Ever wonder why bikers wave at each other? Riding a motorcycle is something you don’t truly understand until you’ve done it. It can bring you some of the most enjoyable memories as well as the most frightening ones.
Despite modern technology providing us with realistic video games and POV motovlog videos online, there’s still no substitute for actually getting out there and experiencing it. The feeling of the wind, the smell of the fresh air, and the sounds of everything around you are all things that can’t be recreated.
But to me, the biggest thing people that haven’t ridden in real life are missing out on is the feeling of vulnerability. It’s impossible to explain what it feels like to be out in the open, riding a small vehicle, and surrounded by massive 3-ton chunks of metal (often being operated by drivers who aren’t paying attention).
Most of us don’t talk about it much because we’re used to it. But make no mistake – at times, it can be absolutely terrifying.
I don’t blame other drivers for not knowing what it’s like to be on a motorcycle. They’ve never been exposed to this feeling so they haven’t felt the weight of it. They just see motorcyclists as any other vehicle on the road. We aren’t though. We’re subject to a lot more danger.
A regular motorist might refer to a minor collision as a “fender bender” because that’s basically all that happens. When two cars tap each other at slow speed, there might be a bit of cosmetic damage but everyone walks away. In some cases, there might be some minor injuries or discomfort.
But for the most part, it’s just an annoyance. Serious accidents are a different story. Those are the ones that happen at higher speed and result in serious injuries or death. What I’m getting at is that car crashes come in different levels of severity.
For motorcyclists, nearly every collision is serious. There’s no such thing as a fender bender. There might only be minor damage to the vehicle that hit us, but chances are, we’ve been thrown off our bike or had our leg crushed between it and your car.
We’re either having a great day or a very bad one. There’s not much in between. Most of us are willing to take that risk. After all, we made the choice to ride a motorcycle. We know what the possible outcome is.
Why do bikers wave at each other?
You might have noticed that motorcycle riders will give each other a quick wave as we cross paths out in the wild. It might appear as though we know each other, but 99% of the time, we don’t. So why do bikers wave at each other?
A lot of riders will wave with 2 fingers, signifying the common ground of being out on 2 wheels. Most motorcyclists casually point toward the ground. Why? Try sticking your arm out the window of your car while going 60 MPH and you’ll know. It’s because the wind wants to grab it and rip it off your body. Keeping your hand low is much more comfortable.
Riding a motorcycle groups you into a brotherhood/sisterhood unlike any other vehicle I’ve seen. Sure, there are clubs, events, and gatherings catering to nearly every car or truck on the planet. But I’ve never felt as welcome among complete strangers as I do when I pull into a motorcycle event. We don’t know each other, but we know the other person simply gets it.
Part of the biker wave is a sign of respect because a fellow rider is someone who also lives life on their own terms and has no problem staring fear straight in the eye. The other half is a matter of offering our best wishes, or essentially saying “don’t die, bro”.
The funny thing is, I can usually tell when the driver of a car also happens to ride a motorcycle by the way they treat me on the road. I know, because I do the same things when I’m driving a car. There are certain things that can be done that will make the person on the motorcycle feel a bit more at ease while interacting with other motorists.
I’m going to use this article as a way to share some ways you can be kind to motorcyclists on the road. Sort of a glimpse of what we deal with for those of you that haven’t experienced it first hand. Most of these have nothing to do with any actual laws – they’re just friendly gestures that we really appreciate. So if you want to be an awesome person, here are a few things to consider:
Take an extra second to watch for motorcycles
Motorcycles can be a lot harder to spot on the road than cars. For starters, we only have one headlight. We’re also a 1/4 the size and can easily be lost in the shadows. Sometimes it’s our own fault for popping up out of nowhere at a high rate of speed.
But the fact remains; one of the first things a driver tells the police while the rider lays on the ground in pain is: “I didn’t even see him!“. That’s probably because they didn’t really look.
Pulling out in front of a motorcycle is one of the most dangerous and disrespectful things you can do. This gives off the message that getting to your destination as early as possible is more important than that rider’s life.
Part of the reason people forget to watch for motorcycles is because they’re seasonal. Bikes get put away in storage for a few months out of the year in winter climates like here in Canada. Come springtime, drivers aren’t used to seeing bikes on the road. And every spring, we see a bunch of motorcycle related fatalities in the news.
Please, please watch for us. We have families to go home to. Remember that we aren’t always big enough to trigger your blindspot monitors. Or we might be hidden in the shadow of the dump truck driving beside us.
If you only take one thing away from this entire article, please assume that there’s always a motorcycle coming before you turn out onto the highway. Once you’re positive there isn’t, you can carry on with your day. This will only add another second or two to your drive – but can absolutely save a life.
Leave your phone alone
Distracted driving is the leading cause of car crashes, superseding speeding and drunk driving. It’s become so bad that lawmakers have taken notice and begun handing out stiff fines and penalties for distracted drivers. We just talked about how important it is to watch for motorcycles. Well, that’s nearly impossible when you aren’t aware of your surroundings at all.
Bumping into the car in front of you at a red light because you were focusing on your newest text message is one thing. But playing with your phone when you’re near a motorcyclist is a huge slap in our face. You’re basically saying our lives are less important than an emoji. Remember, when you screw up because you can’t be bothered to pay attention, we get REALLY hurt.
Don’t follow too close to us
Tailgating is never a great idea, regardless of the vehicle you’re following. But I know for myself, nothing makes me see red more than looking in my mirror and seeing somebody’s front bumper right on my rear tire. Motorcycles can stop much faster than cars in a lot of situations.
