Wave dynamics redux

Five reasons you should wave back.

Five reasons you should return a friendly wave.

Editor’s note: The Twitterati are abuzz with references to various wave/not wave essays, which goes to show you that the times, they are not a-changin’, no matter what Mr. Dylan said. I wrote this piece for Bicycle Retailer and Industry News back in 1995.

I swear to Eddy Merckx, the next time I wave cheerily at a passing cyclist and he just gives me The Look, I’m gonna chase his arrogant ass down, knock him off his bike, drag him back to my house and chain him to a wind trainer in front of the television, where a steady diet of anaerobic-threshold intervals and “Full House” reruns — coupled with a chamois full of red ants and occasional encouragement from a Bull Buster cattle prod — should drive home the argument that courtesy is the grease which keeps society’s bottom bracket spinning freely.

What is with these guys? Unlike passing motorists, I generally wave with all five fingers on a given hand, and there are no pentagrams tattooed on my palms. Has the mousse that grips their so-carefully coiffed ’dos soaked through their scalps to enmire the already-sluggish machinations of their brains? Are their Oakleys so dark that they simply can’t see my friendly salutation? Have they heard the ugly rumors about me, their sisters and the Sonoran donkey?

Beats me. I have no answers. But, as you might expect, I have a few theories. And here they are:

• Me Cool, You Lame — You, the non-waver, may think that your bike and/or cycling attire is way neater than mine, and that to wave would be to compromise your coolness. But I’m a Media Dude, see, and that means my bike is so much cooler than anybody else’s that I have to let it get all grunged up and filthy-looking just to keep wanna-bes like Claudia Schiffer and Tom Hanks from trying to steal it. Should anyone make off with this bike, of course, I can track them by the hideous shrieking of its 4-year-old, unlubed Dura-Ace chain. But I won’t bother, because I’ve got three or four even cooler ones at home that I never, ever ride, and I didn’t pay a nickel for any of them. Hahahahah.

• I Have a Goatee and You Do Not. This is a corollary to Me Cool, You Lame. It’s also on a par with thinking a Murray preferable to a Merlin. I sport a full salt-and-pepper beard and a sizable bald spot because of a nagging case of testosterone poisoning picked up in Vietnam when I was teaching Chuck Norris all about karate. You, on the other hand, wear a straggly soup-strainer named for a smelly barnyard animal fond of eating garbage, and it doesn’t even cover your zits all that well. As my daddy was fond of saying, if you can’t grow more hair on your face than you can on your butt, you should shave.

• I’m Too Scared to Take One Hand Off the Bars. This is a theory with potential, since most velo-snobs seem to spend all their free time rifling Mom’s purse for the cash to buy purple chainrings and trying to trials-ride the tables at Espresso Yourself instead of practicing basic cycling skills, like waving to other cyclists, riding a straight line, and and blowing your nose without getting boogers all over your Banesto jersey.

• I’m Dumber Than a Food Stamp Office Full of Suntour Executives. Also a theory with potential, this assumes big lag time between the eyes registering an occurrence — a friendly wave, a big smile, the development of trouble-free indexed shifting — and the brain processing the information: “Duhhh … hand up; smile on face; duhhhh … he was WAVING, George! Yuh, yuh, that’s right … he was WAVING, George! Can I pet the rabbits now, George?” That’s a Steinbeck reference, dude. Jeez, four years in grammar school and four years of reform school, and you didn’t learn nothing in either place.

• Don’t Bother Me, I Am a Racer. “Look, Marlin, it’s a USCF licensee! And here we thought they were extinct! We’ve got to move quickly — I’ll get the tranquilizer rifle and the ear tags; you call the Smithsonian and National Geographic!

• Exercise is Serious Business. Sure it is. So is getting chained to a wind trainer by an irate stranger with a sound-proofed basement, an ant farm and a cattle prod. Think about it … then wave.


