How do motorcyclists and cyclists around the world greet each other?
April 19, 2012 5:50 PM   Subscribe

What kinds of different greetings do motorcyclists and cyclists in different parts of the world have for each other when they pass on the road?

This blog post contains a picture caption:
The universal moto-greeting...done differently in every country. In the US, its a low-key wave, maybe just two fingers, while in France one waggles a foot
Is this actually true—do riders in different countries have such different customs?
posted by Fiasco da Gama to Travel & Transportation (24 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
In Canada it is traditional to drop your left hand off the handlebar at a low angle, like this.

Upon clicking through to the blog, I think it's the same "low-key wave" they mention.
posted by 256 at 5:54 PM on April 19, 2012

Also, I think that, in most of the world, bicycles are too common to warrant a greeting. Likewise, I suspect that motorcyclists don't greet each other in places like urban India and Taiwan where motorcycles are much more common modes of transportation.
posted by 256 at 5:57 PM on April 19, 2012

I was taught when riding a trail as a group to hold up as many fingers as riders behind me; if possible to do so safely.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 6:06 PM on April 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Touring cyclists (in the US and Canada at least) will often ring their bells as a greeting. Road cyclists (think lycra) tend to prefer a low wave (like motorcyclists).
posted by ssg at 6:18 PM on April 19, 2012

I've read that the two-finger wave done in the US is meant to signify "two wheels", but it seems sort of apocryphal.
posted by gilrain at 6:23 PM on April 19, 2012

Response by poster: (To contribute: Australian motorcyclists nod to each other, but generally only outside the city).
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 6:25 PM on April 19, 2012

I think the low-key wave is going to be common because it's a safe gesture to make whilst riding. As a motorcyclist, I'm not going to do anything that throws off my balance or prevents me from getting my hand quickly back to where it needs to be, especially at high speeds.
posted by two lights above the sea at 6:42 PM on April 19, 2012

In Denmark, non-Hell's Angels/Bandidos do a full hand low key wave to other non-motorcycle gang members. Riding on the back of my uncle's motorcycle as a kid, I thought it was awesome that the non-gang folks had their own gang salute.
posted by zem at 6:46 PM on April 19, 2012

Eastern USA - I see the nod a lot too.
posted by beyond_pink at 7:00 PM on April 19, 2012

In addition to the low key wave we in Canada (or possibly just my friends) will pat the top of our helmets to indicate that we've spotted a police car in the vicinity.

I've heard that two fingers = two wheels too.
posted by keeo at 7:28 PM on April 19, 2012

When I was touring by bicycle through France and Italy(2003) I'd typically exchange head nods or low waves with other cycle tourists. I'd do the same with the Lycra guys but they'd rarely respond back. Then there was a couple days I rode with Ivan the Ukrainian (met him at the top of a hill just east of Genoa...we spent a few awkward minutes searching for a common language (not English, not French, not Italian, not Portugese, but hey we both speak Russian?)). Ivan the Ukrainian had yellow hair, a yellow mustache, a yellow ballcap, a yellow t-shirt and was riding a yellow mountain bike that had a Lidl plastic bag strapped to his seat post and was without a front brake (he used his foot against the rubber on steep descents) and he was riding home to a village near Kiev from Portugal (where he'd had a disastrous time of trying to work and save enough to get home) by way of the Vatican City for his son's birthday. Whenever we'd pass cyclists he'd ride side to side with them (even if it meant temporarily turning around) and pump his chest and declare "I'm Ivan the ukrainian and I'm going home to see my son for his fourth birthday. Do you understand the importance of the number four? My son is turning four, and he is the fourth Ivan, I am Ivan and my father was Ivan and his father was Ivan. Think of how many things in this world are four? Four legs on a table, on a chair!" (he was a furniture maker by trade) and he would at this point repeat that his name was Ivan and I'd call after him that whoever he was yelling to didn't understand Ukrainian and he'd pound his chest again repeating his name and the number four. He was fast, he'd keep up with the Lycra guys. So that's the way he'd greet other cyclists, I guess. I wasnt going to Rome but Florence, so we stopped in Pisa and split a bottle of vermouth in the square with the leaning tower of Pisa.He called me a couple days later from Rome. Pictures of the Vatican was what Ivan the fourth had requested for his birthday.
posted by dismitree at 7:50 PM on April 19, 2012 [14 favorites]

I'm an electric vehicle owner and have been hoping and dreaming that EV guys would adopt the shocker as the wave.
posted by intermod at 8:34 PM on April 19, 2012 [6 favorites]

In New York and Chicago cyclists passing in opposite directions seem to greet each other by straightening either the first two or all four fingers. Sort of like a wave, but without taking your hands off the bars.

I've seen something like the low wave, but only from cyclists passing in my direction, so I always interpreted it as some variation on a low point, to signal he's coming back into my lane ahead of me. Guess I've learned something today.
posted by d. z. wang at 8:43 PM on April 19, 2012

In Canada it is traditional to drop your left hand off the handlebar at a low angle, like this.

I've seen/done this when motorcycling in Mississippi, too. More infrequently I've seen other motorcyclists raise a fist to about shoulder level in greeting as they passed me. Seeing d. z. wang's addition, I'll add that I've seen both from people going in both directions, and I never noticed a relationship between the signal and the direction.

