Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The Not-So-Secret Handshake

The Not So Secret Handshake
by Allan Karl, WorldRider
Canadian Ice Fields Parkway

There are no dues, no terms and conditions, no regular or formal meetings, but when you ride a motorcycle you automatically become a member of a club, an organization of men, women, boys and girls who share only one common activity — they ride a motorcycle. Don't get me wrong, one doesn't have to OWN a motorcycle to be in this club. No, one merely needs to ride a motorcycle. You could be a member for one day or a lifetime.
While there are no club rules, each member shares the common decency to treat each other with respect regardless of the type, brand, or model motorcycle he or she might own or ride. When a motorcycle ride comes to a pit stop, food break or a “call it a day” stop at a hotel, campground or way-by, one can expect gentle nods of acknowledgement, scanning eyes over the motorcycle or a simple exchange of pleasantries.

Even so, the real acknowledgement and recognition of a club member comes when riding the great roads and trails of our world. If you've never ridden a motorcycle you probably won’t understand this, but for us riders, we know and each of us has our unique style and delivery. Though this nod of respect and recognition is a signal—an acknowledgement—that you are a member of the club: you are riding a motorcycle.

Though there are often exceptions, this acknowledgement occurs less in the hustle and bustle of day-to-day city or suburban riding, than it does on the winding and twisting backroads or long stretches of interstate. Yet, no matter where I’ve ridden in the world, it is practiced by virtually every rider I've seen.

I am referring to our club's official, and yet, not so secret handshake.

It can catch you by surprise when you're concentrating on your riding or when your mind wanders and your eyes take in the scenery. Yet as one oncoming motorcycle approaches another, and each rider speeds toward each other, in the few moments that they pass, the motorcycles exchange a gentle wave of acknowledgment. It doesn’t matter who initiates the wave, there is always a reciprocal wave back. The not-so-secret handshake.
Baja California - (Labeled as "The Road to Coco")

This wave, or virtual handshake, comes in all sizes, shapes and flavors. For over 200,000 miles of riding, I've kept a mental inventory of the different types of waves.

For some, the rider simply lifts his left hand off the handlebar and with full 90-degree extension and turns his or her palm toward you. After you pass, the rider then rests their hand back to his handlebars.

Other riders are more creative. There's the low wave usually practiced by cruisers. The rider drops his hand below the handlebars and extends his or her arm at 45-degrees from the body and then brings it back to the handlebar. It’s a smooth and precise move, almost automatic. A pleasant variation of the cruiser wave is a show of gloved fingers forming a peace-sign. Sweet.

Keep in mind these subtle handlebar releases and hand motions happen at all speeds and all driving conditions. One day a rider, swathed in bright red leathers and a brightly colored full-face helmet, zoomed toward me while we both rounded a beautifully banked and decreasing-radius turn. He lifted his hand, bent his arm at the elbow and presented a formal wave from his wrist, that would have had the Queen of England in envy.

I personally like those who prefer to use the "I'm going to acknowledge I'm in the club but remain cool wave." This is when the rider simple raises his or her hand off the handle bar about six to ten inches and then slowly and surely drops it back down, resting it back on the grip.

Motorcyclists riding two-up have their own code of handshake or wave acknowledgement. Sometimes the rider does the work. While others it's simply the passenger. But when you get the double whammy—where both pilot and passenger extend their hands, often in sync, you hit pay dirt.

There's no training or induction into this club. Each rider, with experience, develops his or her style. The Motorcycle Safety Foundation doesn't tell you how. I'm sure the Harley Owners Group (HOG) or the BMW Owners Association (BMWOA) don’t offer a pictorial of styles in its magazines or online. One thing is for sure, the mutual admiration, and respect brings to each rider a feeling of belonging. It’s part of the motorcycle rider’s pride.

Perhaps no other group, whether its motor vehicle owners, sports fans, collectors or hobbyists, share and experience this feeling in such a random and offhand manner.

For me, I've been known to employ a few different styles and then mix them up—depending on how I'm feeling at the time. If you catch me riding toward you, you might get a peace sign, a two-finger scouts-honor type-gesture, or perhaps a gentle lift of my hand off my grip that is coordinated with a subtle nod towards you of my helmet.

What’s your style? Welcome to the club!

About Allan Karl
Allan Karl, who is also known as WorldRider, is known for his three-year solo journey around-the-world on his BMW F650GS. He is the author of “FORKS. Three Years. Five Continents. One Motorcycle. A Quest for Culture, Cuisine, and Connection. He is a professional speaker, photographer and digital marketing consultant. He lives in Leucadia, California but rides all over the world.

www.allankarl.com (professional speaker)
www.worldrider.com (travel and worldrider blog)
www.twitter.com/worldrider (twitter)
www.facebook.com/worldrider.pro (Facebook)

© 2013 Allan Karl, WorldRider Productions


  1. Very nicely written. I'm proud and happy to enjoy membership in this exclusive club. The subtle greeting on the highways and backroads everywhere--an acknowledgement of membership--is just a bonus.

    Thanks for posting.


  2. Here in the UK we have the almost universal "nod" - which can be a "bow" from the neck or more commonly a "inclination" towards the oncoming "broker" or "sister". In Europe this is replaced entirely with the left hand and arm pointing at bewteen 90 and 45 degrees from the virtical (depening on how French you are feeling at the time) - aiming towards the curb - or slightly behind. Why the difference? Driving on the Left makes it impractial to wave with your Clutch arm and problematic to gesture with the throttle hand.. thus the Nod in the UK. Ride safe !

  3. I love the different styles and the brotherhood that membership simply be riding brings together! thanks for your comments !