55 Responses to “Wave dynamics redux”

  1. John Says:

    A couple years ago we were doing a loaded bike tour on Hwy 141 in western Colorado. On that very day at least a couple Front Range/Denver cycling clubs had done a day trip over the hill to ride that very road, so the oncoming lane was packed with “big city” roadies. It just so happened that about every Harley Owners Group in the state was there too, so the oncoming lane also had frequent middle aged Hells Angels wanna-bes on their $15,000 Harleys thundering by. As anyone who tours knows, loaded touring can be about as exciting as a never ended professional baseball game (and a “pitcher’s duel” at that), so we played a game: we waved at everyone who passed going the other way on two wheels, with a motor or not. The results: a paltry 5% or so of the lycra clad bunch returned our greetings; of the HOG crowd the number was more like 90%.

    When your demographic is more arrogant, stuck up, and rude than leather clad, middle aged, fat, bearded dudes on Harleys, you might have a problem. No wonder everyone hates us.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      The moto dudes won’t wave at scooterists, though. Don’t even try. Wave at some lawyer on a Harley from a Vespa and he’ll sue you for aggravated uncool.

      Scooterists wave and beep at each other, like sissified Roadrunners absent Acme-totin’ Wile E. Coyotes.

      • Patrick O'Brien Says:

        When I ring my incredibell at riders, then wave, they almost always wave back. Guess they figure I’m so far gone, road helmet even has a visor, that their pity requires a wave.

        Guy at my LBS the other day was riding a new, bright red Vespa. Man, that was COOL!

      • Patrick O'Grady Says:

        My 2008 Vespa LX50, Che.You mean like this one?

      • Patrick O'Brien Says:

        Similar, including the mirrors. Yours? It reeks cool. Nothing better for picking up the wine or beer (has to be Peroni) for dinner tonight.

      • Patrick O'Grady Says:

        Yup, ’tis mine. A 2008 LX50. Big fun to ride, though it’s a little underpowered. But you don’t need a motorcycle endorsement on your license for anything under 50cc, and the registration is just a few bucks for three years. Insurance is cheap, too.

        The weather’s so mild here that I can ride it year round, and do. I put a stainless flip-up rear rack on it, and when I toe-strap my Wald bicycle basket to it I can carry quite a bit of this, that and the other.

      • Patrick O'Brien Says:

        You, sir, are a dude! Khal, you need to sell the BMW and get one of those. The 150cc model may be more suited to your high horsepower needs. I need to check the laws here about 50cc scoots. If herself sees me staring at that picture, she will lock me in the shed until the spell passes.

      • khal spencer Says:

        For pooting around town, that would be great. High Road to Taos might find it a bit underpowered. Plus, my philosophy of motorized two wheeled devices is twofold. One, it should be hard to miss. Two, it better have enough power to get out of its own way in a crisis. Too many idiots out there (aside from the one in the saddle) trying to kill you and there are not any buffered motorcycle lanes I know of to give one the (false) impression they are safe from idiots.

      • Patrick O'Brien Says:

        Khal, they make a 300cc model too. The ‘Busa could get out of the way fast. Do stoppies too. Problem is keeping the front wheel down, keeping the back tire hooked up so it doesn’t high side you, and resisting the urge to see how fast you can do the ton and a half.

      • Patrick O'Brien Says:

        If it goes over 25 mph in Arizona, you need a motorcycle endorsement license. I know, I will put a motor on my townie.

      • khal spencer Says:

        At my age and level of concern, a ton is more than enough. I think mine is rated to about 137 mph, and I doubt I’ll ever see that on the speedometer.

  2. Jim Isaacs Says:

    And all of the nonwavers will never ever see their belt buckles again because the buckles are hidden under their whale like puss guts, all real whales please excuse, They also have a death grip on the bar such that their fingers will not unwrap. Also all their kits show no sign of road rash. They are the super riders

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      Jim, I notice that a lot of this new crowd of non-wavers are of the insectile, whippet-thin variety. They look like space aliens, so maybe they no espeaka da Eart’ling. Mebbe I’ll try “Klaatu barada nikto” on the sonsabitches.

  3. Stan Thomas Says:

    You ‘n me against the World, bro.

