In 2017, there were 8.4 million registered on-road motorcycles in the United States. In 2002, that number was only at 4.2 million. This means U.S. motorcycle ownership grew 100% in 15 years!
True, cars are more common in the nation, with its 88% ownership rate compared to 14% for motorcycles. But the freedom (and many other perks, like looking super awesome) that comes with riding? That’s something car owners don’t get to experience.
Before you join the club though, you first need to master motorcycle etiquette. It’s the unwritten code of riders that make motorcycling the tight community that it is. And no, it’s not the same as car driving etiquette.
Read on to know the ultimate rules of the road every self-respecting rider should follow!
1. Learn and Follow the Written Rules of the Road
We know how obvious this sounds, but it’s surprising how many new (and even veteran) riders break the rules. If your state law says you need to wear a motorcycle helmet, then you should. Even in states, like West Virginia, where a bill passed lifting helmet restrictions.
Lawless riding also includes driving under the influence of illegal substances or alcohol.
In 2016, a quarter of fatal crashes involved alcohol-impaired motorcyclists. When you ride intoxicated, you’re not the only one at risk – you’re also putting other motorists in danger.
Besides, when you break the law, you make every other law-abiding rider look bad.
2. Know Your Rider Lingo
You’re done learning the basics of how to ride a motorcycle, but do you know how to speak like a rider? If not, then get your motorcycle/motorcyclist vocabulary up to speed.
First, because it’ll make you feel like you do belong in the community. You’ll make it easier for others to know what you’re talking about if you use the right terms. Plus, you’ll be able to follow the conversation, and not think of a plate full of rice when someone says “carbs”.
Second, you’ll know how to address other riders right. For instance, you can’t call everyone who rides a motorcycle “biker”. It’s not a term to throw around lightly, as this can refer to riders specifically in motorcycle clubs.
3. Memorize and Use Proper Hand Signals
We’re not only talking about “the wave”, as that’s too important it needs a separate explanation. We’re talking about motorcycle hand signals used to communicate with everyone else.
There’s a hand signal for turning left, turning right, stopping, and slowing. There’s even a signal for letting the driver/rider behind you know there’s a hazard on the road.
You’re likely thinking “Isn’t that what my blinkers are for?” Indeed, that’s what they exist for.
But it’s possible the person behind you haven’t noticed the lights. Extending your hands make you more visible. These movements can draw more attraction than your bike’s lights.
4. Master the Rules of the Wave
The motorcycle wave is a form of communication that all riders should use. They’re different from the hand signals mentioned above, but as important and as big a part of the culture. It’s not only basic etiquette to wave to other riders – it’s a signal that connects you with the community.
The general (unwritten) rule is to never skip “the wave” unless you have to. Your priority is always your safety and bike control, so if waving will compromise that, then don’t do it!
It’s unnecessary to take your hand off your bike’s controls if it’ll only put your (and others’) safety at risk. These include turning on a corner or riding on a major highway. Don’t wave at night or in the rain as other riders won’t see you anyway.
5. There’s No Place for Trash Talk in the Community
Not everyone is a Harley rider, nor will everyone ride one of the hottest motorcycle models of 2019. That said, don’t talk about other riders’ bikes like they’re several notches below yours. You may think that you’re the biggest badass on the road, but no one needs you to announce it.
Respect other people’s sleds, and you’ll earn respect from their owners.
6. Stay Behind
It’s basic etiquette to stay behind another bike, especially in traffic. Don’t honk your horn or pass and leave them in the dust. Passing other riders right away isn’t only impolite, it can also cause accidents.
Wait for the person in front of you to notice you’re behind them. When they do, it’s likely they’ll wave, acknowledging you and letting you pass. Wave back in thanks when you do.
7. Don’t Stop Right Beside Another Bike
Unless you’re buddies or know each other. To many people, having a stranger pull up next to them is invasive and impolite.
When the light’s about to turn red and you see a bike in front, slow down to a stop right behind them. Your motorcycle’s front wheel should be a few inches behind the other rider’s rear wheel. Or at least, your front wheel sits parallel to their rear wheel.
8. Parking Etiquette
Speaking of stops, there’s also an unwritten rule when it comes to parking beside other bikes. There should always be enough space between your ride and the other sled so its owner can mount with ease. Otherwise, the other rider can accidentally hit your bike, sending it crashing on its side.
9. Ask Before You Touch
Seeing one of the most iconic Harleys in person can get any bike enthusiast’s blood pumping. We get it. But no matter how impressed you are, don’t touch that bike without asking permission first..
In fact, touching someone else’s bike can mislead others to thinking you’re about to steal it!
If you can’t find the owner, then you have no choice but to wait and stare at it in wonder. Pick up your jaw when the owner arrives so you can ask for permission to touch it.
10. Assist Riders Who Got into an Accident
It’s more of the right and ethical thing to do. Remember, you’re brothers and sisters in the biking community. If they need help, then do your best to extend it.
Even with helmets and protective gear, sliding down can cause serious injuries. Wiping out can grind off skin, break bones, and knock someone out. All these can render a rider unable to even dial 911.
Whenever you see a brother or a sister get into a road accident, stop and see what you can do to help. Call for help on their behalf, and that can make a huge difference in a life-and-death situation.
11. Check Up on a Stopped Rider
When you see someone on a bike stopped on the road, check up on them. They may have not been in an accident, but it’s still likely their bike is giving them trouble.
Slow down and shoot up a thumbs up sign. If they reply with a thumbs up, then everything’s good. If they signal back with a thumbs down, they may have a flat, an empty tank, or a dead engine.
If it’s the latter, stop and see if there’s anything you can do to help. If you were in their shoes, wouldn’t you be glad and relieved someone helped? Besides, you’ll attract good karma, and someone will stop and rescue you when it’s you in this situation.
12. Don’t Ride Your Baby When Distressed
Rider error is the reason for two-thirds of single-vehicle motorcycle accidents. Excess speed and over-braking tops the list of such errors.
Now, riding angry or stressed out is synonymous to distracted riding. That can include putting on too much speed without you noticing. Lack of focus and concentration can also make you forget about your blinkers or hand signals.
Safe riding is not only proper etiquette, but it’s also for your own safety and that of every other motorist. So, no matter how pissed off you are and want to take your ride out to calm down, don’t. Cool off your head and heels first before going out on the road.
Proper Motorcycle Etiquette Keeps the Everyone Safe
With 276.1 million registered vehicles in the U.S., every road-user is at risk of getting into an accident. We can all help prevent these by following proper driving and motorcycle etiquette.
So, don’t be that “guy” or “gal” who weaves in and out of traffic and blows past everyone on the road. Mind your road manners, and you can stay safe while also keeping others safe.
Once you’ve mastered these unwritten laws of riding, you’re ready to go on awesome road trips. Check out our Rides and Routes page for insider info on where to head out with your pride and joy!