"The Wave" is like a secret handshake among motorcyclists, a way of acknowledging like-minded two-wheeled travelers while passing through the seas of automotive traffic that dominate public roads.
Most riders distinguish each other with a simple hand movement, a tip of the forefinger, or a nod of the head. But there's also a subset of riders who simply choose not to participate in the custom. Try as you may to pass a nonverbal "hey," and this particular species responds with a casual glance or total disinterest, wave be damned.
As I've built up miles on the road, I've accumulated more than a few observations about my fellow riders over the years. And while stereotypes about other motorcyclists can be unfair, there are certain patterns I can't help but notice. Sportbike riders tend to wave back. Commuters and tourers will also generally return a wave, while scooter riders don’t—in fact, many of the scooteristi I see in Los Angeles seem a bit removed from the whole scene entirely. To be fair, riders of so-called "maxi scooters" are often grizzled ex-motorcyclists who have done time on big bore bikes, and are thus well accustomed to the habit of returning a wave, even if it seems like more trouble than it's worth.
And then, there are Harley riders.
Though no blatant generalization is ever 100 percent accurate—especially when it comes to totally un-scientific statements about moto culture—I've come across more Harley-Davidson riders who are too cool for school, too aloof and indifferent, to give two craps about lifting a finger. At first, I took it personally. Did I wave too eagerly? Was I trying too hard? Did I care too much about this (admittedly silly) convention of unspoken communication? There are certainly more crucial things to consider while astride a bike, like making sure you're visible to cagers so you don't end up ornamenting the highway as a chunk of roadkill.
But the whole Harley thing got me thinking: are H-D riders more likely to wave to each other than they are to metric (ie, non-Harley) cruisers, or even worse, sportbike riders?
Aboard the Fat Boy Lo (aka, "Fatty"), I started to notice a trend: fellow Harley riders seemed to acknowledge me more, initiating head nods and finger waves, and even offering quick comments at stoplights. It's not uncommon to hear, "Hey man, nice bike!" while waiting for the signal to turn, or see another H-D owner openly express interest in Fatty.
Was I wrong to stereotype Harley riders all along? Are they simply more inclusive of like-minded motorcyclists, and disinterested with all other denizens of the two-wheeled universe?
I've still got many miles to put on Fatty, so the jury's not exactly out yet. But based on my experiences so far, it feels like this one year loan is an immersion into a particular moto tribe, and that I have the unique opportunity of stepping into this two-wheeled persona as a sort of social experiment.
And yes, in a way, it feels like I joined a secret club—but more research is needed to reach a proper conclusion, which makes for the perfect excuse to gear up, swing a leg over, and hit the open road in search of the answer.