This morning I went on my first motorcycle ride in Austin. It might have been my first real motorcycle ride in a little while. Besides picking up the Indian Scout Bobber I’m riding this weekend yesterday and doing a few laps around San Francisco last week to keep my Aprilia’s battery charged, I think it’s been quite a while since I’ve been riding motorcycles regularly. Today’s morning ride reminded me of what I love about riding.
Motorcycles, like so many things, are dangerous. Motorcycles are more dangerous than most things. Some of those who ride motorcycles are acutely aware of this and take as many precautions as possible, while others couldn’t care less. In California people were pretty hardcore about wearing all of their gear all the time. In Texas, there are no helmet laws, and you’ll hardly find a person riding around town wearing a helmet in the summer. On one hand that is liberating, and on the other there’s no doubt that means means more people die or are seriously hurt. It’s hard not to think about safety every time I ride a motorcycle. I almost considered just selling all my bikes, rather than having the, shipped here. It was easy to think that after not riding for a while. But after this morning, I remember why I have bought them in the first place.
Motorcycles seem scary from afar, but feel like bliss when you’re on them. I have yet to find a sensation more thrilling than buffeting in the wind at 80mph powered by fossil fuel explosions between your legs strapped in with nothing but gravity. Cars have seat belts. On a motorcycle, you just kind of hang on, and if you have a passenger, like I did very briefly today, just kind of hang onto you. If you’ve never ridden a motorcycle, don’t. If you do, you’ll probably want one. Beyond the satisfaction of the visceral experience of riding, the community is really seals the deal for motorcycling.
An axiom is that any two people who ride motorcycles, upon realizing that they both ride motorcycles, will instantly become friends. I went for a ride this morning with someone I just met briefly last week. I’m going for a ride tomorrow with someone that I’ve never met. There’s a certain camaraderie amongst people who ride motorcycles. It’s partially because it’s dangerous, so there’s some sense of “we’re all in this together.” But really, it just takes a certain kind of person to ride a motorcycle. I tend to like that kind of person. Of most of the people who are that kind of person like other people who are also that kind of person. It all feels very human, and there’s one behavior that exemplifies this amongst motorcyclists: the wave.
If you’ve never ridden a motorcycle, you may have never observed what happens when two motorcyclists pass each other in opposing direction on a road. As the pass motorclists almost always reach their left hands, the free one that’s not on throttle, out to the side to make a sort of wave. It’s as striking in its pose as it is in its universality. They don’t teach you to reach your hand out at other riders in motorcycle school. The behavior is mimetic.
I think one of first times out riding on my own, someone made this gesture to me. The next time someone made that same gesture, I knew to make it back at them. And so on. I’ve probably waved in this manner at thousands of motorcyclists over the year. There is a lot of diversity amongst motorcycle riders. Hipsters on old Hondas are very different from adrenaline bros on Ducatis who are all quite different from the Harley crowd that meets up in Sturgis every year. But they all do the wave to each other. I’ve never before thought to define the meaning of this gesture.
The wave is definitely friendly. I think it implies a mutual respect and admiration. I come back to that word, camaraderie; I think that is most clearly the meaning of the symbol. It’s a message not only to the other rider, but also to those around. We are, as motorcyclists, together as one amidst those who aren’t. It’s important for humans to have a sense of inclusion and for motorcyclists the wave is one way that we foster that. It has a positive impact on my soul.
I also realized this morning that Austin is a beautiful town for motorcycle rides. Hill country has some amazing roads and views. It’s a little hot, but not too bad, and it is Texas, so you can always ride in a t-shirt if you want, though I wouldn’t recommend it. I’m looking forward to many more journeys and adventures on two wheels.