It’s something you don’t really notice unless you’re a motorcyclist. Next time you’re driving along behind a biker and they pass one coming from the other direction, watch their left hands. In most cases you will see one salute and the other return the salute. It’s what I call “The Brotherhood of the Bike.”
My wife finds it very amusing any time we’re riding and we pass a bike approaching from the opposite direction. I salute, they return; my wife gets a kick out of the culture. Occassionally you’ll see truck drivers salute. Sometimes drivers of distinct foreign cars, hot rods and antigue autos will salute each other but mostly it’s bikers who salute and return the salute.
Now some bikers won’t salute or return one and I’m not sure why but I suspect one of four reasons: 1. they don’t want to remove their hands from the handlebars, either for safety reasons or fear; 2. they haven’t been riding long enough to understand the salute; 3. you’re on the wrong bike or; 4. it’s somehow beneath them.
Before I go too much further I should explain what I call the salute. First it’s not really a salute in the terms of a salute one might see between members of the military, it’s more like a wave. But it really isn’t a wave either. It’s more like sports figures sticking their hands out for a “low five.” It’s an acknowledgement of the other bikers — that’s why I call it The Brotherhood of the Bike.
But in truth it’s unfair to call it strictly a brotherhood because female motorcyclists will salute as well. Brother/Sisterhood of the Bike doesn’t flow well and Personhood of the Bike just isn’t right. So for now please allow me a little latitude to call it a brotherhood and maybe we can create something new later.
I don’t really know how the salute got started. I suspect it’s because as motorcyclists we all feel the need to stick together and acknowledge each other. When I started to write this post I did a quick Google search and found one article called, “The Wave:” Protocol or Endangered Species written by John Cerilli. John’s article goes into the protocol of the wave (what I call the salute) with interesting comments like, “Harley riders tend to wave only to other Harley riders,” and “The sport bike crowd tend to wave to their own kind,” or some riders who, “Only wave if the other rider waves first.” In my own experience I haven’t really seen a breakdown by bike brand or style.
When I started riding over 30 years ago the salute was a raised clenched fist, a little like the black power salute of the sixties and seventies. I remember one of my buddies, who started riding with his dad when he was very young, told me that it was proper to salute and return a salute between motorcylcists. He went so far as to suggest that not doing so was a serious motorcycling faux pas. Okay I don’t think he said faux pas, but I have a vivid memory of him implying that it was on the level of a grave insult.
So there we were, riding along and raising our fists in salutes to other members of our exclusive organization.
Now we do a salute that, as I mentioned earlier, is a little more like a low five between sports figures, and I do salute whenever I pass another cyclists — except if I’m shifting, turning or coming to a stop. In those instances I usually nod in response. But I’m not insulted if the other rider does not return the salute. Sometimes I get a Harley rider (and I stress they are few and far between) who don’t return a salute; on occassion the sports bike rider won’t either. For those times I do get turned down on return salutes, I just figure the other riders don’t understand The Brotherhood of the Bike.
If you want to read John Cerilli’s article, “The Wave:” Protocol or Endangered Species, you can access it at http://www.motorcycleshopper.com/articles/the-wave.htm