Those of you who ride motorcycles will know exactly what I'm talking about here. Those of you who don't - will hopefully learn something.
I'm referring to that secret "wave" that oncoming bikers may or may not flash each other as they pass on the highway. Oh sure, it seems customary enough - two fellow riders politely saying "hi" to each other as they approach... but is it? Is it really that simple? Actually it's not.
I've been riding a motorcycle my entire adult life and I've been paying attention. And if you think you're going to get a salutation from just any biker coming your way, then you're wrong. Believe it or not, there are some very subliminal and undocumented rules regarding this situation - and I'm going to share them with you now.
Here's how it works:
First of all, we'll need to establish some terminology to make this tutorial easier to follow.
The person initiating the wave will herefor be referred to as the "initiator". The other person will then automatically be known as the "receiver," and if he responds to the wave, will also be known as the "replier." Note that any reference to said replier assumes he is also the receiver and therefore will not also be referred to as the receiver because otherwise he would have to be known as the receiver and the replier - which just doesn't make any sense.
Next, to avoid any unnecessary political or grammar faux pas, all motorcyclists from this point on will be referred to as "riders" and all persons shall be referred to in the male context, just to make it easier.
Ok, now on to the tutorial...
Equity and the Odds of Engagement
The odds of receiving a wave from an oncoming biker are first and foremost governed by the "laws of equity." This means that the more things you have in common with him the better chance he will engage as either the initiator or the replier.
There are basically three categories in the laws of equity:
1. Brand equity. This means that if you both are riding the same brand of bike, the odds of a wave transaction are increased.
2. Style equity. If you both are riding the same "type" of bike, such as chopper, rocket or touring motorcycle, then your odds are increased as well.
3. Helmet equity. If you both are either wearing or not wearing helmets - odds increased again.
To further illustrate this concept:
IF you both are riding hardtail Harleys and not wearing helmets, the odds of a hand gesture between the two of you are VERY high. Conversely, the odds of a nonhelmeted hardtail rider waving to a helmeted Suzuki rocket rider are almost next to none.
The Big Five
When a fellow biker is approaching, his left arm and hand will tell the story. Whether he is the initiator or the replier, the signals are the same. Following are the five main hand gestures you may encounter:
1. The Nothing - This is the "default" hand position of most cross-encounters. Simply leaving his left hand on the handle bar can mean anything from "not paying attention to the fact you're approaching" to "I see you but I'm not interested in exchanging a greeting" - to the harsher, "I see you but since we don't enjoy any 'equity,' I'm not going to acknowledge your existence." Of course since no words are ever exchanged to clarify, all the rider can do is simply speculate.
2. The Two-finger Flip - The most casual AND most common acknowledgement. Left hand still on the handgrip, but the index and middle fingers raised briefly. This one simply says "dude, how's it going?" Most of the time the receiver will respond just out of courtesy. Of course the whole issue of who goes first really boils down to nothing more than a game of greeting chicken - or whoever's in the better mood at time.
3. The Big One - This is the granddaddy of all greetings. Left hand down off of the handlebar and out to the side. Fingers may either show a "peace" sign or be spread open palm side out. Here, the initiator is sending a clear signal that he acknowledges you. Not replying to this blatant plea for hospitality may be considered rude - and could possibly be interpreted as a strong message of inequity.
4. The Dis - Left hand down and resting on the thigh. This could be viewed as a request to treat the opposing party as a hostile witness - ESPECIALLY if it is moved there while you are approaching. Dating back to the days when rival motorcycle gangs roamed the streets, this signal indicated disrespect to the other rider(s) and was clearly meant as negative and often times led to confrontation. Today, however, the old cultural significance has been lost, and could simply just mean your arm is tired and resting on your leg.
5. The Geek - Left hand raised high in the air as if to say, "Hi mom!" This one is specifically reserved for the new rider, who is "SO excited to be one of the gang!" Also may be seen being used by Moped or scooter riders. Recommendation: Just don't.
So there they are. All the secrets behind those mysterious motorcycle hand greetings revealed (not to be confused with the standard hand "turn" signals). So the next time you approach an oncoming rider, take note. He could be sending you a very intentional message!