Motorcycle Hand Greetings

Bo-Fact_TrviaThose of you who ride motorcycles will know exactly what I’m talking about. 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 riders saying “hi” to each other as they approach… but is it? Actually it’s not.
I’ve been riding my entire adult life and I’ve been paying attention. And if you think you’re going to get an acknowledgment from 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:
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 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 a DOT helmet or not odds increased again.
To further illustrate this concept:
IF you both are riding Harleys and not wearing a DOT helmet “and im not telling you not to wear a DOT helmet,” the odds of a hand gesture between the two of you are VERY high. Conversely, the odds of a non DOT helmeted Harley rider waving to a full face helmeted Suzuki rocket rider are almost next to none.
The Big Five
When a rider 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?” Many times 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 Vespa 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! Or not.

Which of the following was NOT a Motorcycle company?
A.)           Flying Merkel
B.)           Cyclone
C.)           Regal-Eagle
D.)          Zundapp

If you think you have the answer, email
Look for the answer in next months issue of
“Full Throttle Magazine.

Question: By the year 1940, how many Law Enforcement Agencies in the United States use Harley-Davidson’s?

Answer: By 1940 3,500 Law Enforcement Agencies are using Harleys to patrol the streets and highways of America.

Bo’s Monthly Words of Wisdom:
“If you want to complain about the pace being set by the road captain, you better be prepared to lead the group yourself.”

“Live to Ride or Step Aside”
Written by Bo
“The Hog Shoppe”


  1. […] are riding so I wave back! Full Throttle has a great post with the low down on each style in there hand greeting post. As you ride you will develop a wave that feels comfortable to […]

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  2. Motorcycle gestures (or waving) are utterly RIDICULOUS! I’ve been riding since 1976, and NEVER wave! We motorcyclists are ‘a dime a dozen’ common! It’s challenging and risky enough to ride a motorcycle on public roads- I don’t need the distraction of having to do this, and taking my hand off the handlebar. You want to have a civilized conversation when our bikes are stopped at a public place, fine. But this waving stuff is childish and stupid.

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  3. “Childish and stupid”…. good God, man! Lighten up. When I’m on four wheels, my sons and I would count how many awesome riders would courtesy wave simply for us trying to provide as much room as possible. Cars, on the “daily”, outnumber bikes, so to say you’re a ‘dime a dozen’ doesn’t hold water. Maybe if people that drive cars showed the same respect as riders of two-wheeled awesomeness, people might not be such a$$hol3s. You don’t have to wave, and I hope people still show you courtesy while you ride, but don’t slam others for something that is very real. A lot has changed since 1976, you know? The war is over.

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  4. […] Motorcycle Hand Greetings […]

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  5. I decided a few years ago I would wave, regardless of whether the other rider would wave back. I also decided not to be offended if the other rider does not wave back- just my wave of acknowledging that he is on two wheels (or three- in which I give the three finger salute “peace and thumb”).

    With that attitude in mind, it is actually interesting to notice how some riders respond. I wear a full face helmet (atgatt) and ride a Suzuki Vstrom. Although my gear and bike is rather dark. I generally expect a wave from sport riders and the ADV crowd. I will even wave to a scooter (I figure its just as easy to die on a scooter), but only of they wave first. I get a Harley wave about 50% of the time. I can never tell when I will get wave from Harley riders, but always feel cool when I get a group wave!

    I only once received disrespectful hand signals (that ruined the next few miles ride) but I let t go as something wrong wth the other rider.

    Otherwise, I appreciate the two wheeled camaraderie. And will continue to wave.

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  6. I like to acknowledge other riders. Sometimes I am distracted, as other riders often are in traffic. Most of the time riders acknowledge me, whether they are wearing helmets, riding choppers, cruisers, or touring bikes. I even acknowledge crotch rockets and they, incidentally, are usually the ones who simply raise a couple of fingers without removing their hand from the handlebar. I often think they may just be surprised that a Harley rider is acknowledging them.

    Recognizing other riders is not analogous to a secret hand-shake. It is just part of enjoying the ride. Life is almost always good. The sun is out more than 80% of the time, and it is rarely too windy. Motorcycles are like rods & reels. Some are expensive, some are not. They all, however, provide a lot of fun with good friends, and a great way to relax. It is hard to be pissed on my Road King.

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  7. Great article and exactly what I was looking for. A long time ago (early 90’s) I used to ride a Yahama cruiser and would get acknowledgements from non-harley riders around 90% of the time and harley riders about half. When I would get nothing back, I would smile thinking what the other rider was thinking.

    Now I ride a Vespa.

    I always wait to see what the other riders do first and I’d say the %’s of acknowledgement are definitely slightly lower. But now I laugh when I get the acknowlegement thinking the other rider only noticed the single headlight and not the fact they just acknowledged a scooter rider and they’re probably like “F—!!!” But don’t worry, I would never do ‘the Geek’.

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