    Funny thing is, we bought a motorhome (RV in American) last year and other motorhome drivers started waving at us. Not sure I want to wave back.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      Stan, I used to have a motorhome, kinda, sorta — a 1978 Toyota Chinook. Nobody ever waved. They just laughed.

      • John Says:

        Wow! A 1978 Chinook! A genuine four cylinder motor home (20R engine, if I recall correctly). That was 35 years ago, and you’re back home already? You made good time.

      • Patrick O'Grady Says:

        John, that thing was a barrel of turds if ever there was one. Onliest Toyota I ever owned that worried me like a Ford. Rebuilt 20R, four-speed manual, two different sizes of tires front/rear (I disremember which sizes). Bought it off some dude in Arizona who must’ve been laughing his ass off when the check cleared.

        Now why the hell doesn’t Subaru make a nice camper van?

  4. khal spencer Says:

    I’ve been reading your stuff so long, Patrick, that I remember the first time you published this piece. Thanks for airing it out again.

    I bought a motorcycle in 2011 after not having one since 1987. Like John, I find that motorcyclists wave far more often than the lycra-weenies. Most of the moto folks even wave back at me when I am waving at them while perched on my road bike in my lycra-weenie kit. Especially the heavyset Harley guys and other motorcyclists riding big BMWs. They seem to be more sociable than many members of the rice-rocket set, who seem to share more of the mentality of the lycra-weenie set, i.e., “this is too important to waste time waving”. Of course, when you are dragging a knee and showing off, I suppose its not a good idea to take your hands or mind off of business.

    • John Says:

      Y’know, now that you mention it Khal, I now realize that we just don’t have too many (or any?) of those “rice-rocket” set around here. I don’t know if it’s just that those sort of bikes are too uncomfortable for the distances we have around here; or maybe it’s a Darwinism thing: they’ve all crashed and removed themselves from the motorcycle population.

      When I lived in San Diego, though, all those young, stupid Navy kids bought themselves one of those rice-rockets on a Friday and come Monday morning were having their organs donated. Lots of spare livers and kidneys out that way.

      • khal spencer Says:

        Honolulu was a lot like San Diego, only more so. Plenty of 19 year old Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine folks sitting on a crowded, congested rock in the middle of the Pacific Ocean with leave and cash on hand. Sadly, you would routinely find them wrapped around a guard rail on the H-2, or embedded in an ironwood up on the Kaukonahua road to Waialua. The only time I rode a motorcycle in Hawaii was when I rented one to ride moto escort for the Dick Evans or other major distance bike races on Oahu, and then I was in good company, usually working with a dozen motorcycle officers from HPD.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      K, that piece was so old it had gray hairs in its ears.

  5. Patrick O'Brien Says:

    Speaking of crotch rockets, I rode my brother’s highly modified Hayabusa a few years ago. Scared me so bad my johnson retreated inside. Little bastard has not shown his head since.

    • khal spencer Says:

      Oh, Lord….that Hayabusa.

      I really lust after those things, but at my age and level of eyesight and reflexes, riding one of those would be a death wish. The K1100RS is way more bike than I need as it is.

  6. md anderson Says:

    OK. I admit to being a semi-waver. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t. I don’t give a fuck if you do or not.

    Just because we are both on a bike doesn’t mean we are “bros” under the skin or something. When walking do you wave at every other walker? I drive a Subaru, does this mean I wave at every other Subaru driver? Everyone who wears my brand of jeans? My color hair?

    Does your self-worth depend upon my acknowledgment? I certainly hope not. Assuming you know what someone thinks because they do, or do not socially recognize you is, well, arrogant quite frankly. You are riding your bike, I am riding mine. All is fine with the world.

    Generally I am the friendly sort, but this peer pressure “must wave or you’re a dick” business makes me dig in my heels and want to scream.

    So I will maybe smile, maybe nod, maybe wave at you. But if I don’t, don’t take it so fucking personally.

    It’s not you, it’s me.

    (and for those who may not already know, I’m a girl. does that still make me a dick?)