Also, I think that, in most of the world, bicycles are too common to warrant a greeting. Likewise, I suspect that motorcyclists don't greet each other in places like urban India and Taiwan where motorcycles are much more common modes of transportation.

Yep. If people on bicycles or motos here in Burkina Faso waved to each other, you'd never have both hands on the bike - I'd say 80% of the urban traffic is two-wheeled, and 97% of the rural transportation. If you see someone waving their left hand here, it's because they're about to turn left. I've never seen a foot waggle either. So while I can't speak to the two areas you mention, I can confirm that there are parts of the world where the two-wheeled folk don't have any tradition of acknowledging each other.
posted by solotoro at 3:26 AM on April 20, 2012

I have heard that in Great Britain, that due to driving on the left side of the road the custom is just a nod, since waving at a rider coming at you would mean taking your hand off the throttle control, which is a no-no.
posted by ArgentCorvid at 5:13 AM on April 20, 2012

East coast rider here. Most everyone does the low wave that 256 links to (if they wave at all!). The only time I ever saw otherwise was in Hawaii, where everyone makes the shaka, but then again pretty much all motorists did that.
posted by sephira at 5:21 AM on April 20, 2012

This is not a simple question; there is a sequence of choices which have to be accurately navigated to give the correct wave/response.

So; you see a bike coming towards you.
Is it a modern scooter? Dont wave.

Is it a classic scooter?
Is it a learner?
Is there any doubt about getting a response back? (Stock Harleys, power-rangers etc)
--wait to see if they wave first.

Is it a chop?
An older bike?
Any other bike that looks like it's used on a regular basis?
--Prepare to wave.

The wave itself:
Is the road clear, do you have space and time? Prepare 'the wave'
Are you in a rush? Then you cannot take your hands off the bars. Prepare 'the nod'
Are you in a very very rush. Then you cannot take your eyes off the road, nevermind your hands off the bars. Prepare 'the kick'

The wave; left hand off the bars raised above the bars, palm up. In the UK this is the far side of the bike from the recipient. Hence the need for plenty of time for it to be visible.

The nod; jerk of the chin either up or down. Expresses a certain disdain. More informal than the wave.

The kick; possibly moving one foot off a peg, or just turning one foot outwards depending on the slipstream.

--Police ahead; make the Highway Code 'slowing down' gesture, flash lights, generally desticulate.
--If approaching bike stopped at side of road; alternate thumbs up/down, looking for response.
--'Please review your driving'; direct strong gaze at offending driver whilst tapping side of helmet.
--'Thank you for your concern, but I reject your opinion of my driving.' Middle finger of hand raised.
posted by BadMiker at 6:18 AM on April 20, 2012 [5 favorites]

Jeep drivers wave to each other. I've been told the muddier the Jeep, the more respect that Jeep driver deserves.
posted by smitt at 6:58 AM on April 20, 2012

I'll almost always give everybody... bikes, cars, motos, peds, anybody...a fist of brotherhood/solidarity type gesture.

Common to my area is a chin-up nod greeting that works for about anything and typically signifies that you were born here your whole life, bro. I use that one on the bike a lot, also.
posted by No Shmoobles at 7:08 AM on April 20, 2012

i ride a sportbike (east coast) and the norm here is the 'low wave' as posted by 256.

also, as smitt mentions, people in Jeeps tend to readily wave at other Jeep drivers. i dated a girl for a while who drove a jeep and i was always amused at how frequently people would wave.
posted by austere at 7:23 AM on April 20, 2012

In the US (west coast) the low wave is common among motorcyclists, and it's basically just a low-profile hand movement towards fellow cyclists coming in the opposite direction.

I haven't seen any common gesture for bicyclists in Southern California or the Chicago area. The low wave mentions for bicyclists is, in my interpretation and my own personal usage, a quick&dirty signaling of lane change or movement in one direction. I do that when passing a parking car or something where I'm making a movement and I want people behind me to know where I'm going and be able to move accordingly.
posted by booknerd at 11:00 AM on April 20, 2012

we in Canada (or possibly just my friends) will pat the top of our helmets

Not just your friends and not just in Canada; I've seen this in Washington and Oregon too.

In my (primarily Seattle) experience "the wave" is universal when out on country roads, but less common in the city; people are more likely to be paying attention to traffic or operating their clutch. Still, you'll sometimes get a couple fingers raised and a slight nod, if someone is using the clutch but still wants to acknowledge you.

During rainy weather, though, you always get recognition from other riders. It's like you're all part of the extra-specially dedicated riders' club.

It's increasingly confusing about scooters - there are scooters now that look like motorcycles until you get pretty close, and I'm never sure whether I should be generous and include them in the motorcycling fraternity ("hey, we're all on two wheels here, keep the rubber side down") or just ignore them. Mostly they don't wave, though, or even wave back, so it seems to be a different culture.
posted by Mars Saxman at 12:00 PM on April 20, 2012

With several years motorcycling experience in California and all over Western Europe, I'd say the low-key wave is even more popular in Europe. Riders there only wiggle their right foot when passing another motorcyclist who is traveling in the same direction, be it in France, Belgium, NLD, Germany etc.
posted by Hermanos at 4:08 PM on April 20, 2012

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