Gestures

When travelling the roads of the world, some of you will notice that many motorcyclists wave to each other as they pass. There are several forms of gesture, from the nod, to the upright hand wave, drop-v and left boot wiggle. What is the significance of these gestures and who does them? Well I don’t think there’s an official version, but the style of gesture, and who uses them varies greatly depending upon who you are and where you’re from.

Mostly these gestures are about recognition of status between bikers. Whenever I’m out and about on the Mutt, I’ve noticed that the gestures are most widespread amongst those riding European style. The observant among you will also register that North American Harley riders for example very rarely acknowledge anyone unless they’re riding another Massey Ferguson Harley Davidson. Even so, the habit is not widespread among them. Some people think there’s a certain cachet to owning a Harley, personally I disagree. Yes, those big old v-twins have lots of low down grunt, but back in the day, some of the guys I knew who bought them said the electrics were worse than Ducatis, Anyway, that’s by the by. Generally speaking, Harley riders rarely salute anyone but other Harley or Indian riders.

To be honest, there’s often a bit of snobbery here. There is a partisan faction that believes Harleys are the only machine worth having and that ‘rice burners’ (Honda, Suzuki, Kawasaki etc, even BMW’s) are not fit to share the same roads. So, fellas, you’re not Marlon Brando fans then? He rode a 1950 Triumph Thunderbird 6T (Not a Speed Twin – cheers Ripper) in the iconic bike flick ‘The Wild one‘. To which I would also add; screw you, I’ve ridden in every weather condition short of a Tornado for over three freaking decades and I’ll ride what I do because it works for me. Don’t need your permission. Go way son, you’re bothering me.

However, the thought does occur that the feet out high handlebar ‘Easy rider’ style adopted by many big V-Twin riders is not exactly conducive to making hand gestures. Perhaps they don’t gesture because it is too difficult to take one hand off the handlebars while in motion, unlike the European style of machine that is increasingly common over here in BC, which is more stable and allows the rider a free left hand.

The etiquette, if such a word can be applied to rough, tough motorbikey types is that only those who ‘live to ride’ or are serious about their riding tend to give these gestures. Never in town, too many hazards. Generally these gestures are only made while on the open road and in motion. Of course if you’re purely a weekend warrior or the rider of a smaller machine like a Honda cub or similar, no one expects it. Nor is there any acknowledged requirement to do so. It’s just the done thing. A salute, a tip of the hat, the acknowledgement of a kindness, a recognition. That’s mostly all it is. We are simply acknowledging our difference from the common herd.

Because let’s face it, riding a motorcycle and surviving for any length of time, in itself is the mark of an individual cut from less common cloth. More switched on. Motorcyclists have to be vastly more alert than most car drivers because we have to do their observing for them. Don’t argue this point, a rider who is inattentive or careless soon pays the penalty because all those idiots in tin boxes are mostly that, idiots. They fiddle with radios, take cell phone calls without hands free, drink coffee, argue with passengers, don’t bother to look or indicate when turning or changing lanes and all other manner of inattentiveness which is the biggest killer on the road. Forget drunk driving or speeding, the biggest cause of all road casualties is the air between the ears, which motorcycle riders, at a deeply visceral level, understand all too well. Which is why so many of us often acknowledge each other. It’s a badge of pride. Of commonality. A kind of “Well done, you’re still breathing. Keep it up.”

As for the type of gesture, this varies from place to place. I’ve seen everything from a sidelong nod to the very French left boot wiggle, but let’s deal with the main ones;


The standard wave; raised left hand upright, palm forward, fingers closed. This is very old school and the most primitive of gestures in the riders lexicon. It just means “Hi.” between riders. Nothing more.


The low wave; fingers loosely spread, thumb out. A general low energy greeting. Meaning; all is cool from whence I have come.


The drop vee; A very continental European variant. Originally from France and Italy (I think). Sort of an upside down V for Victory with the thumb held wide. A more exuberant version of the low wave. General greeting of coolness. Even Bike cops have been observed making this gesture.

The low thumbs up; No image as this is self explanatory. Thumb up, wrist rotated back. Bit of a Fonzie “Heeeyyy!” gesture. Sort of a “Nice day for riding” gesture.
The low wave repeated as though patting; This does have a specific meaning, it means “Slow down” it warns of a hazard ahead. Might be a speed trap, might be a crack up. Take care.
The left boot wiggle; as is suggested. Left boot off footpeg, leg angled out, foot briefly wiggled. Very Francais this. Tres continental. Means ‘thank you’ or ‘murky buckets’ depending on your native tongue. This gesture is almost universal in France and is given to both other riders and car drivers for giving way or any other courtesy.

