Motorcycle Riding Etiquette: The Unwritten Rules You May Not Know


There’s a lot of things you learn while you’re preparing to get your motorcycle license. The tests you have to take can help prepare you to become a defensive motorcycle rider and keep you and others safe while out on the road.

However, there are a few things you may not have learned when preparing to ride that isn’t taught by instructors. Having and riding a motorcycle automatically puts you in a community that is different from any other type of vehicle. Knowing the proper etiquette of riding a motorcycle can keep you even more prepared on the road while maintaining respect for other riders and drivers around you.

Wave At Other Riders

You may have noticed that when motorcycle riders pass each other on the road, they wave at each other. Some assume it’s because they know each other or have some sort of connection. It’s actually an unwritten law that motorcycle riders wave to each other when they pass each other on the road in the right conditions whether they know each other or not.

Riding a motorcycle automatically makes you a part of the motorcycle community. Decent fellow riders respect each other which is what the wave is for. It’s more of a “I respect you and your ride” rather than a “hello.”

There are a lot of different types of waves motorcyclists can do depending on the motorcycle they’re riding and/or what the other motorcyclist is riding. But the most generic one you can stick with is using the lower left hand wave. You do this simply by doing a low extension of your left hand with the inside of your palm facing towards the rider.

Don’t Assume Lane Sharing Is Okay

As an observer, you may have also noticed that sometimes motorcyclists do what is called “lane sharing.” Lane sharing is when two motorcyclists ride almost side-by-side to each other in the same lane on a road. This is usually done when a group of motorcyclists ride together to take up less room on the road.

As proper riding etiquette, if there is a motorcyclist in front of you that you don’t know and is riding close to one side of the lane, don’t assume you can share the lane with them and ride side-by-side with them. This is especially true if you don’t know the motorcyclist. That’s just awkward.

Lane sharing isn’t legal in some place anyway, so before you even begin to think about lane sharing with anyone make sure you know the laws of such an action according to where you live.

Assist Other Riders In Distress

It’s no fun when you are having mechanical issues in whatever vehicle you’re driving and have to pull over on the side of the road. Not only are you stuck with a non-functioning machine, but it’s also stressful having to stand by cars that are whizzing past you.

It’s an unwritten rule that if you see a motorcyclist broken down on the side of the road, you also pull over and help them out if possible. Even if you don’t have any mechanical skills, you can still offer to let them use your cell phone or go get some gas for them. The mutual connection of riding a motorcycle will make them appreciate your help even more.

You will, of course, have to do this to your discretion. It can be a bit unpredictable who you’re helping if you’re riding by yourself at night. This is especially true for solo female riders.

Leave Room For Another Motorcycle When Parked

As you probably know, parking a motorcycle in a large parking lot (or any parking lot for that matter) can be a bit of a headache. You’re not allowed to park on the sidewalk or striped areas which only leaves you with a regular parking space. But then car drivers get mad that you’re taking up so much room. There seems to be no way to win in this situation.

It’s actually perfectly legal for two motorcycles to park in a single space. Not only is this acceptable, but many people appreciate this including motorcyclists and car drivers alike.

If you’re going to use a regular parking spot with your motorcycle, park a little to the side of it to let another motorcyclist park next to you. Chances are if they’re not parking on the sidewalk or striped areas, they’re a respectable rider and will respect your machine when they park. Click here to see my article to learn more about parking multiple motorcycles in a single parking spot.

Don’t Tail Another Car

Now that we’ve covered riding etiquette related to other riders, let’s start talking about etiquette towards car drivers on the road with you. The etiquette required to practice around car drivers also has a lot to do with your safety as the motorcycle rider.

Never tail a car that’s in front of you. Tailing happens when you are following the vehicle in front of you way too closely. Not only is this just straight up rude, it’s extremely dangerous especially for a motorcycle rider.

Tailing leads to frustrated and flustered drivers. You never know who’s going to make rash decisions when it comes to road rage. If that driver in front of you decides to slam on their brakes to be a jerk back, you don’t have much of a chance of avoiding a collision. Keep a safe distance behind.

Pass Cars Quickly And Stay As Far Away From Cars As Possible

You’ll occasionally get stuck behind a car that is driving way too slow. I’ve been there many times myself on my motorcycle and it’s extremely frustrating. It’s also easy to want to “get back” at them for being inconsiderate which leads to stupid road rage decisions.

Always keep your cool when someone is driving slow in front of you. You may want to pass them and do it in a rude manner. Aside from abstaining from tailing them, pass them quickly when the time is appropriate and safe and keep to yourself and your business. Don’t try to ride slow in front of them to “show them what it feels like.” The last thing you want is a war with a car and I’m pretty sure a car would win against a motorcycle.