    • khal spencer Says:

      Wow, MD. That’s heavy.

      • md anderson Says:

        Yeah, It did come off a little heavy didn’t it. Like I said, sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t. Whether I do or not shouldn’t make or break someone’s day/ride.

        I get the social glue business. If I’m walking down a busy street I’m not necessarily smiling and nodding and waving at everybody. I’d look like a crazy person. But if it’s just me and one other person passing each other, a little smile and nod wouldn’t be out of place

    • brokenlinkjournalism Says:

      Not only heavy but spot on!

      To wave, or not to wave that is a question?

      What is missing is the dynamics of a wave. Is it a full-hand-off-the-bars-and-moving-side-to-side? A cursory finger-nod-off-the-brake-hood? Or maybe a whole heartedly exuberant waving motion like you are chasing a bee away from your ear?

      What exactly is it??

    • Patrick O'Brien Says:

      It’s just a wave. Not only social lubricant, but social glue. Brings a smile to most people’s face. Might change their outlook on the whole day. If they don’t wave back, no matter.
      Changing subjects for a second MD, Epic Rides changed the venue and the courses for the “Tour of the White Mountains” this coming October. I was ready for 15 miles of single track. Now it’s 9 miles of single track. Taking a pass this year. Might think about the Whiskey Off Road again if the place don’t burn down.


      • John Says:

        Hey Patrick. The people that do the Whiskey are doing a weekend of mtb riding and racing in the Grand Junction area over Labor Day weekend: http://www.epicrides.com/index.php?contentCat=9. Don’t know where you’re at, but thought you might find this interesting.

      • Patrick O'Brien Says:

        Hey John! Thanks for the tip. I am on Epic Rides E mail list. MD told me a while back that she had done the 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo, another Epic Rides event in Tucson. She said they did a good job, and she enjoyed have Tinker on her wheel for a while. They have a good rep for doing events in coordination with local governments and charities. Any way, I was going to do the White Mountain race as a bucket list kind of thing. But, they changed the events.

      • John Says:

        Hey Patrick! If you’re thinking of doing the race here in GJ I’ve got a map I made for the 40 route. The “temp” map on the event’s web site stinks and since I make maps a local bike shop asked for a poster sized version of the big route. If you’re interested drop me a note and I’ll get it to you. Sometime soon, though, epic rides is suppose to have good versions for all of the race routes on their site.

      • Patrick O'Brien Says:

        Thanks John, but no plans to do the Grand Junction event. I hope it does well. It is there first out of Arizona event.

      • Patrick O'Grady Says:

        John, I think some of my Drunkcyclist brethren are gonna be there. No escape for me, alas. I probably won’t get out of Dodge again until Interbike.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      MD, I spend a lot of time riding multipurpose paths, which means close quarters, often elbow to elbow while passing. It’s more like a paseo in some pueblito than two cyclists gesticulating at each other from their respective bike lanes on their sides of an eight-lane big-city thoroughfare.

      My rule of thumb regarding whether to offer a greeting is eye contact — if the oncoming rider looks at me, i say, “Hey,” nod, do the Harley wave (left hand out), deliver a San Luis Valley vato loco head wave (lips tight, chin out, quick upward flick of the head), perform a minimalist Zen bow, whatever floats my boat. No eye contact? I don’t bother him/her.

      I do consider it rude to ignore a polite greeting, but that’s just my upbringing. Nothing like a colonel in the family for insisting on the usual courtesies.

  7. Grumbly Oldguy Says:

    I have had the same right hand drive LandRover 109 for close to 29 years. In the beginning I got waves from all the other weirdos with Rovers. Then they became more popular and more like wealthypeople’s kid haulers. I havent gotten a wave for more than a decade. Things change.

    Don’t take it personally. It’s my problem that I don’t wave. I’m mad at all sorts of people, the gov’t, pea-brain halfwit Texans, family members who are insensitive twits not to mention the rooms full of dopes, fools, and incompetents that i am forced to be cheerful and charming with on a regular basis because I need to pay rent and want to upgrade my bike to 10 speed from 8 speed.