Well folks, it’s another nice BC day and I will be taking Mrs S out for a spin later after I’ve watered the plants and had breakfast. If anyone can add to the above, the rest of us await enlightenment.

9 thoughts on “Gestures”

  1. The Hinckley Bonnies do have a very uncomfortable seat but there are lots of after market seat options, I went for a Burton seat myself. I hear you regarding the Meriden Bonnies vibrating themselves apart, at various points in my life I owned 2 1969 T120s and they would have done the same if it were not for the fact that I’ve always been a weekend wrencher. But it wasn’t only Triumphs at that time, I’ve had Nortons and Ariels that did the same. Hinckley Bonnies are nothing like that, they do have common problems, too many to list here, but mostly easy to cure. In 2008 the Hinckley Bonnie went from 790cc to 865cc and was given electronic fuel injection. This wasn’t accepted too well by the carb diehards but its simply more reliable in every way, and these EFI models also had a lot of the common problems cured. In 2016 the Hinckley Bonnie became water cooled and went from 865cc to 1200cc with loads of additions such as LED lighting and RFID immobilizer on the ignition.

    I also agree with you about the engine sound of the triple. Previous to the Bonnie I had a 1996 Adventurer 900 which I owned for 9 years. I loved that bike but always struggled with the weight and seat height, so when I had the money I reluctantly traded it. My dream bike was the Rocket (strangely, lighter than the Adventurer by about 100 kilos) but I knew from the start that I would never achieve one.

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  2. Actually Bill, the bike used by Brando in The Wild One, was a 1960 Triumph Thunderbird 6T. The Speed Twin 5TA was a 500cc which engine was used in the Tiger 100 after the 5TA ceased production in 1966. The Thunderbird was (to me) a very interesting bike in the sense that it was the first bike, and the only Triumph model I had seen, with a ‘Slickshift’ gearbox (gear lever operated the clutch for clutchless gear changes). The outstanding characteristic of its appearance was the 4 chrome lines which ran horizontally along the tank, incorporating the tank badges. I’m a big Triumph fan, so I hope you don’t mind the correction.

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    1. Bugger. That teaches me not to properly check my sources. I’m a Triumph fan too, even though I don’t have one at present. Hold hard. 1960? The movie was released in 1953, so they’d have had to get Brando to ride something out of a time warp.

      Having checked, it was a 1950 Thunderbird 6T. Corrected.

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      1. Ha! Yes I stand corrected. One of the highlights of my life was a factory tour, arranged by my daughter for my 60th birthday. At the time Triumph were building a visitor centre and were not doing factory tours, but the ‘customer experience coordinator’, a Mr. George Adamson, said that since it was my 60th and I’m such a big fan, he laid on a special VIP tour just for me. I chatted to him all the way round the factory and got a few ‘secrets’. The tour finished back in the main foyer where he wished me a happy birthday and presented me with a bag full of merch. Today I got a father’s day card, with a photo of me standing in the Triumph factory foyer on the front. Certainly a memory to treasure.

        I’ve always owned Triumph when I could get (afford) one though I have owned Hondas and Suzukis as well in the past. Yams always seemed to have carb problems and Kwaks weak frames so I never bothered with those brands. Currently own a sweet little 2010 Hinckley Bonneville which I have personalised to the max.

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        1. Always heard good things about Hinckley. Glad they treated you right and that you’ve got a daughter who knows your perversions so well. Did look at a Bonnie, but my opinion of them has always been coloured by the old 70’s Meriden output. First thing you had to do when you bought one was to strip it down completely and Loctite all the bolts or it would vibrate itself to bits. Did test ride a 2004 model, but the saddle was too hard for my liking. Love the Triumph Triples though and owned a ’98 900 ST for four years. The sound of that gorgeous three cylinder engine still puts a smile on my face.

          My wish list bike was a Trophy 1200, but my budget took me to a second hand Honda ST1300.

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  3. In U.K. , well Scotland, if I, a motorist, signal (maybe just a single flash) and move over enough to let a biker overtake, or undertake in a jam, I sometimes get a foot out or low V sign.
    Nice to be acknowledged.

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