Posted on Motorcycle Law Blog / Motorcycle Nod or Wave | The Facts You Should Know

Page Updated 01/25/2022

Motorcycle Nod or Wave | The Facts You Should Know


If you have noticed motorcycle riders nod or wave when passing each other on the road, you may be wondering what this gesture means. Motorcycle riding is a way of life for many and not just a pastime. These gestures are used by riders to acknowledge one another on the road. Like the U.S. Marines, most riders are among an elite class of individuals and they generally respect fellow riders.

No one knows the origins of the first wave or nod. But below, our lead motorcycle attorney, Michael Ehline will discuss the history and various reasons cruisers are acknowledging guys and ladies this way using this motion modernly.

In California, fellow road users ride choppers along its scenic coast, breathtaking vistas, and scenery on road tours just to get through rush hour traffic quickly. It doesn’t a genius to figure out why the Golden state remains among the most popular states for a motorcycle tour. But unfortunately, car drivers commonly run over bikers or veer into them. It’s enough to make you grit your teeth. Because of this, many riders feel they are part of a brotherhood.

Not just the Hells Angels, Leathernecks M/C, or Mongols feel this way about riding a motorized bike and a wave back. Whether you ride a Harley, Victory, Japanese sports bike, the brotherhood is real. All riders have the same basic understanding that they are different, braver than others, and willing to take far greater risks.

Risks of Riding a Bike and Reasons Riders Throw a Lopsided Nod?

By happy chance for hurt motorcycle riders, California offers rock-solid and expansive protection for downed motorcyclists, perhaps the best in the United States. Regrettably, for many injured motorcycle riders, insurance companies still do everything under the sun to avoid or minimize the payouts for California motorcyclists making an insurance claim.

At Ehline Law, we know how serious bike riding injuries are, as well as how complicated California’s motorcycle laws and navigating insurance company trickery can be. This post is intended to provide some general information about the rights of California motorcyclists and how hiring a personal injury attorney is one of the best decisions you can make if you are injured while motorcycling in California. Having said that, let’s dig a little deeper into the wave-back nod gesture. It’s pretty cool seeing the camaraderie of people on two wheels instead of the standard one-finger gesture many riders throw up to scorn cars that cut them off in heavy traffic.

It is important to note that the nod or wave is not used to indicate a hazard or gesture to other drivers to stop or pass left. Additional hand signals are used for that purpose. The nod or wave is simply used as a way to greet other riders when you pass them on the road.

A low wave is the most frequent, but there are many more types of waves with diverse meanings. Often, a nod is used instead of a wave simply because it is a safer alternative. If you are curious about what these gestures mean, how they started, and when to use them, here is everything you need to know.

Suppose you have more questions about the biker wave or head nod or have been the victim of a motorcycle accident that was not your fault. In that case, you can contact a motorcycle accident lawyer from Ehline Law Firm for more information.

Ways to Greet a Fellow Rider Differ Based on Location

You may observe various types of acknowledgments between motorcycle riders in different countries. These gestures vary depending on which side of the road they travel. In the United Kingdom or other countries where motorcyclists travel on the left side of the road, the hand on the throttle or cruise control is closest to the oncoming motorcycle rider.

Because it is not wise to let go of the throttle, drivers in these countries use the nod as a preferred way to greet other motorcyclists. In the rest of Europe and the United States, waving is preferred because the oncoming motorcyclist is closest to the left. However, either the wave or nod may be used to acknowledge a fellow rider in these areas.

Understanding the Motorcycle Rider Nod

As previously said, the nod is more widely utilized in places where people drive on the left and typically consists of a single nod of the head. Some people prefer nodding to the side as if you’re winking or glancing down at the left mirror, although a single forward nod is more commonly used.

Nodding is generally more advantageous when compared to waving because it allows both hands to remain on the handlebars, making it a much safer way to greet the other rider than a wave. You may be wondering how the tradition of acknowledging another rider through the simple nod of the head came to be.

The History of the Nod

There are a few theories as to where the nod originated. The most likely source is the old motorbike “noddy” course at the United Kingdom Police Force Driving School, which put countless officers on motorcycles in the 1950s, most of whom had no prior experience with motorcycles.