    My time on the bike is precious. I want to sweat and push my limits while I am still able. I like feeling my muscles scream. I get tunnel vision while riding. When I get home I can be civil and polite to others. It is my only respite. It allows me to be monomaniacal and an ass for a while so i can be civilized the rest of the day.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      Grumbly, I usually ride alone, unless you count the multiplicity of voices in my head, and can be impatient regarding distraction, too. For starters, lately I’m usually riding someone else’s bike and trying to absorb information/think of nifty shit to write about it. This makes me poor company.

      Still, I exchange greetings with the few strangers who don’t flee in terror when they see me coming. Then I ride home and write horrible shit about ’em on the blog.

  8. Larry T. Says:

    Ciao from the land of Vespa…and Ducati. Nothing much has changed, has it POG? A-holes are the same the world over. Here in Italy we find most will not wave, but WILL say CIAO or SALVE when you see them going the other way…the people on bicycles that is…the moto bozos are past in a flash – not much kinship in that area here.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      How’s tricks across the pond, Lorenzo? You gonna catch any of the Tour this year?

    • Larry T. Says:

      No watching Le Beeg Shew this year, except for sleeping in front of a television. I’ll be back grumbling in the US of A mid-July, but before that we have a short Grandi Alpi tour in the Val d’Aosta (think Gran San Bernardo and Cervinia, the Italian side of the Matterhorn) followed by 10 days of the Legendary Climbs of the Giro d’Italia. Another year to see if I can still get my fat a__ over the likes of the Mortirolo. So far our season’s been great – nice folks, the best food in the world, great riding…all the stuff that’s very hard to find in the land of the Tea Party, though they have kooks like them here too…..I think they’re called the Lega Nord.

  9. KurtWally Says:

    “What we got here is failure to communicate”
    I make it a point to nod and wave to other cyclists as well as pedestrians. I am getting exercise, the scenery changes faster than jogging. The best aspect is that I am outdoors, suffering insults and other things tossed from SUVs and pickups, and enjoying it.
    When I tried racing (after a couple of Little 500s in the 70s) we talked in the pack. Riding centuries we warned each other when overtaking. Now I scare people when I say “On your left”. Most have never heard it before so they pull off to the side. I try to educate (with my loud voice) riders that don’t show these courtesies to others. I am sure I sound like previous old timers complaining about how good things used to be…but they really were.

    • khal spencer Says:

      Funny you should mention “on your left”. When I was racing a few decades ago, it was standard procedure to call out “car back” and go into a single file line. On yer left was also common (or on your right). People called out crap or potholes with a finger pointed down. Is this behavior as infrequent these days as I think it is?

      My stepdad was an old time motorcyclist, you know, when men were men and motorcycles broke down a lot. He once said the wave was only part of the deal–if you came upon a fellow motorcyclist broken down by the roadside, you stopped to help. So it was not an empty gesture. Maybe there was a time when cycling was equally rare and contributed to this brotherhood.

      By the time I had a motorcycle in the 1970’s, that old brotherhood was falling apart. Too many assembly line bikes and bikers on the road. Maybe that happened to us, too.

      Some habits die hard. I usually wave or nod to other pedalcyclists and motos. Here in the SW, most of the motos wave too. If some folks don’t, it doesn’t matter. I stopped weeping over it long ago. Too much salt on the top tube, you know…

      • Larry T. Says:

        Sadly, riding etiquette has gone the way of the toe strap in most places. People blow snot-rockets at the FRONT of the group instead of dropping to the back, rarely can drink out of a bottle without wobbling all over the road, etc. Some of these high-end bike companies could take a page out of the overpriced German car maker’s book and offer riding lessons to the buyers of their products. Like a Porsche, if you’re going to sell a guy or gal something like that, why not make it easy for them to actually LEARN how to use it properly? Whatever happened to the riding schools? Did they morph into these cycling camps where the customers become more like supercharged, hemi V8 engines mounted in a shopping-cart chassis instead of actually learning how to RIDE a bicycle?

