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« The Paris Galibier Frame | Main | Cyclists live longer »

The Wave

A wave of the hand has to be one of the most simple and yet basic of human gestures.

A wave can say, “Hi,” or it can say, Thank you.”

Most important a wave to a stranger is saying “I acknowledge your existence, I am not ignoring you.

The wave immediately says, “I am friendly towards you.” Even the most hostile and aggressive of drivers, will give another driver a thank you wave, if they slow and let them in.

In fact if you don’t get a thank you wave, you feel slightly offended, somehow deprived, “Hey, I let you in and I didn’t get a thank you wave, where’s my thank you wave?”

Some cyclists will not return a wave to another cyclist, or will not do so unless they are wearing Lycra like them. Total bull-shit. I know it must be terribly hard if you are lying down comfortably on those aero bars, to struggle up to give a proper wave, but at least raise a finger or even the whole hand; make the effort.

Unless you are a serious time-trialist, or tri-athlete, it might be a good excuse to dump the aero bars. Set yourself free to sit up and wave to the whole world.

I wave to everybody when I am riding; not just people who look like me, other people on any kind of a bike, those walking, running, or on skate-boards; even ladies pushing babies in strollers. They are all people like me, out getting some fresh air, and exercise. Most times, I get a wave back but not always; I don’t feel deprived or offended if I don’t.

There are many low-income black people where I live; they ride bikes as their only means of transport. (They mostly ride on the wrong side of the road, unfortunately, so I get to greet the head-on.) I always wave and usually get a smile and a greeting back. One guy went in to hysterics and I could hear him still laughing from some distance after I passed him.

I guess my gesture was a huge source of amusement to him; at least it made him laugh, so I guess he was happy. I can hear him telling his friends, “One of those crazy white people on a bike, waved at me.”

If I see a driver waiting to turn in front of me, or pull out from a side road, I give a wave. This time it is more of an attention getter, “See me, I’m over here.” Rather like the wave to a waiter in a busy restaurant.

However, it is still a friendly gesture, and the driver may interpret it as, “Thank you for waiting, and not pulling in front of me. Often they will wave back, which is very nice; it means they have seen me, but more important they acknowledge my existence, and my right to be on the road.

A wave costs me nothing, and yet it gives so much. It gives me a great deal of satisfaction and pleasure, makes my ride a better experience.

If you are not in the habit of waving, I can recommend it. It is good for the soul, yours and your fellow travelers.

Reader Comments (26)

Well, I generally keep my hands on the handlebars and give a nod and a "good morning" or similar instead, but I guess the thought's roughly the same.
April 30, 2008 | Unregistered Commenter araqnid
I must say I am a little indifferent about giving the wave. I choose to wave at who I think deserves my acknowledgement. Most casual and transportation riders get my wave. But, riders out "training" for their local "world championship"? No wave.
April 30, 2008 | Unregistered Commenter Mark Manson
Heck, I went one better than a wave. On my commute in this morning, I crossed paths with another biker and we biked together, chatting about wheels until it was time for me to turn off.

I like bike people...
April 30, 2008 | Unregistered Commenter bother yam
We used to keep a tally of the ratio of people who returned our greetings on our bike rides.

While I cannot find the numbers right now, I do remember that early morning and winter biking had the highest response rate. Noon rides had the lowest. Lower Hidden Falls had the highest responses around noon, Great Rivers did better during the morning and the Midtown Greenway always was at the bottom.

My wife thinks I am completely weird for greeting everyone, but I agree that it is nice to be acknowledged. One of the things I like about biking is the immediacy with the surroundings, and to pay attention to some things and not other people seems antithetical.
April 30, 2008 | Unregistered Commenter Bujiatang
Ah, the wave. Yes, back when I drove British sports cars it was a way of connecting with others of similar persuasion. When I got back into riding bikes, I'd also wave to people with similar bikes, i.e. not ones with "safety levers" or, later, riding department store mountain bikes. It's a bit different today with so many people riding "carbon wonders" as status symbols, like they're showing of expensive golf clubs or other pricey stick-and-ball gear. Sure, if they wave to me, I wave back, but otherwise I only wave to those riding vintage road bikes.
April 30, 2008 | Unregistered Commenter johnb
I agree. Should I wave to my fellow humans or keep my hands on the bars and shave one silly milosecond off my commute? Any easy action that gives cyclists a better name is worth the effort.
April 30, 2008 | Unregistered Commenter Ryan
I think you mentioned something like this a gew months ago and it started me waving at drivers as a thank you for no running me over gesture.

Best to engender good feeling.
April 30, 2008 | Unregistered Commenter leroy
I give "The Nod" to just about anybody on anysort of bike. I reserve "The Wave" to people I know.
April 30, 2008 | Unregistered Commenter Grump
A very good idea - always acknowledge a friendly motorist with a wave !

Mark Petry
Bainbridge Island, WA
April 30, 2008 | Unregistered Commenter mpetry912
When I owned only mountain bikes, I disliked roadies who were too snobbish to wave.

Now that I've added a road bike to the mix, I often find myself on the other side of the coin: I wave from my road bike and it's my fellow mountain bikers who ignore me.