Nodding to High-ranking Officers

The “noddy” school at the police officer’s Hendon Driving School taught students the ins and outs of riding, particularly the need for nodding to high-ranking officers instead of releasing the handlebars to offer a salute. This earned the gesture the name “noddy.”

Gordon Newton, who was a veteran in World War II and the Commander and Chief Superintendent of the Hendon Police Driving School, was the first to teach the “noddy” program, earning him the nickname “Noddy” Newton.

Medieval Origins

Another theory of how the nod came to be is that it was used by medieval knights who, when confronted by another knight wearing the very same coat of arms, would greet one other by nodding. However, some argue that the nod is simply a continuation of the wave developed in nations where motorcyclists ride on the left.

The Motorcycle Wave

Although the nod is appropriate in nations where driving on the right is the norm, the motorcycle wave is more frequently used. It can be done in a variety of ways, the most typical of which is to place your left hand beneath your handlebars and hold out two fingers, namely your middle and index fingers, to make a peace sign.

The purpose of waving with your two fingers extended in a peace sign is to emphasize the importance of keeping two tires on the road.

Other waves are also used to greet other riders on the road. These include the Left Hand High, the Straight Left Hand, and the right-handed wave, and they apply to different motorbikes in different places. The important is that you acknowledge other motorcyclists in a way that suits you and is most convenient for you.

The History of the Motorcycle Riders’ Wave

There are several theories about how the motorcycle wave came to be. However, the most popular accounts are the stories of greetings observed between Harley Davidson motorcycle developers Arthur Davidson and William Harley.

Harley Rider Origins

The most famous account of how the motorcycle wave began is that it originated in 1904 after Arthur Davidson and William Harley approached one another and waved in acknowledgment. It was noticed by a bystander and assumed to be riding etiquette, or so the story goes. This is why Harley riders typically greet fellow riders with the wave of a hand.

World War II Origins

Another version is based on the influx of homecoming war veterans who acquired a surplus of bikes following WWII. The quantity of motorbikes and veteran unity is thought to have given rise to biker culture, and back then, riders were eager to wave when passing each other on roadways.

It wasn’t simply a motorcycle thing, but it also had a lot to do with acknowledging fellow veterans. It may have given rise to the motorcycle wave commonly practiced in biker culture today.

Situations Where Waving or Nodding Is Not Advised

Sometimes, performing these gestures on busy roadways and highways can be extremely dangerous and put you at risk of being involved in a motorcycle accident.

If you are a new rider, you may not be familiar with rider safety or etiquette. To ensure your safety on the road, here are a few scenarios when you shouldn’t wave or nod.

When Traveling in Traffic

Taking your motorcycle to work in traffic on an average weekday involves a great deal of concentration for a motorcyclist. If motorcyclists are inattentive because they are focused on greeting other riders, the results could be devastating.

This is because motorbikes are smaller than other motor vehicles and often go unnoticed. In this scenario, it is advisable not to wave when traveling in traffic or if acknowledging other riders isn’t high on your priority list. Traveling safely is always more important than displaying etiquette on roadways.

If a Maneuver Involves Using Both Hands

When you’re in a position where you need to use your controls, you should not wave. In this case, a nod may be used, but if it takes your concentration away from the task at hand, it is preferable not to wave or nod. If you need to concentrate on your riding, don’t wave if you’re moving into a corner or if there is a chance that you may require your hand to operate the clutch lever.

When Turning a Corner

Turning around corners is hazardous for motorcyclists and is one of the most common causes of motorcycle crashes. Even though motorcycles are designed to give the driver control while going through turns, they might be hard to maneuver when going around a sharp bend.

You may also turn onto road debris as you near a turn, increasing the likelihood of an accident. It’s also hard for drivers, especially new riders, to tell how tight a corner is. Therefore, if the other rider waves at you, don’t break your focus to reciprocate the wave. Instead of waving, concentrate on the bend or return their gesture with a simple nod.

If Road Conditions Are Unfavorable

Should there be rain, snow, or stormy conditions, it isn’t typically advised to let go of your controls to greet other cruiser riders traveling in the opposite direction. This includes traveling at night. In such conditions, you may be able to execute the greeting flawlessly, but you may distract other drivers, which can cause them to lose control of their motorbikes.

