The bike's passenger seat swept up just
enough that I could see over my father's
shoulders. That seat was my throne. My dad
and I travelled many back roads, searching
for the ones we had never found before.
Travelling these roads just to see where they
went. Never in a rush. Just be home for
I remember wandering down a back road with my
father, sitting on my throne watching the
trees whiz by, feeling the rumble of our bike
beneath us like a contented giant cat. A
motorcycle came over a hill toward us and as
it went by, my father threw up his gloved
clutch hand and gave a little wave. The other
biker waved back with the same friendly swing
of his left wrist.
I tapped my father on his shoulder, which was
our signal that I wanted to say something. He
cocked his helmeted ear back slightly while
keeping his eyes ahead.
I yelled, "Do we know him?"
'What?" he shouted.
"You waved to him. Who was it?"
"I don't know. Just another guy on a bike. So
"You just do. It's important."
Later, when we had stopped for chocolate ice
cream, I asked why it was important to wave
to other bikers. My father tried to explain
how the wave demonstrated comradeship and a
mutual understanding of what it was to enjoy
riding a motorcycle. He looked for the words
to describe how almost all bikers struggled
with the same things like cold, rain, heat,
car drivers who did not see them, but how
riding remained an almost pure pleasure.
I was young then and I am not sure that I
really understood what he was trying to get
across, but it was a beginning. Afterward, I
always waved along with my father when we
passed other bikers.
I remember one cold October morning when the
clouds were heavy and dark, giving us another
clue that winter was riding in from just over
the horizon. My father and I were warm inside
our car as we headed to a friend's home.
Rounding a comer, we saw a motorcycle parked
on the shoulder of the road. Past the bike,
we saw the rider walking through the ditch,
scouring the long grasses crowned with a
touch of frost. We pulled over and backed up
to where the bike stood.
I asked Dad, "Who's that?" "Don't know," he
replied. "But he seems to have lost
something. Maybe we can give him a hand."
We left the car and wandered through the tall
grass of the ditch to the biker. He said that
he had been pulling on his gloves as he rode
and he had lost one. The three of us spent
some time combing the ditch, but all we found
were two empty cans and a plastic water
My father turned and headed back to our car
and I followed him. He opened the trunk and
threw the cans and the water bottle into a
small cardboard box that we kept for garbage.
He rummaged through various tools, oil
containers and windshield washer fluid until
he found an old crumpled pair of brown
leather gloves. Dad straightened them out and
handed them to me to hold. He continued
looking until he located an old catalogue. I
understood why my dad had grabbed the gloves.
I had no idea what he was going to do with
the catalogue. We headed back to the biker
who was still walking the ditch.
My dad said, "Here's some gloves for you. And
I brought you a catalogue as well."
"Thanks," he replied. I really appreciate
it." He reached into his hip pocket and
withdrew a worn black wallet. "Let me give
you some money for the gloves," he said as he
slid some bills out. "No thanks," my dad
replied as I handed the rider the gloves.
"They're old and not worth anything anyway."
The biker smiled. "Thanks a lot." He pulled
on the old gloves and then he unzipped his
jacket. I watched as my father handed him the
catalogue and the biker slipped it inside his
coat. He jostled his jacket around to get the
catalogue sitting high and centred under his
coat and zipped it up. I remember nodding my
head at the time, finally making sense of why
my dad had given him the catalogue. It would
keep him a bit warmer. After wishing the
biker well, my father and I left him warming
up his bike.
Two weeks later, the biker came to our home
and returned my father's gloves. He had found
our address on the catalogue. Neither my
father nor the biker seemed to think that my
father stopping at the side of the road for a
stranger and giving him a pair of gloves, and
that stranger making sure that the gloves
were returned, were events at all out of the
ordinary for people who rode motorcycles. For
me, it was another subtle lesson.
It was spring the next year when I was
sitting high on my throne, watching the farm
fields slip by when I saw two bikes coming
towards us. As they rumbled past, both my
father and I waved, but the other bikers kept
their sunglasses locked straight ahead and
did not acknowledge us. I remember thinking
that they must have seen us because our waves
were too obvious to miss. Why hadn't they
waved back? I thought all bikers waved to one
I patted my father on his shoulder and
yelled, "How come they didn't wave to us?"