So if the car in front of me slams on the brakes and I do the same, I know that you don’t have enough space to avoid hitting me.
Seeing a car or truck following too closely behind me tells me that if a light turns red or an animal jumps out into the road, I’m going to switch from being a motorcyclist to being a hood ornament. I’d much rather be a motorcyclist.
Giving adequate or even extra space between a motorcycle and yourself makes us feel so much safer. It’s a way to show that you value our life, and boy do we ever appreciate that. Don’t worry, you’ll still get to where you’re going on time too.
Stay off the yellow line
If you’re driving on a two-way road, pay attention and stay in your lane. Many of us motorcyclists have been trained to watch how your car’s wheels track in relation to the lines on the road.
When you start creeping toward, on, or OVER the yellow line into oncoming traffic, it’s a big-time pucker moment for us. We know that unless you swerve back into your lane in time, there’s a good chance we have seconds left to live.
If we truly believe that you’re going to hit us head-on, we might even overreact and swerve onto the gravel shoulder (if there is one). When you’re riding on 2 skinny tires, that’s not exactly a good time.
Don’t pass on a double yellow line
Those lines are designed for a reason. If they’re both solid, that means it’s too hard to see an oncoming vehicle due to a hill or bend in the road. I have seen so many drivers get frustrated behind a line of traffic and choose to take this risk.
The problem is, if there does happen to be another vehicle coming and you both have to swerve to avoid a head-on collision, there’s a good chance that one of you is going to hit us. That makes you impatient. It makes us dead.
Don’t throw your cigarette butt out the window
You might not realize it, but when you toss your cigarette out the window with a motorcycle behind you, it can hit us in the face. That can really hurt at 60 MPH! I know this is often done without thinking by someone who doesn’t understand the consequences.
Think of it this way: you wouldn’t flick your cigarette butt in a biker’s face when you’re walking into a restaurant, so try not to do it on the road. The outcome might just be the same in both cases, so don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Keep your wheels on the road
You’d think this one would be obvious, but apparently it’s not. Dropping a wheel onto the gravel shoulder to squeeze around a vehicle or simply because you aren’t paying attention is a really rude thing to do.
First of all, your tire treads will grab onto rocks and literally throw them at us. It also kicks up a huge cloud of dust that blocks our vision, gets in our eyes and goes up our nose. Remember, we’re out in the elements. We have to ride through that mess you just created!
Don’t get mad when a motorcycle has their high beams on
I know some riders that will keep their high beams on even when they’re riding during the day. It’s possible that you’ll notice a headlight you otherwise would have missed if it’s slightly brighter. Could that be the difference between a collision happening or not? Maybe.
Another reason for a rider to keep their high beam on is simply because their low beam isn’t bright enough at night. I know older Harley Davidsons are notorious for poor light output, especially on country roads. They aren’t doing it to be a jerk, they just can’t see!
It’s worth noting that the high beam of a motorcycle is nowhere near as blinding to oncoming traffic as the high beams of a car. They might give you a bit more glare, but they won’t cause an accident or hurt your eyes. We’re just trying to survive on those dark roads so if you cut us some slack, that’d be awesome.
Move over for lane splitters
This one really only applies to people in California, because that’s the only place where lane splitting is legal as far as I know. Lane splitting is when the motorcycle rides between the cars in 2 lanes of traffic. Some feel this is safer while others think it’s dangerous.
I’ve noticed in some motovlog videos that the occasional driver will see the bike approaching in their mirror and adjust their position in their lane to make extra room for them. Others purposely try to block them because they feel they don’t deserve to get ahead.
There’s no law stating that you’re required to move out of the way of lane splitting motorcyclists, but if you do, it’ll certainly score you some points with the rider. They might even give you your own little biker wave for being a nice guy/gal.
If they’re so unsafe, why do people still ride motorcycles?
Good question. For some of us, it’s a choice that we make. We love the feeling of freedom and the excitement of being out on the open road. For others, it’s the only mode of transportation they can afford. Motorcycles are generally less expensive and more fuel efficient than cars.
Riding a motorcycle has made me a better driver. It makes you more aware of the consequence of not paying attention or making abrupt movements. I have more respect for other motorists now. I’m definitely much better at being aware of my surroundings and keeping my head on a swivel.
Car manufacturers are doing more and more these days to separate the driver from the outside environment. Smooth suspension, sound deadening, thick windows, 25 cupholders and massaging seats make driving more like a spa day. Riding a motorcycle is the opposite and some of us enjoy the minimalist experience.
Viewing the world from a motorcycle is a lot different than inside of a car. You can see more, you smell more, and you notice more. The best part is that you aren’t watching it all go past through a small window. You’re out there. Every ride feels like an adventure.
Sure, it’s more dangerous than driving a car. So is rock climbing and skydiving, but lots of people do that too. Taking calculated risks is often what makes you feel alive.
Hopefully this has given you a small look at what things are like from a motorcyclist’s perspective. I can’t speak for everyone, but most of us take full responsibility for the dangers of riding a bike. We’ve accepted that risk. We also really appreciate when other motorists make simple gestures to keep us safe. You might not have known how much some of these things impact us but they do.
For my fellow riders that are reading this, feel free to share it on your social media to spread the word. All it takes is for one person to say “oh, I never thought of that!” and we might just have saved a life. Stay safe out there my friends.