The (Heretofore Previously) Unwritten Laws of "Motorcycle Etiquette"

Many, many years ago, I read the (then very popular) book "The Art of Zen and Motorcycle Maintenance"… It did little, however, to prepare me for the many situations that I encountered when, following our wedding in 1997, my husband and I decided to tour from our home in Northern California across the United States to Florida and then up to South Dakota, and then back across to Portland, OR, and back down to Northern California on his Harley…

This is when (and where) I became acquainted for the very first time with "Motorcycle Etiquette".

One of the first things that you should know about Motorcycle Etiquette is that it is customary for motorcyclists to acknowledge other motorcyclists in some way — especially when they pass each other coming from opposite directions.

These "acknowledgements" take many different forms but rarely do they involve actual "waving" as you might expect… From what I've been able to glean about the subject, actual "waving" by one cyclist to another is considered "dorky" and "pretty lame" (especially, it seems, by the male of the motorcycling species).

However, from what I observed during all of those many, many miles spent behind Hubby on "The Queen's Seat", there appear to be various gestures of greeting utilized almost universally by cycle enthusiasts which can be indexed into a few basic "moves".

(Yes, I'm fully aware that there IS another name for the "Queen's Seat"; howEVER, in my opinion, only chauvinists and sexists would think of it… Ah-HA! Caughtcha, didn't I?)

One of these "motorcyclistic gestures of greeting" I like to call the "Half-Heil-Hitler"…

In the "Half-Heil-Hitler" the arm is bent at the elbow and held close to the body while the flattened hand is then lifted to shoulder level with the palm facing outwards (almost as if the rider were some kind of "mechanical basketball dribbler" that was about to complete only ONE dribble — er, "drib"? — of the ball).

There are other motorcyclistic gestures of greeting which are limited solely to head motions…

There's one I call "The Big Nod" where the head is bobbed, only ONCE — slowly and exaggeratedly — up, then down and another that I call "The Whassup?" in which the head is tilted swiftly backwards, one time, in a "jerking motion" while thrusting the chin upwards at the same time.

Some cyclists prefer a move which I call "The Left Turn" which involves the "greeter" cyclist sticking one arm straight out to the side (nearest the oncoming "greetee" cyclist) with his/her fingers splayed out — almost as if s/he was signaling to make a left turn while, at the same time, making a bid of "$5" in an imaginary auction.

It's a move remotely akin to what we used to do when we were kids in the backseat of the family car when we stuck our hand and arm out of the open window in order to feel the wind resistance push our arm backwards.  (I'm sure you remember doing this… It was usually what we were doing just BEFORE our mothers screamed at us to get our hands and arms back inside the car before some passing semi chopped them off…)

In the U.S.A. and Canada, "The Left Turn" entails the use of the left arm thrust out toward the left; however, in the U.K. (Australia, New Zealand, Japan and practically every other country in the world BUT here), the right hand and arm would be utilized… It would then, of course, be called "The Right Turn".

Then, we come to the move generally acknowledged as the pinnacle of greetings amongst cycling enthusiasts. I call it "The Cool Harley-Dude Point"…

My husband and I had made it as far as Arizona, I believe, in our trek across the country before I witnessed my very first "Cool Harley-Dude Point"…

"The Cool Harley-Dude Point" is supremely understated and most effective when rendered with an accompanying air of mystique and stealth…

It is accomplished by extending the unbent arm (nearest to the oncoming "greetee") downwards at an angle — offset diagonally from the body by no more than 10-15 degrees — and then forming the hand, forefinger extended, into a "point" — almost as if one wished to subtly point out an object on the roadbed to another person while, at the same time, avoiding the attentions of passersby.

It is important to note that, during the execution of "The Cool Harley-Dude Point" the "pointer" refrains from making any eye-contact whatsoever WITH the "pointee"… I don't why, exactly — it's just "cooler" that way…

There is also a kind of "motorcycle hierarchy" which operates on the highways and byways of America which you should be made aware of:

First off, Harley Davidson riders acknowledge OTHER Harley riders (along with the occasional Norton, Indian or Triumph-rider)… They do NOT, however, acknowledge Honda, Kawasaki or Suzuki (or, basically, any Japanese-manufactured motorcycle — commonly referred to as "rice burners" by riders of Harley Davidsons) riders, UNLESS the rider of the Japanese cycle acknowledges the Harley-rider FIRST and, even then, the return acknowledgement is NOT a "given".

Japanese-motorcycle riders acknowledge OTHER Japanese-motorcycle riders but rarely make the "first overture" toward HARLEY (or any of the above-mentioned, non-Japanese motorcycles) riders…

It's like a "motorcycle caste system" with Japanese motorcycle riders occupying the place of "The Untouchables"; however, if conditions are adverse enough (horrible riding weather or a general lack of other motorcycle riders of any sort for an extended period of time), the strict "lines of demarcation" between riders of Japanese-manufactured cycles and riders of non-Japanese-manufactured cycles DO tend to relax a bit… 

Now, BMW-motorcycle riders are an entirely different matter… They reside in kind of a "nether region" of Motorcycle Etiquette where they sometimes acknowledge Harley riders first and sometimes not… They are also sometimes found traveling together with Harley-riders while, at other times, you can find them traveling blissfully amongst their Japanese counterparts — which proves, once again, the old adage "He who has a lot of money goes anywhere he wants to with whomsoever he feels like".

I must add that there exists a very small percentage of automobile and truck drivers who, because they have been made privy to Motorcycle Etiquette at some other time in their lives, also occasionally acknowledge motorcyclists with gestures of greeting. These, however, usually take the form of what I like to call the "Harley is No. 1!" gesture (which consists of the "greeter" extending an arm out the window of his/her vehicle with only the forefinger pointing upwards), OR what I call "The Universal Way-to-Go" gesture (which consists of extending the thumb upwards while the rest of the fingers remain formed into a fist).

I feel it is prudent to point out, however, that the automobile/truck drivers in these instances must be very conscientious in displaying the proper digit(s) with regard to these "greetings" because a ticked-off biker can be a very dangerous thing…

The main thing to remember about "auto-to-cycle" or "truck-to-cycle" communication is that it is ALWAYS initiated by the driver of the automobile or truck — UNLESS, of course, the driver is well-known to the rider (otherwise, cyclists would need some kind of additional brace of some sort attached to their cycles to assist them in keeping their "greeting hand" elevated at all times…).

Well, I hope you benefited in some small way today from this "crash course" in Motorcycle Etiquette because you just never know when this information might come in handy…

Happy cycling!

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Aging flowerchild--slightly dumpy, slightly grey, slightly blind, still COOL... ;o)

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