I feel sorry for anyone who gets on a bike and still takes the world so seriously that the can't share a simple, friendly gesture.
April 30, 2008 | Unregistered Commenter Tim
I try to wave to fellow riders on my commute -- I mean, we're both out here in a big city, somewhat marginalized in a car society, why not acknowledge each other? But sometimes I wonder if the women interpret it differently, which only reinforces the point that not enough people waive to make it normal.

I'm also big on the "thanks for seeing me and not running into me" to cars, especially where they could have just made their turn in the intersection and make me brake in my right of way.
April 30, 2008 | Unregistered Commenter Anonymous
"Will Smith sang, "Nod Ya Head .."
Works for me as waving requires taking your hand off that bar.
Besides, I don't do Queen Elisabeth justice with my admittedly poor technique ...
April 30, 2008 | Unregistered Commenter wrw
like so many others here, I give either a nod or wave, or even a 'hello' as I go by. It is part of what makes riding enjoyable to me
April 30, 2008 | Unregistered Commenter iTripped
Depends a bit on cultural background, I think, and also where you ride. I'll often nod my head to acknowledge another rider if there's only the two of us out on a lonely road, or maybe raise the fingers up off the handlebar, but other than that, there are way too many people riding bikes around here. Plus, I'm out to ride, not to socialize. I've never waved. It seems a little excessive and it's just not me. It's no more unusual to encounter another cyclist than it is to encounter another car when driving. But I will definitely always acknowledge someone who does wave at me when I'm riding, even if I do find it a little silly in this day and age.
April 30, 2008 | Unregistered Commenter Anonymous
I remember hearing somewhere that the wave originated in ancient times, as a show of not being armed.
April 30, 2008 | Unregistered Commenter Hocam
I, too, wave to those that acknowledge that I have the right of way. It's positive reinforcement for you- the next cyclist they come across. Spread the love.
May 1, 2008 | Unregistered Commenter Anonymous
The wave is also a hot topic in the motorcycle crowd. Harley riders don't wave at the sport bikes and vise versa. I ride a Triumph tiger and wave at everyone when they don't wave back I assume they are afraid of letting go and losing control. On a bicycle I usually wave or say hello. Tend to wave more now that I ride with an mp3 player. Guess I'm a little loud scares the shit out of them.
May 1, 2008 | Unregistered Commenter Jimbo
Where I live (the south), I wave (or nod) at nearly everone, and nearly every one waves back. The farmer on the tractor, the caretaker at the country ame church, the field laborers at the sod or horse farms, and "DUI cyclists"(those forced to ride their daughters undersized pink or purple department store bike because they lost thier drivers license), all usually give an enthusiastic wave back. The only people who seem to be caught off guard and finally give a tentative wave back are, you guessed it, other road cyclists.
May 1, 2008 | Unregistered Commenter Anonymous
When I started riding about 8 years ago on coast hwy 101 in North San Diego County, I was pleasantly surprised when bicyclists who passed me (as most did) always said "good morning". Since I am am old guy usually panting away I always managed to "hi" back! I guess that riding a bicycle is like walking a basset hound. It says something about you as a person and makes you very approachable. I have never met a nasty tempered bicyclist.
May 1, 2008 | Unregistered Commenter Moonlight Mark
jimbo, says: "Tend to wave more now that I ride with an mp3 player." Hmm, I've never seen a serious cyclist with plugged into an mp3 player and I'm sure it's illegal in most jurisdictions. But, hey, if you wave at least it's a good sign you're actually aware of others on the road and not totally lost in your music.
May 1, 2008 | Unregistered Commenter johnb
Thanks Dave! Well put. Nothing puts me off more than a non-waving cyclist. I always wave, even when we are on our group rides. Luckily I do see more wavers than non-wavers. And there are lots of folks who do like to chat when you are out on a ride or a commute. I like that aspect of cycling.
May 1, 2008 | Unregistered Commenter Dana
Never seen Dame Edna without the glasses.
May 1, 2008 | Unregistered Commenter Anonymous
I'm pretty sure I've saved myself from crashes giving friendly waves to innatentive moterists.

The other day I was going fast down a street and a woman walked out right in front of me. When she saw me barreling down on her she froze like a deer in headlights but I just glanced back and swerved well into the other lane while giving her a friendly smile and wave. She laughed and waved back and I felt like I'd both avoided a crash and made a connection for a moment by being friendly instead of annoyed.
May 1, 2008 | Unregistered Commenter Brady
Karma-it just comes back to you.
May 1, 2008 | Unregistered Commenter Anonymous
I wave, its a nice way to connect. Sometimes I do feel displeasured when I don't receive anything back haha, maybe its time to change all that for wave for wave's sake.
May 4, 2008 | Unregistered Commenter Ron

I'll pretty much wave at anyone. Most wave back, it's good just form. Safety starts when the other person can see you. Waving is good for all of us. When the waving seems to stop is when myself and my mates (co riders} here in California, blow past the Lycra folks on our 20 year old bikes. They don't seem to wave much. It's cool. We all ride bikes,it's all the same family.

Hope to see ya out there some day soon,

May 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterGreg Fling
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