When Driving Sport Bikes

BMW riders and riders of sports bikes often travel at higher speeds. This means they need to have both hands on the controls and their eyes focused on the road to avoid things getting out of control. Therefore, it is not advisable to nod or wave at drivers of these types of bikes, as it can cause them to lose concentration.

At Major Intersections and Road Crossings

At a red traffic light, you may greet another rider if your clutch has been pulled in with your right hand. In this case, a nod may be preferable.

If you’re in neutral gear and are merely awaiting a green light, you can wave at the other rider or strike up a quick conversation if you like. Simply keep your eyes on the road, the shifting lights, and the passing vehicles at all times.

Frequently Asked Questions

The section below answers your most pressing questions about the motorcycle nod or wave.

1. Is It Customary to Greet Scooter Riders?

Traditionally, scooter or moped riders were not considered motorcyclists for a variety of reasons. This is because they don’t follow any etiquette or road rules as they speed about passing vehicles on any side. They also tend not to stop at a red light or designated crossings.

They also cut in, zigzag between traffic and endangering others, and are overall a nuisance that gives motorcyclists a poor reputation. Therefore, for these reasons and more, it is not customary to greet the riders of mopeds and scooters.

2. What If My Greeting Is Not Returned?

Do not be angry or upset if your hand signal or nod is not reciprocated. There could be mitigating factors such as poor road conditions, shifting gears, avoiding a barrier in the road, glancing in their mirror, or they could be a beginner rider who does not feel secure enough to take their hand off the handles.

It’s also vital to note that owing to traffic conditions, you might not be able to return a wave yourself and that being safe is an essential element of riding. While you’re out on the roadway, have fun and wave to your fellow cyclists as you approach each other when it’s safe to do so.

3. What Does a Motorcycle Wave Mean?

The significance of the biker’s wave may not have been evident at first, but it is today recognized as a symbol of respect for fellow riders. It is simply a way to inform your fellow motorcyclists that you care and that somebody is watching out for them.

It also tells the other rider that you are aware of the risks they face in these times of congested highways and fast-paced lifestyles, where individuals often don’t give much attention to driving.

As the frequency of motorcycle accidents rises due to inattentive drivers on the road, concerns about rider safety are becoming increasingly important. Therefore, the traditional rider wave has also become a sign of caution to help riders avoid riding injuries.

Have You Been Involved in a Motorcycle Accident?

At Ehline Law, our mission is to assist our fallen motorcyclists to help them get back on their feet after being injured in a motorcycling crash. Although the road to recovery may be wrought with disappointments, long, or impossible, our team will be there with you every step of the way.

Our attorneys will take the time to understand the circumstances that led to your motorcycle accident. What time of day was it? What were the weather and road conditions? Did the driver who struck you violate any traffic laws? We will obtain and review the police report, identify and interview witnesses, and document your injuries and property damage. We also know it is critically paramount to gather up medical records from your medicating physicians so that we prove the breadth — and expense — of your serious bodily harm. By supervising a proper investigation, our top team can demonstrate how the other vehicle operator was responsible for your unfortunate situation.

Contact Ehline Law Firm Today!

When it comes to receiving compensation on behalf of our clients, we understand that insurance companies will make the best effort to settle claims for pennies on the dollar. Our legendary team will assure our clients that any final settlement amount will cover all of your past, present future financial, and medical necessities. If the insurance adjuster fails to offer you a just amount, we are chomping at the bit to litigate your serious injury case from start to finish. Regardless of the legal forum (federal court, state court, arbitration, mediation), we have the skill to help clients receive the maximum compensation, which is what they deserve. You or your loved ones can contact our Orange, San Diego, or Los Angeles locations today for a free consultation. We charge most people no upfront costs or attorneys fees. We only collect our share when we win your case.

To book your free case review and consultation or to find out more about motorcycle rules and laws, contact Ehline Law Firm by dialing (213) 596-9642 or completing the online form. The time to guess your future is over. We look forward to hearing from you and pointing you towards success!

Ehline Law Firm - Personal Injury Attorneys, APLC
Attorney at Law
Michael P. Ehline Esq.
Downtown Los Angeles Corporate Offices

Downtown Los Angeles Office
633 West 5th Street #2890
Los Angeles, CA 90071
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Los Angeles, CA 90071
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