My first introduction to “the wave” was on the back of a Harley-Davidson, and since I wasn’t paying a great deal of attention to the circumstances, I assumed it was another one of those Harley things. As it turns out, the wave does have its roots in H-D lore and is widely supposed to have been adopted in the early 1900s when riders saw Mr. Harley and Mr. Davidson acknowledging one another with this salute and assumed it was a thing one ought to do.

But while the wave may have begun with H-D, aside from a few crusty purists who will only wave at other Harleys, the general consensus in this century seems to be that it belongs to everyone on two (or three*) wheels. A quick Google for “motorcycle wave” turns up 14 million search results, many of them expounding at length on the acceptable ways in which one can wave and the circumstances in which is it and is not appropriate. My personal favorite, from Axle Addict, is “How Not to Wave Like a Dork,” which I think should be added to the MSF course as required reading.

I took a lovely ride yesterday down Route 61 from St. Louis to historic Ste. Genevieve. It’s mostly a two-lane highway that pretty much follows the same route as a very boring stretch of I-55, but where the interstate is soulless and straight, 61 has some nice bends and hills and keeps the ride a little more interesting. I saw a lot of bikes on the road to and from, even rode a little ways “with” a few of them since our speeds seemed to match up all right. Just about everyone gave me the wave when safety permitted.

I was quite pleased and a little surprised by this, hence the Google search for what it’s all about and why some people seemed to be giving me a “low-five” and others extending a peace sign. I’ve gotten the wave before and instinctively stuck out a low-five in return because it seemed like the polite thing to do and I wasn’t raised in a barn, but yesterday it became apparent to me that this is a thing I should learn more about.

Some of the articles about the wave included distinctions for scooters – if not in the author’s own opinion then certainly in the comment sections. I didn’t encounter any that outright said DO NOT WAVE AT SCOOTERS THEY ARE NOT REAL BIKES, but there seemed to be a vein of self-righteous back-patting along the lines of “I even wave at scooters!” Or, in the instructions about who to wave at, the author might write “yes, even scooters.”

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! –, 10 Tips for Doing the Motorcycle Wave

Eh, so they get a teeny bit condescending from time to time. But he sounds really excited to have made a scooterist’s day, so maybe that made his day, and everyone wins!

This guy gets all into how the different waves speak to the “equity” between the two riders, and seems to think that everyone on a scooter is pretty much a big dork. (And hey, I might be, but I’d hate to label the rest of you.) Still, read it anyway – apparently there is an aggressive “non-wave” that means “I see you but I’m deliberately ignoring you” that could ignite a turf war. Yikes. I think this guy is more the exception than the rule though – most writers and commenters seem happy to include scooterists in the wave, even as an afterthought.

Another general consensus is that the wave isn’t strictly necessary in traffic or commuting situations, mainly because clutch control for the motorcyclist often precludes the removal of the left hand from the bars. But when you think about it, this is probably part of the reason a lot of scooterists don’t get the wave: they’re not often in the sort of open-road situations where it’s more likely to happen. Scooters are getting bigger – my Vespa has more displacement than my dad’s first motorcycle and it’s nowhere near the biggest available – but the bulk of them are not highway or touring machines, so motorcyclists only see them buzzing around town in no-wave circumstances because they’re busy shifting, or thinking about shifting, or getting ready to shift, or some sort of other shifty shifter things.

Yesterday’s ride was on a highway bikers might ride as a fun alternative to the interstate, so the wave was kind of an acknowledgement that we were all just out there enjoying the weather and the road together. Being on that stretch with them meant that my scooter can obviously keep up with their motorcycles on a road they like to ride, so I guess I was part of the club. It felt pretty good. You might even say it made my day.

But don’t tell the Harley rider that.


* Dude on got ripped a new one in his comment section by the disabled/vets/disabled vets/oldsters for indicating that the wave was not for trikes or Can Ams. I won’t go there.