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Rider Wave: History, Application & Myths

Imagine the following scenario: Out on the open road, heading in opposite directions, two motorcyclists speed toward one another. As they near each other, one rider extends his left arm, pointing it at a low angle toward the road, and then stretches his index and middle finger into the peace sign and subtly waves. The second rider observes this cue and follows suit.

It's called the "rider's wave." For motorcycle neophytes, it's a gesture that's shrouded in a bit of mystery. Even for more seasoned bikers, though, the rules and history of this once-universal greeting might be lost, as the popularity of the wave has waned among newer generations of riders. For all those interested in learning more, read on, as I dive into the history, myths and "proper use" surrounding this technique.

How Did the Rider's Wave Originate?

The history of the rider's wave also incorporates a bit of myth, as there are multiple origin stories bikers might hear, depending on who they ask. When I was first learning to ride, my father would regale me with tales (most certainly untrue) of him single-handedly popularizing the wave on a cross-country tour of the States. Not trusting the veracity of his claims, I decided to do some digging and came across a few stories that are much more plausible.

One source claims the wave is a derivation of a medieval practice, when men on horseback crossing paths would signal with an open hand that they were unarmed, and lift the visors on their helmets as a sign of trust. While opening a motorcycle helmet visor while riding presents an additional (and probably ill-advised) challenge, showing respect with an open-handed gesture is easy enough, and the wave having its roots in this centuries-old tradition isn't entirely outside the realm of possibility.

Another tale posits that the wave was made mainstream by World War II veterans. After coming home from the war, a good portion of vets bought and rode motorcycles. Knowing that other vets did the same, and wanting to show respect to fellows who served in combat, bikers performed the wave as a sign of camaraderie among servicemen that permeated into biking culture at large.

Yet another story (one I found mentioned the most) tells of a much simpler origin. In 1904, the founders of Harley Davidson (William Harley and Arthur Davidson) passed one another while riding. They waved, and from that moment forward, the gesture became a part of the riding mythos. This anecdote seems to be the most likely, but the rider's wave has about as many origin stories as the Joker, so you can probably get away with picking your favorite on this one.

How to Wave

The example provided above is the classic. Extend the left arm and aim it toward the street at a low angle, face the palm at the road or the other rider, then flash the peace sign with two fingers. This is the one you're likely to see most often, though it's only one of several variations that the rider's wave can take. Axle Addict goes into superb detail on the five forms the rider's wave might take, which, besides the aforementioned "Left-Handed Low," include the "Left-Handed Straight Out," "Left-Handed High," "Right Handed" and"Left-Handed Forward" styles.

Each is fairly self-explanatory. Extend the arm of choice in the appropriate direction, flash the required hand sign and then wave. The wave shouldn't be so subtle that it is imperceptible, but it should never be overdramatic either. Practice to find the balance between coolness and enthusiasm that fits the bill.

As Axle Addict points out, the wave variation that fits best may depend on the style of bike you ride, but that's not the only factor that comes into play when mulling over your wave choice. Timing is a crucial element that will determine whether you should even attempt a wave at all.

To Wave or Not to Wave?

To make a long story short, don't wave if doing so will put you in peril. Heading around a corner? Concentrate on steering, not waving. In heavy traffic or on a major highway? Better to focus on staying in one piece. You should also forego the wave in situations where it won't be seen or is unnecessary. At night or in the rain? The other rider probably won't see you. At a rally or similar gathering? Too many riders for the moment to be special.

So, when should you perform the wave? Being on a lonesome road where the conditions won't put you in mortal jeopardy is a good start, but there's also the concept of equity to consider. In short, you want to show some respect to a fellow rider, and you might want to do this simply because they're on two wheels -- same as you.

Your chances of getting a reply (a wave back), though, increase when there's more in common between you. It could be that you have the same brand of bike or the same style. It could be that you are both wearing particularly fashionable helmets or some other shared factor that links the two of you together.

Is it a bit tribal? Yes, but so are many other aspects of the motorcycle lifestyle. Use your proper judgment: observe the cues, remember the proper form and be ready to initiate or reciprocate a wave next time you're out on the road -- so long as the moment is right.

By Daniel Relich
Published Tuesday, January 9, 2018

The Best Looking Motorcycles

Every once in awhile, I like to ponder the beauty of certain bikes. Notice I used the word beauty there. Almost every bike around is inherently cool, and looks the part.  What I'm talking about, though, goes deeper than that. 

I'm referring to a level of visual appeal that compels bike enthusiasts to stare at photos, do copious research, and perhaps even get into an internet argument or two.

