Why Do Motorcycles Have Whips? A Full Explanation

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While you’re driving the down the road, you may notice a motorcycle that has something similar to a whip hanging from the handlebars. For those who aren’t familiar with what these are, it may seem a bit strange seeing them. There are several reasons why motorcyclists have whips on their motorcycles.

The 6 main reasons why motorcycle riders hang a whip from their handlebars are:

  • To Quickly Identify What Motorcycle Club The Rider Is From
  • As A Self Defense Mechanism,
  • To Help Other Motorists See Them Easier
  • In Memory Of Lost Friends Or Family
  • As A Look To The Past
  • Purely For Aesthetics

These whips are referred to as “Getback” whips and became famous in the United States in the 1970’s and 80’s when motorcycle clubs and gangs were becoming more prevalent.  They’re not as common as they used to be but every once in a while you’ll still pass one on the highway.

Biker Club Colors

In large cities, it’s common to find motorcycle clubs or groups of people who like to ride together.  They even organize themselves into democratically voted positions like president, treasurer, etc. Many clubs are involved in charity events, motorcycle shows, road rallies, and help their communities.

The members of these clubs are proud to be a part of that organization and to show off their membership they’ll get specifically colored leather whips. These multi-colored getback whips are usually the same colors for everyone in the club, and many clubs will give one to each new member after paying their entry membership fee.

Some clubs are so large that there are chapters all over the country or world.  So if you’re going on a road trip and pass someone with the same colors as you there’s a good chance you’re in the same club.  Pull over and talk to them, they might be able to introduce you to other members in the area that could give you some good tips about riding in that city or state.

If you’re buying a getback whip just because you like it, be sure to do some research first.  If there’s a certain club associated with those colors you could make someone mad. It’s probably best just to buy a full black one if you’re unsure.

Self Defense

Getback whips were used for self defense a lot more in the 70’s and 80’s than they are now.  Those two decades saw a sharp increase in motorcycle gang violence, especially against police, as compared to subsequent decades.

Getback whips have a quick release handle that clips to your handlebars, clutch lever, or front brake lever.  This quick release handle allows the user to give it a hard yank and pull the whip off quickly when they need to use it. The quick release handle also serves as a hard surface for blunt impact.

Being made out of leather makes them very strong and flexible.  If someone wanted to conceal the whip they could wind it up easily and tuck it away somewhere. If you’ve ever been hit with a leather whip, you know that it’s certainly an unpleasant experience.

Another reason riders like to have it right within hand reach is so they can even use it against another motorcyclist while driving.  That’s obviously not a good idea.

Getback whips are illegal in California if they have a quick release latch.  If they’re permanently attached to the motorcycle for purely looks then you’re allowed to have it.  The police in California will pull you over for it, confiscate the whip, and give you a ticket if it’s not permanently attached.  

Before you buy one, call local law enforcement and see if they’re legal in your state. California so far is the only state to have advertised their laws about motorcycle whips.

Helps Other Drivers Spot Motorcycles Easier

The greatest annoyance to motorcycle riders is cars cutting them off and swerving into them because they don’t look before they merge lanes. Motorcycle riders have to be on edge all the time looking out for their safety, so anything that will make their motorcycle more visible will increase safety.

The first time I saw a motorcycle with a whip on it I was so curious about what it was for that I became very aware of the rider.  It definitely worked to get my attention! Safety is such a huge risk for motorcycle riders, so I would recommend someone to get a whip if they want every chance possible of other cars seeing them on the road.

Some motorcycles even have two whips, one hanging off each side of the motorcycle just to really get people’s attention.  Whatever you can do to feel safe then do it.

In Memory Of Lost Friends Or Family

Most online stores that sell getback whips have customizable options for colors and hard surfaces at the bottom of the whip.  Some will have a Harley or Indian logo on the end of it. As a token of remembrance of a lost friend or family member who also rode a motorcycle, motorcyclists will have the person’s name at the end of the whip.

It would be really easy to attach a picture or quote from that person at the bottom of the whip so you could feel like they were always with you while you ride.  Anyone who has ridden motorcycles long enough has probably lost a friend to an accident, I lost a cousin and a friend in high school to motorcycle accidents. If getback whips were their style then maybe this could be a good way to remember them.

You could even design the whip with their favorite colors, or the logo of their favorite sports team.  There are a lot of options from online suppliers.

As A Look To The Past

Many people feel like they were born in the wrong generation.  My wife always talks about how she wishes she could have lived through the roaring twenties and my dad always talked about being a cowboy during the wild west days.  

If you’re one of those people whose style comes from the 70’s and 80’s then this might be a good option for customizing your motorcycle a little bit. Most people who have whips tend to like big bobbers, choppers, and big cruisers because that’s the style of that generation.

Some people even use small link chain as their getback whip which is highly discouraged against.  If that chain came off while you were riding and got wrapped around your rear tire or chain it could be catastrophic.  If you’re going to get one, then get leather or vinyl.

Purely Aesthetics

There are plenty of people out there who simply like getback whips because they think they look awesome.  Everyone has their style and that’s what makes this world interesting and colorful. If you want to get one because you like them, then go right ahead.

Some of the old school motorcycle clubs frown on people buying getback whips just because they like them, but who cares, if you like it then buy it. No one is going to give you grief about it. A splash of leather or color to your motorcycle might be just what you’re looking for.

If you’re buying one purely for aesthetics then I would recommend buying one that is not removable.  Get a permanent one so if a police officer ever pulls you over and asks about it you can prove that it’s just for looks.

Related Questions

What do you do when a dog chases you on a motorcycle? If you are getting chased by a dog while riding a motorcycle, slow down before you reach the animal to avoid collision. If it looks like the dog is going to intercept with you, speed up just before interception to throw off the dog’s timing. Click here to see my article for more information.

Are motorcycle clubs and gangs the same thing?  A motorcycle club is a group founded on principles of riding in the spirit of companionship and are generally involved in community events and affairs.  Any motorcycle group that calls themselves a gang generally have philosophies of violence.

This article has been reviewed in accordance with our editorial policy.

Kyle Cannon

Kyle currently works as a mechanical engineer and graduated with a minor in automotive engineering. He loves restoring motorcycles, has a vast knowledge of how they work, and has sold his restoration projects to customers from all over the United States.

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