Two fingers of history, please.

To wave or not to wave at other riders when riding your bike: that is the (very modern) question. Some riders like to wave at each other, while others prefer to nod. Additional riders may choose to keep on going and never acknowledging you at all. Ask any number of riders what they think, and you’ll probably get just as many answers as the total number of riders you ask.  

I, for the record, almost always wave unless it’s unsafe to do so. If I’m too busy clutching, for example, I’ll simply offer a nod instead. I like acknowledging other riders out on the road, no matter what they’re riding. That’s my personal preference, and you may feel differently, and you’re also more than welcome to your own opinions on the matter. But where did the wave come from in the first place? 

Ride for any amount of time, and you’re extremely likely to hear the misty Harley-Davidson origin story for all motorcycle waving habits everywhere. That’s one possible origin story, as Gastro Racing explores in this video.

However, the video also acknowledges that as two-wheeled, motorized conveyances began to pop up all over the planet, they also did so in a variety of cultures. Did a wave of Honda-induced friendliness really kickstart the moto-wave later on? 

The thing is, while some cultures were major participants in World War II, others weren’t. Also important is the fact that while some drive on the right-hand side of the road, others drive on the left. Thus, road behavior among motorcyclists and car users evolved differently, as well.

That’s why our own Jacob Black wrote about his preference to nod, rather than wave—after all, he grew up riding in Australia. Riding is a bit different there it is in the U.S. or Canada. That’s not necessarily good or bad, but it is a factor. 

This video leans heavily on U.S. cultural touchstones and motorcycle culture to make the argument that the bike wave became such a major thing due to ‘60s and ‘70s hippie influences. While America definitely has had and continues to have its own bike culture and various sub-cultures, there are also many more riders and bike cultures in the world outside American borders.  

Places with big commuter bike cultures, for example, are far less likely to also have waving as an ingrained bike reflex. I mean, would you want to basically stand around waving at every single person throughout your entire commute in stop-and-go traffic? Probably not.