Saturday, August 09, 2008

Why we wave

Posted on the Scottish IAM Motorcycle Forum by someone who took it from another unidentified forum, I rather like the following. Don't know the original source, but if anyone can confirm it, I'll be happy to attribute it properly.

Why We Wave
By Unknown

The bike's passenger seat swept up just enough that I could see over my father's shoulders. That seat was my throne. My dad and I travelled many back roads together...searching for the ones we had never found before. Travelling these roads just to see where they went. Never in a rush, just be home by supper.

I remember wandering down a back road with my father, sitting on my throne watching the trees whiz by, feeling the rumble of our bike beneath us like a giant contented cat. A motorcycle came over a hill towards us and as it went by, my father threw up his clutch hand and gave a little wave. The other bike waved back with the same friendly swing of his left wrist.

I tapped my dad on the shoulder, which was our signal that I wanted to say something. He cocked his head back slightly while keeping his eyes ahead...

I yelled, "Did you know him?"


"You waved at him...who was that?"

"I don't know. Just another guy on a I waved."

"How come?"

"You just's important."

Later, when we had stopped for ice cream, I asked him why it was so important to wave to other bikers. My dad tried to explain how the wave demonstrated comradeship and a mutual understanding of what it was to enjoy riding a motorcycle. He looked for the words to describe how almost all bikers struggled with the same things like cold, rain, heat, wind, and drivers who didn't see them, but how riding remained an almost pure pleasure.

I was young then and I am not sure that I really understood what he was trying to get across, but it was a beginning of something. Afterwards, I always waved along with my dad whenever we passed other bikes.

I remember one cold October morning when the clouds were heavy and dark, giving us another clue that winter was heading in from just over the horizon. My dad and I were warm inside our car as we headed to a friend’s house. Rounding a corner, we saw a motorcycle parked on the shoulder of the road. Past the bike, we saw the rider walking through the ditch, scouring along through the tall grass, crowned with a touch of frost. Dad pulled over and backed up to where the bike stood.

I asked Dad..."Who's that?"

"Don't know" he replied..."but he seems to have lost something. Maybe we can give him a hand."

We left the car and wandered through the tall grass ditch to the biker. He said that he had been pulling on his gloves as he rode, and that he had lost one. The three of us spent some time combing the ditch, but all we found were empty cans and bottles.

My dad then turned and headed back to the car and opened the trunk. He rummaged through various tools, oil containers, and this and that until he found an old pair of crumpled up leather gloves. He continued looking until he found an old catalogue. I understood what he was doing with the gloves....but I had no idea what he needed with the catalogue.

"Here's some gloves for you" my dad said as he handed them to the rider..."and I brought you a catalogue as well."

"Thanks"..I really appreciate it." He reached into his hip pocket and pulled out an old chain wallet.

"Lemme give you some money for the gloves" he said.

"No thanks" dad replied as he handed them to the rider. "They're not worth anything and they're old anyway".

The biker smiled. "Thanks a lot."

He pulled the old gloves on and unzipped his jacket. I watched as my dad handed him the catalogue and the biker slipped it inside his coat. He jostled it around, positioning it up high, centred, and then zipped it up. I remembered now making sense of why my dad had given him the catalogue. It would keep him a bit warmer. After wishing the biker well, my dad and I left him warming up his bike.

Two weeks later, the biker came to our home and returned my father's gloves. He had found the address on the catalogue. Neither my father nor the biker seemed to think that my dad stopping at the side of the road for a stranger and giving him a pair of gloves, and that the stranger making sure that the gloves were returned, were events out of the ordinary for people who rode motorcycles. For me, it was another subtle lesson.

It was spring of the next year when I was sitting high on my throne, watching the farm fields slip by when I saw two bikes coming towards us. As they rumbled past, my dad and I waved, but the other bikers kept their sunglasses locked straight ahead and did not acknowledge us. I remember thinking that they must have seen us because our waves were too obvious to miss. Why didn't they wave back? I thought all bikers waved at one another.....

I tapped my dad on the shoulder and yelled..."How come they didn't wave back?"

"Don't know. Sometimes they don't."

I remember feeling very puzzled. Why wouldn't someone wave back?

The next summer, I was finally old enough to learn to ride a motorcycle with a clutch. Many an afternoon were spent on a country lane beside our home, kicking and kicking to start my dad's old 1955 BSA. When it would finally come to a sputtering start, my concentration would grow to a sharp focus, as I tried to let out the clutch slowly enough, and bring us to a smooth take off. More often than not, I would lurch forward.....and begin to attempt to kickstart the motor again.

Eventually, I got my own motorcycle license, and began wandering the back roads on my own. I found myself stopping along side roads if I saw another biker alone, just to check and see if he needed help.......and I continued to wave at other riders.

But I remained focused as to why some riders never waved back. It left me with almost a feeling of rejection, as if I were reaching to shake someone’s hand, but they kept their arm hanging by their side. I began to canvass my friends about waving. I talked with people at biker events, asking what they thought. Most of the old riders told me they waved to other bikers and often initiated the friendly air handshake as they passed one another.