"Don't know. Sometimes they don't."
I remember feeling very puzzled. Why wouldn't
someone wave back?
Later that summer, I turned 12 and learned
how to ride a bike with a clutch. I spent
many afternoons on a country laneway beside
our home, kicking and kicking to start my
father's '55 BSA. When it would finally
sputter to a start, my concentration would
grow to a sharp focus as I tried to let out
the clutch slowly while marrying it with just
enough throttle to bring me to a smooth
takeoff. More often, I lurched and stumbled
forward while trying to keep the front wheel
straight and remember to pick my feet up. A
few feet farther down the lane, I would sigh
and begin kicking again.
A couple of years later, my older brother
began road racing, and I became a racetrack
rat. We spent many weekends wandering to
several tracks in Ontario-Harewood, Mosport
and eventually Shannon Ville. These were the
early years of two-stroke domination, of
Kawasaki green and 750
two-stroke triples, of Yvon Duhamel's
cat-and-mouse games and the artistry of Steve
Eventually, I started to pursue interests
other than the race track. I got my
motorcycle licence and began wandering the
back roads on my own. I found myself stopping
along side roads if I saw a rider sitting
alone, just checking to see if I could be of
help. And I continued to wave to each biker I
But I remained confused as to why some riders
never waved back. It left me with almost a
feeling of rejection, as if I were reaching
to shake someone's hand but they kept their
arm hanging by their side. I began to canvass
my friends about waving. I talked with people
I met at bike events, asking what they
thought. Most of the riders told me they
waved to other motorcyclists and often
initiated the friendly air handshake as they
passed one another.
I did meet some riders, though, who told me
that they did not wave to other riders
because they felt that they were different
from other bikers. They felt that they were
"a breed apart." One guy told me in colourful
language that he did not "wave to no wusses.''
He went on to say that his kind of bikers
were tough, independent, and they did not
require or want the help of anyone, whether
they rode a bike or not.
I suspected that there were some people who
bought a bike because they wanted to purchase
an image of being tougher, more independent,
a not-putting-up-with-anyone's-crap kind of
person, but I did not think that this was
typical of most riders.
People buy bikes for different reasons. Some
will be quick to tell you what make it is,
how much they paid for it, or how fast it
will go. Brand loyalty is going to be strong
for some people whether they have a Harley,
Ford, Sony, Nike or whatever. Some people
want to buy an image and try to purchase
another person's perception of them. But it
can't be done. They hope that it can, but it
Still, there is a group of people who ride
bikes who truly are a "breed apart." They
appreciate both the engineering and the
artistry in the machines they ride. Their
bikes become part of who they are and how
they define themselves to themselves alone.
They don't care what other people think. They
don't care if anyone knows how much they paid
for their bike or how fast it will go. The
bike means something to them that nothing
else does. They ride for themselves and not
for anyone else. They don't care whether
anyone knows they have a bike. They may not
be able to find words to describe what it
means to ride, but they still know. They
might not be able to explain what it means to
feel the smooth acceleration and the strength
beneath them. But they understand.
These are the riders who park their bikes,
begin to walk away and then stop. They turn
and took back. They see something when they
look at their bikes that you might not.
Something more complex, something that is
almost secret, sensed rather than known. They
see their passion. They see a part of
These are the riders who understand why they
wave to other motorcyclists. They savour the
wave. It symbolizes the connection between
riders, and if they saw you and your bike on
the side of the road, they would stop to help
and might not ask your name. They understand
what you are up against every time you take
your bike on the road-the drivers that do not
see you, the ones that cut you off or
tailgate you, the potholes that hide in wait.
The rain. The cold.
I have been shivering and sweating on a bike
for more than 40 years. Most of the riders
that pass give me a supportive wave. I love
it when I see a younger rider on a "crotch
rocket" scream past me and wave. New riders
carrying on traditions.
And I will continue in my attempts to get
every biker just a little closer to one
another with a simple wave of my gloved
clutch hand. And if they do not wave back
when I extend my hand into the breeze as I
pass them, I will smile a little more. They
may be a little mistaken about just who is a
By Tom Ruttan