For those about to ride, we salute you

[[image:wac_small.jpg::inline:1]]I’ve been thinking for a while about how to foster a greater sense of community between cyclists. You’d think just being out there on the roads is enough. But too often for my tastes – have I passed fellow cyclists yearning for some sort of sign, some acknowledgment beyond the occasional “head nod.”

Published November 16, 2007 by C.I.C.L.E.
By David Pulsipher

[[image:wac_salute.jpg::inline:0]]I’ve been thinking for a while about how to foster a greater sense of community between cyclists. You’d think just being out there on the roads is enough. But too often for my tastes – have I passed fellow cyclists yearning for some sort of sign, some acknowledgment beyond the occasional “head nod.” As ideas were circling around in my head – my mind eventually settled on birdhouses. The connection between bird-domiciles and cycling is probably obvious, but for the few out there who aren’t making the connection I’ll attempt to make it a little bit clearer ; )

Before I moved to Los Angeles to start graduate school, I spent several months working in the mountains of Colorado. Because of the remote location of my parent’s home – and the combined distance of my employer, I was forced to drive to work. I loathe driving to work, but if you are going to do it, you might as well be careening through the Colorado Mountains sans traffic, right?

I’ve certainly had worse jobs – I spent my days listening to NPR and making birdhouses/feeders out of recycled and reused products for a company called Artistic Creations Unlimited. We also had a collection of homemade soaps that I’m proud to say I use on a daily basis. But I digress…

In the summer, the mountain highways seem to be the ideal venue for motorcycle enthusiasts. I’d see them everyday, and I started paying attention to an interesting gesture of theirs. As the bikers would pass each other in opposite direction I noticed they’d stick their left arm out at a downward (45 degree-ish) angle. It was a slow, deliberate motion that each biker would make as they passed each other. Sometimes it was a peace sign, sometimes it was a slightly raised wave of the hand from the handle bars. I was very curious what this was all about – and I got to the bottom of it when I moved to California.

My little brother out here pals around with a bunch of bikers, and I asked one of them what this “slow gesture” was all about. I found out that this was “the low wave.” Apparently is a pretty common gesture for bikers to say hi – a way of greeting those with a common interest – wishing them well and safe travels. I was very charmed by this but didn’t think much of it until I started seeing cyclists on a regular basis during my commute.

I wish there was something this pervasive in cycling culture. I want to borrow the “low-wave” and brink it to cycling. I mean c’mon, they call their motorcycles “bikes,” why can’t we borrow a thing or two from them?

I’ve tried to do the head nod with limited success. To me, the head nod is on par with the high school mentality of wanting to acknowledge someone without breaking character, or looking too congenial. I say “too cool” be damned. I want to look congenial, because I am. Ergo, the head nod won’t work for me.

Another candidate is the actual low wave itself. It would be a direct rip off from the bikers – but as mentioned earlier they’ve borrowed our vernacular so I reckon it’d be an even trade. However, the low wave could easily pose problems of safety (letting go at inopportune times for greetings), as well it could be misconstrued as a lazy effort to signal a left hand turn. The low wave probably won’t work either.

What gesture could be congenial, fun, and shows respect and well wishes to fellow cyclists on the road? I say the salute. There are lots of theories about the origins of the salute – from Roman soldiers shading their eyes from the reflection of a superior’s armor, to the tipping of a cap in the olden days. I’m fond of another explanation that says the salute came from knights or other medieval armored individuals who would lift their faceplates as a token of peace.

The gesture itself really doesn’t matter. It could evolve into cyclists making pig-noses or flapping their arms like a chicken. I just want to open the dialogue of what YOU think a good way to say “hello” to fellow riders would be. I nominate the salute. Whatever people prefer, I’d just like to see more recognition between cyclists. Doing so creates goodwill, and could be a part of fostering a better sense of community between cyclists. Think about it – an entire social epidemic (to borrow from Gladwell) could start with us! Cycling is such a positive force. Hopefully we can continue to respect and greet each other as those who share much in common. Until then, I’ll see you on the road(with salutations).

David is a bicycle commuter living in West LA, but originally from Denver. He is also pursuing a masters degree in urban planning from UCLA.