How to The Journey

It’s so hard to say hello

Waving like a boss.

I’m taking the Direct Access route to getting my full license, which means that thus far I have not ridden on UK roads without an instructor following close behind, issuing directions and commenting on each and every misstep via earpiece. Under such conditions one gets the sense that taking part in the time-honoured tradition of acknowledging other riders might earn me reproach. In other words, I’ve not had a chance to wave at other motorcyclists. But then, this morning, I found myself thinking: how would I? What’s the standard procedure for such an act in her majesty’s United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland? How on earth does one show respect?

I know what you’re thinking: “It’s a wave, Chris. You should have learned how to wave ‘hello’ when you were 9 months old.”

My confusion comes from the fact we drive on the left side of the road in the United Kingdom, and how that affects the act of waving.

In the United States and the majority of the world, of course, people drive on the right. Which means that when an oncoming rider passes you, he or she will do so on your left side. The natural response, then, is to wave with the hand closest to the passing rider: the left. This is simple and safe enough because it only means taking your hand away from the clutch and indicator switch, which aren’t immediately necessary when moving steadily along.

But if you ride on the left side of the road, that means oncoming riders pass on the right. If one follows the aforementioned logic of waving with the hand closest to the oncoming rider, he or she would wave with their right hand. But doing so means taking your hand off the throttle and moving it away from the all-important front brake, which many people think should be covered at all times. So what to do?

How do UK riders acknowledge each other? Do they just risk it and wave with the right hand? Or do they wave with their left? If they wave with their left, do they do so across their bodies or just hope the oncoming rider sees a hand in the far distance? Or do they do something else? Nod, perhaps? I’ve heard that in many continental European countries they raise a foot to say hello (but this, again, would be the left foot, which does not cover a brake).

One of the things a newbie motorcyclist looks forward to most is feeling that sense of somehow belonging to a community. Yes, it’s fair to say the idea of that community may be a load of nonsense, but it’s still nice to say hello to people, to show respect for those taking on the same risks and challenges as yourself. Waving at each other is one of the little fun aspects of riding, I’d think, and when I finally take to the road on my own I want to do it right.

So, UK riders: what’s the correct procedure? How do you show respect?