perhaps they should consider trading in their bike.

Left-Handed Straight Out:

This is an all-around general wave. They are typically used by crotch rockets, cruisers, customs, and baggers. The arm can be either fully or partially extended with no more than a 10° angle higher or lower than the shoulder. The palm must be facing the oncoming rider in either a horizontal or vertical position and a full palm must be shown. It is suggested that you present the hand in a relaxed state, as flattening it, could make you look really weird. The classic variations of the peace sign ("duce") or thumbs up, again are also acceptable. If practiced, this is one of the easiest waves to master and will work with most all bikers. But if for some reason someone can't get this wave to work, then they may have some serious problems with "kickstand dynamics" as well. With that, they might consider immediately selling their motorcycle, before they cause them self some serious embarrassment. Just sayin.

Left-Handed High:

This is a variation of the typical wave seen made by kings and kids alike. It is used mostly by upright riders of crotch rockets and 'fully-loaded' baggers. This wave has also been proven very useful when you have a loose watchband. The elbow is kept even or slightly lower than shoulder height. The elbow should be bent at about a 75° to 85° angle, with a slight forward angling of the forearm. The palm must be facing the oncoming rider, and the hand can either remain still, though the use of a side-to-side motion is acceptable. It is suggested you present the hand in a relaxed state, as once again, flattening it could make you appear to be pretty weird. The classic variations of the peace sign ("duce") or thumbs up are frowned upon when using this type of wave. It would be considered to be a bit too, over-the-top.

Important Note:

Should you be riding a crotch rocket, it is extremely important to maintain the crotch rocket image by using this wave only if the left hand is coming from the left hip or thigh. This wave should never, ever be used when coming from the handlebars.

Also Important:

Do not use this type of wave on a cruiser. You will appear to be aloof, snobbish, etc. As such, other riders may not like you. However, if someone feels that this type of wave must be used anyway, then perhaps they should consider getting a bagger, or a crotch rocket, riding only in the upright position - after all, the rules are the rules.


This is also known as the, "I have cruise control; and you don't" wave. Which is precisely why it should be avoided. Though it is occasionally used by baggers, it seems to be more typically used by "geezer-glide" or Ultra Classic and Goldwing riders. It's most likely because they are riding on a rolling living room sofa. These big and comfortable bikes are really great for long distance riding. However, this particular 'comfort/coolness' factor, can cause a temporary condition affectionately known as "buttheadedness", which can be instantly healed by passing a cruiser and giving a great big right hand wave - the somewhat unfavorable response from the cruiser, should fix the condition. Why that reaction? It is because the general message being sent here is, "You might be on a really cool bike, but I'm way more comfy than you are" - and they are. To take it to the next level, if the rider of the touring bike is a smoker, they might exacerbate the situation a bit, by lighting up a cigarette or cigar while riding down the road - just to drive the point home. It's all in fun and rather humorous.

Left-Handed Flash:

Finally, this wave is used solely by crotch rocket riders, because, let's face it, what the heck else can they do in that position, and at those speeds? A flashed wave is almost imperceptible, due to both the speed of the passing bike, and the size of the wave. To execute this wave, one must slightly raise the left hand from the grip, no more than three or four inches, show the palm, and return it to the grip - all without losing control. This entire motion must be fluid and executed in under three seconds. All of the intricacies of this wave should be learned before you take your first ride. If you don't, they will know that you are a newbie, and as such, you could instantly become 'pink-slip' bait. A way to avoid this "lame wave" stigma, might be, to do something a bit crazy - say like, riding a wheelie while naked. And if no one falls off, that might be a big plus as well. Who knows.

So there you are, and there you have it. It is our hope that you have had some lighthearted fun with this, while at the same time, setting your mind at ease, with regards to the proper usage of "the WAVE".


In closing, some may not be aware of this, but there is a more somber reason for using "the wave". The real reason we wave to one another out on the road, is because of the nature of the beast. The fact that we ride motorcycles, means that any one of us, on any given day, for any unspeakable reason, may not see the next sunrise. So with that in mind, we need to be sure to honor our fellow riders out there as they pass - with a heartfelt, and respectful wave.

- See You In The Wind -