I did meet some riders though, who told me that they did not wave to other riders because they felt that they were different from other bikers. They felt that they were a "breed apart". One guy told me in rather colourful language, that he did not "wave to no wussies". He went on to say that his kind of bikers were tough, independent, and they did not require or want the help of anyone, whether they rode a bike or not.

I suspected that there were some people who bought a bike because they wanted to purchase an image of being tougher, more independent, a not-putting-up-with-anyone's-crap kind of person, but I didn't think that this was typical of most riders.

People buy bikes for different reasons. Some will be quick to tell you what make it is, how much they paid for it, or how fast it will go. Brand loyalty is going to be strong for some people whether they have a Harley, Ford, Sony, or whatever. Some people want to buy an image and try to purchase another person's perception of them. But it can't be done.

Still, there is a group of people who ride bikes who truly are a breed apart. They appreciate both the engineering and the artistry in the machines they ride. Their bikes become part of who they are and how they define themselves to themselves alone. They don't care what other people think. They don't care if anyone knows how much they paid for their bike or how fast it goes. The bike means something to them that nothing else does. They ride for themselves and not for anyone else. They don't care whether anyone knows they have a bike. They may not be able to find words to describe what it means to ride, but they still know. They may not be able to describe what it means to feel the smooth acceleration and the strength beneath them. But they understand.

These are the riders who park their bikes, begin to walk away and then stop. They turn and look back. They see something when they look at their bikes that you might not. Something more complex, something that is almost secret, sensed rather than known. They see their passion. They see a part of themselves.

These are the riders who understand why they wave to other motorcyclists. They savour the wave. It symbolizes connection between riders, and if they saw you and your bike on the side of the road, they would stop to help and might not ask your name. They understand what you are up against every time you take your bike on the road.....the drivers that don't see you, the ones that cut you off or tailgate you, the potholes that lie in waiting. The rain. The cold.

I have been shivering and sweating on a bike for more than 40 years. Most of the riders that pass give me a supportive wave. I love it when I see a younger rider on a "crotch rocket" scream past me and wave. New riders carrying on the traditions.

I will continue in my attempts to get every biker just a little closer to one another with a simple wave. And if they do not wave back when I extend my hand into the breeze as I pass them, I will smile a little more. Maybe they’re just mistaken about who is a "breed apart."

Then there are these for additional reference:

Top Ten Reasons Why Harley Riders Don't Wave Back

10. Afraid it will invalidate warranty.
9. Leather and studs make it too heavy to raise arm.
8. Refuse to wave to anyone whose bike is already paid for.
7. Afraid to let go of handlebars because they might vibrate off.
6. Rushing wind would blow scabs off the new tattoos.
5. Angry because just took out second mortgage to pay luxury tax on new Harley.
4. Just discovered the fine print in owner's manual and realized H-D is partially owned by Honda.
3. Can't tell if other riders are waving or just reaching to cover their ears like everyone else.
2. Remembers the last time a Harley rider waved back, he impaled his hand on spiked helmet.
1. They're too tired from spending hours polishing all that chrome to lift their arms.

Top Ten Reasons Why Gold Wing Riders Don't Wave Back

10. Wasn't sure whether other rider was waving or making an obscene gesture.
9. Afraid might get frostbite if hand is removed from heated grip.
8. Has arthritis and the past 400 miles have made it difficult to raise arm.
7. Reflection from etched windshield momentarily blinded him.
6. The espresso machine just finished.
5. Was actually asleep when other rider waved.
4. Was in a three-way conference call with stockbroker and accessories dealer.
3. Was distracted by odd shaped blip on radar screen.
2. Was simultaneously adjusting the air suspension, seat height, programmable CD player, seat temperature, and satellite navigation system.
1. Couldn't find the "auto wave back" button on dashboard.

Top Ten Reasons Why Sportbike Riders Don't Wave Back

10. They have not been riding long enough to know they're supposed to.
9. They're going too fast to have time enough to register the movement and respond.
8. You weren't wearing bright enough gear.
7. If they stick their arm out going that fast they'll rip it out of the socket.
6. They're too occupied with trying to get rid of their chicken strips.
5. They look way too cool with both hands on the bars or they don't want to unbalance themselves while standing on the tank.
4. Their skin tight-Kevlar- ballistic- nylon-kangaroo- leather suits prevent any position other than fetal.
3. Raising an arm allows bugs into the armholes of their tank tops.
2. It's too hard to do one-handed stoppies.
1. They were too busy slipping their flip-flop back on.

Top Ten Reasons Why BMW Riders Don't Wave Back

10. New Aerostitch suit too stiff to raise arm.
9. Removing a hand from the bars is considered "bad form."
8. Your bike isn't weird enough looking to justify acknowledgement.
7. Too sore from an 800-mile day on a stock "comfort" seat.
6. Too busy programming the GPS, monitoring radar, listening to iPod, XM, and talking on the cell phone.
5. He's an Iron Butt rider and you're not!
4. Wires from Gerbings is too short.
3. You're not riding the "right kind" of BMW.
2. You haven't been properly introduced.
1. Afraid it will be misinterpreted as a friendly gesture.

1 comment:

  1. Uh huh !
    Thanks, Lay Clerk - my bro had a bike in his youth. I was allowed out with him just once - and there was another time, which you may recall - but I well recall the experience and this post brings it all back. Thank You.