I don’t know anything about the history of the old biker tradition to wave at each other when meeting on the road – but if I should venture a guess, I would say that it goes back to the Stone Age. Back then, I imagine, only the really tough and angry cave men rode motorcycles since all two-wheelers were made of stone and didn’t have engines – it was a pretty slow affair. When two biking cave men met each other on the road (which were rarely paved back then, I think), they showed each other their open palms to demonstrate that they weren’t hiding a hand axe or any other weapon. And that is how the biker salute was invented … (the more I think about this theory, the more it makes sense).
From my own experience, I can attest that the rules and guidelines regulating the biker salute have been globally ratified (as part of the Geneva conventions if I remember my high school history class correctly) and are observed by bikers all over the world. The most important rule, of course, is the ban on greeting anybody on a bike under 100cc – do that during your motorcycle demonstration skills test and you’ll be barred from getting your license for a minimum of 25 years!
While the biker salute is definitely a universal tradition, there are varying degrees of enthusiasm with which bikers greet each other. In the deserted Northern provinces of Norway, where seeing other humans, let alone bikers, is a rare treat, a typical biker salute lasts about 2.24 seconds longer than the international average. In motorcycle-crazy Italy (see my blog post from February), the salute usually comes with a slice of pizza and a glass of Chianti. But no country, absolutely no country, that has ever had the fortune of being honored with my presence, is home to more enthusiastically waving bikers than the good ol’ United States. Across six lanes and a 50ft median strip, at the apex of a tight turn, in the darkest of nights, or during torrential downpours, often with the left hand way up in the air, hog riders and crouch rocketeers alike greet with a child-like excitement that puts a smile on my face every time. American bikers make sure you feel their love – short of getting off their bikes to give you a hug. It’s heart-warming, smile-inducing, and very telling of the way Americans interact with each other as human beings (any questions about why I picked the US over Northern Germany as the place I call home these days?).
But (and you knew there was a ‘but’) – one thing seems to be missing. What happens on an American road when you pass a slower bike riding in the same direction? … Nothing. Bika luv – no mo’!
Even the grumpiest of all European bikers, my very dear homies from Northern Germany, will acknowledge your presence as they’re racing past you on your left while you’re moving down the Autobahn at a slower speed (no passing on the right in Germany, thankyouverymuch). How do they do that? They stick their right foot out for a second, very much the same way you would when you were warning a biking friend behind you of a hazardous item on the road ahead.
Incidentally, that is also how you say thanks to European car drivers that have pulled over to let you pass.
Why am I telling you this? I have a little social experiment in mind. I want to see if I can teach Americans to adopt this foot salute when passing bikes going in the same direction. I’d love for this to catch on in the States – mostly because I want to tell my grand-children that I contributed to the advancement of this fine nation but also because I don’t want to wonder anymore if the cruisers I often pass on the Blue Ridge Parkway think that I am trying to insult them by sticking my foot out … would hate to lose a few teeth over this at the next overlook.
So, if reading this post made you smile at least once, please join the foot salute movement.
And I am closing with a sentence that I never thought I’d say: hope to see your right foot soon!