      • khal spencer Says:

        Does anyone here know of a riding school? Know what they teach in those racer wannabe schools? Back when I was pinning on a number, our team captain spent a good amount of time impressing us with the need to ride competently in the bunch. Bike handling and awareness were mandatory courses.

        I found out why in a nasty way one morning in March, 1990. Leading the bunch and chasing down a break in a team training ride, I caught the rabbit and momentarily broke my concentration. Next thing I knew I had overlapped wheels at 34 mph (the last thing I remember before the shit hit the fan was looking at my Cateye). A badly broken collarbone had me sitting out most of that race season. Learning to actually RIDE a bicycle is both physical and mental.

    • Patrick O'Brien Says:

      I passed a guy a few years ago and hollered out “on your left.” His reply was “Hell, everybody is on my left.” Funny stuff from a classy guy.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      Gents, maybe if we rejoined our local training rides we’d find some folks who still know The Rules.

      Then again, maybe not. I quit doing our local training rides some years back because they scared the mortal shit out of me on the rare occasions when I could actually keep up.

      • KurtWally Says:

        I gave up on them too. Alabama law says no more than two abreast so that’s how they ride no matter the traffic. that’s why I’ve gone to mountain biking.

      • Larry T. Says:

        Tried that POG – two things happened. 1. Trying to instruct someone on the finer points of riding in a pack/paceline doesn’t just fall on deaf ears, it’s taken as personal insult.
        2. Instead of a group ride, these things quickly become half-assed races where each moron hits the front and jacks up the speed instead of maintaining the pace.
        I learned at the feet of the old sages of the South Bay Wheelmen in SoCal – wonder if clubs like that (ones who teach people how to ride in a group) still exist?

      • John Says:

        Larry, I used to ride with the San Diego Cyclovets a bit back in the early 90s, and one thing they did that I always thought was a great idea was an instructional “I Ride”. They took new club members or others interested in the finer points of paceline work out for a ride in which they covered paceline etiquette, communication, and even how to absorb the occasional bump without taking out the whole paceline. It was a great idea that I’ve never seen elsewhere, but then I quit riding with clubs a while back.

      • khal spencer Says:

        John, we did those sorts of rides back in the nineties with the Hawaii Bicycling League..

  10. Derek Lenahan Says:

    POG if you changed the color reference from purple to “wood tone” that article is just as relevant today. Khal, I stopped using the on your left or right references because people now seem to veer in the direction you call out and nobody points out shit. That is why I use a 3″ 700c front wheel on my road bicycle.

    • John Says:

      I hate to say it, PO’G, but Derek’s right, the purple chain rings are an anachronism. As is the reference to “Full House” (totally forgot about that show…gee, thanks) and the Banesto jersey. For that matter, I’ll wager that today’s wipper-snappers don’t even know who Miguel Indurain was! Or even know that Phil Ligget once made an “Indurain in-the-rain” comment.

      Hmm. Maybe some things are better left in the past.

  11. Cyclelicious » Hump Day Report: Friendly cyclists, Bay Area bike safety, and a not so friendly Yahoo. Says:

    […] Do you wave at other cyclists? Jason Gay of the Wall Street Journal does. So does Patrick “Mad Dog” O’Grady, who’s puzzled about those who fail to wave back […]

  12. Duke Godfrey Says:

    Hello Patrick! I bought a “old guys Who Get fat in The Winter” jersey in 2001 or 2002? I still have it and fat old rich guys at Starbucks take pictures of it – so cool.

    I do not wave because I am in South Korea. If I wave at a man he may think I am gay since I am not Korean and also am in full spandex and waygookin foreigners are assumed by most Koreans to be Sex in the City Gay/Sluts/bisexual/free sex freaks like any nasty Hollywood movie seen here shows. Also I am afraid they will then want to get free English lessons from me as well.

    Of course if it is fit looking females I wave- which is often bad because they turn out to be 50 year old married ladies with bodies of 22 year olds.

    In the USA I guess I might wave though- but only if their bikes are good or they look fit or again if they are hot females.

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