Also stay as far away from cars as possible. You need to assume that all the cars around you cannot see you, so keeping a distance from them will ensure your safety.

Use Blinkers And Hand Signals

Though basic driver’s education covers the fact that drivers need to be aware of motorcyclists on the road, they don’t cover it near enough. So it’s our job as the motorcyclist to make sure all the cars around us are aware we’re there and what we intend to do while we’re on the road.

Aside from just using your blinkers, also use hand signals if possible while you’re out for a ride. Sometimes the lights on motorcycles are so small that it’s hard to tell it’s even blinking. Hand signals will ensure that drivers around you know exactly what your next move is and won’t leave them guessing.

Just stick with the basic hand signals that drivers are likely to recognize. such signals may include a left turn (stinking your right arm straight out), a right turn (a 90 degree bend upwards with your left arm), or that you’re stopping (a 90 degree bend downwards with your left arm).

Only Rev Your Engine At The Appropriate Times

One of the fun things about riding a motorcycle is hearing the sounds it can make. Revving your engine is one sound that’s commonly heard among motorcyclists and probably isn’t foreign to hear from people who don’t even ride.

But it’s important to know that there are right and wrong times to be revving your motorcycle engine. Revving the engine at a show or a rally is a perfectly acceptable time to be doing so. Revving your engine at a stop light or in a neighborhood late at night is not the appropriate time or place.

Most cities have a sound ordinance that is expected to be followed by everyone, including motorcyclists. The loud sound a revved motorcycle engine makes can easily offend someone who may call the cops on you. You can also get a ticket. It’s proper etiquette to know when is and isn’t the right time to rev that engine.

Inform Passengers To Limit Movement

Now let’s talk about proper riding etiquette when it comes to having a passenger with you on your motorcycle. Having a passenger with you is a whole different ball game and should be taken seriously. There are a few things you can do to make sure your passenger feels safe.

Before going on a ride, be sure to inform your passenger that they need to limit their movement once they’re on the bike (especially if they’re new to this). Movement and adjustments from a passenger on a motorcycle ride can throw your balance off as the driver, especially when going around turns.

Informing them to limit their movement will prevent frustration and confrontation in the future. You may get mad at them for moving so much when in reality they didn’t know it was an issue in the first place.

Don’t Take Sharp Turns With A Passenger

There are things you may be daring to do while you’re by yourself on your motorcycle, but that doesn’t mean your passenger is comfortable with it, too.

It’s proper riding etiquette to abstain yourself from taking sharp turns with a passenger. Though you may know how to do it safely, the passenger may not know how to handle it and it may scare them (with good reason). If you absolutely must take a sharp turn, inform the passenger beforehand so they can be prepared.

Don’t Do Quick Accelerations With A Passenger

Having a motorcycle with a lot of power can be incredibly tempting to use it to it’s full potential, especially when you’re trying to show it off to someone that’s riding with you. While it’s okay to have a lot of power on a motorcycle, sudden accelerations without warning can actually be really dangerous for a passenger.

There have been way too many instances, mostly men taking women on dates on their motorcycles, where the guy wants to show off what their motorcycle has and does a quick acceleration. The unsuspecting passenger who isn’t holding on tight enough to make up for the sudden acceleration ends up falling off the back of the motorcycle.

Before doing any sort of sudden movement on your motorcycle, inform your passenger you’re about to do it so they can properly prepare themselves and hold on tighter to prevent any injury on their part.

Always Make Sure A Passenger Has A Helmet

A lot of motorcycle riding etiquette has to do with the safety of you as a rider as well as the safety of others around you. One of the biggest forms of riding etiquette when it comes to having a passenger is making sure your passenger always has a helmet.

Having a helmet is essential when riding and it’s just as important that your passenger has a helmet as well. If you only have one helmet available and you have to decide whether you or your passenger gets to wear it, the decision should always be your passenger.

This will mean that you may not have a helmet at all, but your passenger does. You can get in a world of mess if you go on a motorcycle ride and get in some sort of accident where your passenger gets injured because they weren’t wearing a helmet.

If you’re worried that certain passengers you may have don’t like wearing helmets, officially make it a rule that in order to ride your motorcycle a helmet has to be worn. Period. If they don’t want to wear a helmet, they don’t get to ride.

If you plan on having a lot of different friends or family members be a passenger on your motorcycle, always have a helmet readily available for them. Click here to see my article about the best budget-friendly motorcycle helmets for passengers.

Related Questions

What does it mean when bikers point two fingers down? When you pass a motorcyclist that holds their arm out with two fingers down, it likely means they’re just giving you a friendly greeting. Other interpretations may mean “be safe” and “keep both wheels on the ground.”

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