I'm talking about the best looking motorcycles, and, while it's a subjective topic, I'd like to throw out a few of my top picks, broken up by category.

Standard: FZ-09

Yamaha Photo
The Yamaha FZ-09 has gone through some significant redesigning in recent years, and it's one of those things I've noticed most riders either love or hate. Put me squarely in the love category, though, because I think the look of the 2017 FZ-09 is phenomenal and like that Yamaha decided not to play the look of this bike "down the middle" to gain mass appeal.

They went "extreme" with the body design, making it more akin to the FZ-10, emulating the futuristic elements and eschewing the retro look. They put in more angles (especially on those dramatic new front headlights) and a sportier, narrower frame. Yamaha raised the seat (which I love) and made it flatter (which, by the way, feels more comfortable). Then the way those mirrors poke up? Feels like perfection to me. It all falls in line with a sporty-standard aesthetic that I'd like to see more examples of -- especially if they look as bold as the FZ-09.

Sport: Ducati Panigale

Ducati Photo
The Ducati Panigale 1299 was once topped the heap of my favorite supersport bikes to look at, the pinnacle of sleek, racing perfection -- until I saw the new 2018 Panigale V4. It looks like Ducati took inspirations from its predecessor, but "redefined" them into a package that is more compact and exotic in appearance (impressive, considering that the new Panigale is packing a larger engine). From the front, all the lines still look clean and sharp. The proportions of the bike make it look like a powerful, aerodynamic predator that can chase down its prey in short order.

Though I don't know of any predators that are bright red (seems like it'd be counterproductive), in the Panigale's case that's a feature and not a detriment. That bright Ducati red looks great on every inch of this bike's angles and curves, from the redesigned "front frame" to that one-piece tail guard. Speaking of which, those features, for me, at least, enhance the Panigale's supersport characteristic. They all make the bike look more aggressive, which, for a racing model, is perfect.

Cruiser: Triumph Bonneville Bobber Black

Triumph Photo
I'll admit, the first thing I thought when I saw a Triumph Bonneville Bobber was, "is that the right seat?" Something about the way it curved up in the back was throwing me off, and I didn't like it. With each subsequent viewing, though, it grew on me, and I had admit that I was a converted fan. Now I've been looking at the new Bonneville Bobber Black, which has built upon that previous Bonneville Bobber, and I'm enamored with this one straight out the gate.

The paint job was the first thing I noticed. As the name suggests, it's all black, conveying a tougher, meaner attitude. It's got that aggressive, "I run these streets" look that I absolutely love in a bike. Once I was able to focus past the all-black look, I also noticed some functional changes to the bike's appearance that I appreciated as well. The fatter front tire and beefier fork, in particular, give the Bonneville Black some much welcome muscle that round out the whole aesthetic.

ADV: BMW R1200GS Adventure

BMW Motorrad Photo
Practical, standard, ubiquitous -- these are all terms I've heard thrown around in reference to the BMW R1200GSA. None of those terms, I feel, are a knock against this adventure model. It's the adventure bike that spawned subsequent adventure bikes. It's a fine piece of handiwork, and I feel that it has the appearance to match its dependable, workman-like capabilities.

The R1200GSA looks pared-down, rugged, but still aggressive and journey-ready. The angles and futuristic styling convey its capable technological features (like that sleek TFT dash), while the tall, heavy appearance shout that it's durable, strong, and ready for action.

The minimalist frame plays a similar role in the rigid look of this bike, while simultaneously helping keep the weight manageable. Of the many details I adore on the BMW R1200GSA, there's a smaller one that sticks out to me just as much as the overall look: those laced rims and deep grooved tires -- essential when tackling the trails.

Cafe Racer: BMW NineT Scrambler

BMW Motorrad Photo
Bikes like the R Nine T exude a classic cool that even non-motorcycle riders can pick up on. When it comes to my pick, the R NineT Scrambler is the coolest and sleekest of the bunch. It reminds me of those 1950s-era BMWs, from the tail-pipes all the way to the handlebars. Everything in between looks slick too, with my favorite part of the R NineT Scrambler being the saddle-leather brown seat (low and flat) and the big circular headlamp (don't get me wrong, I love the angular lights on the other models I mentioned, but here it just fits).

Wrapping It Up

What do you think of our list? Love it or hate it, let us know in the comments below if there's a bike you think should be on this list. I'd also like to mention that there's more beyond the beauty factor of a motorcycle when it comes to ownership experience. It's necessary to mention the "upgrade factor" and the ability to modify your bike with available aftermarket motorcycle parts in order to make it yours.

By Daniel Relich
Published Monday, December 11, 2017