Years ago, during the dark ages, known as the early days of the Internet, there was a popular discussion group called rec.bicycles.racing. Everything was discussed. Things could get heated, like with Facebook, but everyone is in on the same discussion at the same time.
Anyways, there were three intractable arguments on r.b.r. The first was clinchers vs. tubulars. The second was Campagnolo vs. Shimano. The third was wave vs. no wave.
But, really, there were two. Because only an asshole doesn’t wave.
At least that’s how the joke goes. It’s not mine.
But during what I’ll probably end up thinking of my Covid-19 rides, I find myself waving as usual. While I shouldn’t be surprised, few are waving back. It bugs me more than usual.
It could be pointed out that I’m old and that makes me cranky. There might be some truth to that, as some of my contemporaries have made the same complaints for years. And I know they’ve been harping on this lately as well.
All the same, when I was young, this was also an issue. In my 20’s, I joined up with a new team. I hadn’t spent much off-bike time with anyone on the team. For the first race, I jumped in a teammate’s car and we drove to ride to the race together. We were in the car, having a conversation, and a recreational cyclist was coming up the other way. My teammate stopped mid-sentence and firmly stated, “wave.” I did. There was almost no way the cyclist saw us wave; it was sunny out, so the light probably reflected off the windshield. And it was cold, so we had the windows up. We continued our conversation after that, with nothing said about the wave.
We’ve been friends ever since.
And I’ve met plenty of younger cyclists who make the same complaint. Though, to be fair, they started riding pretty young and have been committed to cycling since then. Maybe they’re kind of old, too.
Waving has always made sense to me. When I started, getting yelled at, honked at, swerved at, having stuff thrown out of windows of passing cars was part of the scenery. A friend even made a point of wearing “beer” jerseys, that is jerseys emblazoned with a beer sponsor—Lowenbrau, Bud Light, were just two of this era. Back then, cops pulling me, or a group of us, over just for riding together was also fairly common. There weren’t many of us out on the road. Most everyone I knew also waved, I think because that’s what we did. I think we largely saw those strangers as part of our community; we were them, they were us, no matter how different they looked, or seemed, from across the road at a decent clip. Brotherhood of the wheel or somesuch.
Even now, though cycling is much more popular than when I was a teen, there still aren’t that many cyclists out on the road. There are still drivers hassling us. The police are still hassling us. We’re still part of a community. A little community goes a long way.
There are lots of flavors of waving. You can make a big deal about it, or a casual shake of the hand and a nod, and it’ all good. So many on the road don’t recognize our humanity that it’s nice to recognize someone else’s humanity.
Another thing to consider is that action influences thought and behavior. If you start waving on the assumption that stranger is part of your community, you might think of the person in that way. There is solid research that demonstrates smiling makes people feel happier and frowning contributes to feelings of sadness.
Are there exceptions? Of course. You don’t need to wave if you’re in the middle of a huge gran fondo, bike-a-thon, or a busy bike path like New York’s Hudson River Greenway. Nodding or smiling or just a slight raise of your hand off the bars is plenty. But when you’re on the road and there are only occasional cyclists, you owe it to them, to yourself, to acknowledge them.
Here’s a video detailing waving technique. As we’re in the middle of the Covid-19 social distancing project, it’s drills for riding on your trainer. Maybe you need a reason to ride indoors—this will do it. Maybe you need something do in between other intervals—this works as well.