I was reading a thread on a bike web site recently entitled “Do you nod?” which was the old nutmeg about whether or not riders should greet each other on the road, and if so what form that greeting should take.
It reminded me of an article I read in a bike mag back in the eighties, wherein the writer was lambasting motorcyclists who were too lazy to lift a left hand off the handlebar; he seemed to think that a mere flash of a headlight, or still worse, a barely perceptible nod of the helmet, wasn’t sufficient acknowledgement to greet a brother of the road.
Recently I bought a bike in Exeter, which, given my dislike of motorways and my tendency to happily meander, left me with a delightful ride home to London via Lyme Regis, West Bay, and Winchester. It was a glorious Good Friday and there was plenty of two-wheeled traffic on the roads, so I decided to conduct a little experiment and every time another bike passed, I raised my left hand in an unambiguous greeting.
To my surprise, more riders than I might have expected, actually returned the gesture – albeit a little sheepishly in many cases – and pillions seemed to be particularly enthusiastic, which is hardly surprising when they’ve probably spent ages sitting crouched passively on the back of a bike. To be honest, I might well have got an even better response if I hadn’t been handicapped by the fact that I was riding a scooter. Then again, it was funny to watch an R1 rider proudly raise his hand, only to snatch it down before anyone else noticed, when he realised that he’d just saluted a scooter.
I wasn’t even bothered that many of the snootier riders acted like I was some sort of social-climbing saddo, who clearly didn’t understand that the mere fact that I was riding a scooter made me a motorcycling pariah who was unworthy to clean the bugs off their visors. Whatever. Back in 1981 when I was riding a 1979 black & gold Ducati 900SS, I was so full of the joys of motorcycling that I gleefully waved to everybody and anybody, whether they were riding café racers, tourers, scooters or mopeds. I’d even wave back to a Reliant Robin if the driver waved at me.
Even when I was a youngster playing run-outs on an adventure playground with my mates, I’d often spot a kid loitering bashfully, obviously trying to get up the nerve to ask if he could play too; and because I’ve never been afflicted with shyness myself, I’d always ask them if they’d like to join us to take a short-cut through what to me seemed to be a painfully convoluted process, when it was obvious to my ten year old mind that all that most of us want is someone else to play with.
Of course there are plenty of people who are perfectly happy with their own company, and they should be entitled to the space to enjoy it without any happy clappy bastards demanding that they come and join them for a group hug; but at the same time there are also a great many people out there, who, given the opportunity, would prefer to have somebody or bodies to share their experiences with. This is true in all areas of life, but particularly among people involved in an activity that is capable of producing exhilaration, fear and ecstasy in a single journey.
So I’m with the 80’s journalist, Springsteen, Janis Joplin and Eddie Floyd on this one: “Raise Your Hand”. Why don’t you join us? And don’t be shy or half arsed about it, get it up there. Anything short of a full fascist salute is entirely appropriate to hail a fellow traveller.
Be careful out there
This editorial first appeared in the print edition of issue 119 of The Rider’s Digest in August 2007