10 tips for doing the motorcycle wave

motorcycle wave

I am so used to doing the motorcycle wave at other riders I actually waved at one the other day on the rare occasion I was driving a car!

The biker wave is as old as motorcycles. Apparently it was started in 1904 when Harley-Davidson partners Arthur Davidson and William Harley passed each other and waved. It was noted by a passerby and believed to be etiquette among riders. Or so the tale goes.

motorcycle waveOver the years, it has become ubiquitous among riders. There could be scores of cars and trucks on the road around us, but when we spot another motorcycle rider, our attention turns to them and we acknowledge them.

Unfortunately, that sense of two-wheel camaraderie may have waned a little over the years as motorcycles become more common. Now there seems to be an etiquette of when to wave and when not to wave and exactly how to wave.

I’m not talking about motorcycle rider hand signals that indicate hazards etc. Read about these hand signals here.

I’m talking just about basic acknowledgement. It could be a wave or a nod, but be careful to get it right. Don’t be overenthusiastic, too flippant, too subtle or too cool for school.

Don’t wave like you are waving to your mum as you leave for your first day of school. That’s just nerdy. In fact, anytime you raise your hand above the bars is a little too over-eager, unless you are giving a thumb’s up, peace sign or a heavy metal satanic AC/DC-type wave.

By the same token, don’t give the one-finger salute to your eyebrow. Who do you think you are, James Dean?

A biker wave is not regal either, so don’t wave like the queen.motorcycle wave

My favourite nonchalant motorcycle wave with just enough cool to have street cred and enough of a gesture to be noticed is the American biker wave where the left hand comes off the bar and the arm drops to 45 degrees and you extend two or three fingers pointing at the ground. It only works in countries where you ride on the right otherwise the passing rider won’t see it.

In Australia, you would have to take your hand off the throttle and that could be counter-productive.motorcycle wave

Here, we tend to nod more than wave. Not a straight up and down nod, but more of a lopsided nod as if you are winking (not that they would see you wink). Easiest way to do this is to look down at the left mirror. It also conveys a balance of cool nonchalance with enough visual motion to acknowledge a rider.

Aussie riders on big tourers and baggers often do the American biker wave because they have cruise control. That’s just showing off!

I wave at everyone almost all the time. I also don’t distinguish between types of motorcycles. It doesn’t matter if I am riding a Harley and the passing rider is on a scooter. In fact, it seems to make the scooterist’s day!

Motorcycle wave

But there are occasions when you shouldn’t or don’t need to do the motorcycle wave:

1 When puling a wheelie.motorcycle wave

2 In a corner. You have enough on your plate steering the bike and looking at where you are going to remove a hand to wave or do the nod.

3 On a major highway. The passing rider is too far away and your wave or nod will either not be seen or be misinterpreted by a car driver as directed at them.

4 At a rally. There are simply too many riders to wave or nod at and you will end up with RSI. Rally goers love a god motorcycle pin like these from ViviPins.com.

5 At an “outlaw bikie”, unless you are a 1%er as well. They don’t respond and it just makes you look like you are trying too hard. However, if they wave at you first, make sure you are ready to reply!

6 In the rain. They won’t see you.

7 At night. They won’t see you.

8 In heavy traffic. You are too busy staying alive to be acknowledging other riders.

9 In a shopping centre. You should be watching for soccer mums backing out at full steam in their SUVs.

10 In a parade or charity run. Not only are there too many riders to wave at, but they will be going the same direction as you and you’ll need both hands on the bars so you don’t wobble in front of them and crash. However, you can wave at people lining the streets and, if you are careful, you can do the high-five handslap. Kids love it.Motorcycle wave

Don’t get your chaps in a twist if someone doesn’t return your wave or nod. They may have been distracted by something or changing gears at the time.

Remember, it’s better to have waved or nodded and not receive a reciprocal gesture than to have been waved at and not reply in time.



  1. Sometimes i get 1 finger pointing straight down. Its always from a harley rider not sure if its a wave or something negative as i ride a euro looking bike (02 concours) wearing a flashy fullface helmet.

  2. Never rode in the States before but we were planning to be there in July 2003, (100 years of Harley), so I called from Oz and booked to rent a Sportster for a day, from a Pennsylvania Rental mob. The bike I was offered wasn’t terrific, but who cares, on a stunning summer day, riding for a few hours out in the beautiful Washington’s Crossing countryside, being greeted by other riders with a “low five”. Cracker of a day.

  3. I do the nod because it’s polite and I like to. I don’t care if I’m acknowledged or not. I did once accidentally nod to a group of 1%’ers out on the Wolffdene road too late to realise they weren’t exactly Ulysses…..it wasn’t pretty. One bared his teeth at me as they rode past. Oops.

  4. Bike season – the bike wave.
    Went to a party supply store bought the clapper (large one) and painted in black.
    Two zip ties to spot beside tank BMW and presto no issues as to wave or not to wave. Wanna be cooler, take off the bottom two fingers….

  5. In the US ‘the low five’ as they call it is common between all riders, in Canada the Harley boys won’t acknowledge you if are riding a Jap or Euro bike, though all others will.

    In Russia and central Asia it is a big expression, high over head, even a fist pump at times. This doesn’t apply to scooter riders, who are mostly kids, or those on old Ural or ISH Side cars, as typically the side car guys are riding the it for work and usually have dour look on their faces as opposed to bike rider who grin from ear to ear. They have saying which loosely translates as “all bikers being brothers because when pass each other on the road you are meeting eye to eye”, which I really like (that an if you break down a biker will stop for you, regardless of language).

  6. A lot of discussions on NZ forums regarding waves/nods/Snods & what type of biker will won’t wave back – I find it varies & there’s no common waver/non waver. I always wave to little kids looking at me – their smiles make my day.
    In 1995 I toured Europe & remember bikers kicking a foot out as recognition!?!

  7. I use what I call a “snod” which is a simple side not, like what you covered in the article (looking at the left mirror). However, sometimes I throw up a peace sign. I tried, and tried and always fail at getting a response from people on cruiser / harleys up here, however all the sports bike riders return the snod / wave.

  8. At last someone has addressed the issues facing riders who drive on the correct side of the road. I nod, although I have yet to perfect the lazy ‘side headbutt; style that some use. I tend more to the short, sharp ‘Hai!’ style. All manner of road users have received my salutations, old ladies on scooters and L-plated newbies are no exception, although my most memorable was to a mobility scooter I passed down a long straight country road, miles from anywhere. He got my approval – we were both enjoying the road that day.

    1. I prefer the nod but i also use the ‘waving to your mum on the first day of school style” on
      the sneering shiny black leather vest brigade…….. and of course there is always the single finger

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