8 Unwritten Rules of the Road Every Motorcyclist Should Know
Clint Lawrence, founder of Motorcycle Shippers. Helping give riders more freedom to enjoy the bikes they love.
What are the rules for riding a motorcycle?
Just like any sport or hobby, riding a motorcycle comes with two sets of rules—the written and the unwritten, and it’s a lot easier to learn the former than the latter. Unfortunately, there are no classes, guidebooks or seminars on the unwritten laws of riding. Oh, and you definitely won’t be tested on them when you go to get your motorcycle license. Learning the rules of the road and biker culture takes years of cruising and interacting with other two-wheel enthusiasts. But the following list can help you get a glimpse into what you’ll learn when you start to master the road.
Don’t Ask to Ride Someone Else’s Bike
Referred to as The Natural Law of Motorcycling, this is one of the rules you’re going to want to take seriously if you’re new to the community. Asking to take someone else’s motorcycle for a spin puts them in the position of having to say no, so just don’t do it. No one wants to loan another rider his or her bike because it’s a big liability, and riders have things just the way they like them, not the way a random borrower might. Plus, it’s just bad manners all-around.
Always Alert Fellow Riders of Hazards
Many of the unwritten laws of riding come down to the same concept: look out for one another. Whenever possible, keep your fellow bikers in the know about what’s ahead—a speed trap, a particularly gnarly pothole, a traffic jam, deer—either via motorcycle Bluetooth communication if you’re cruising with a group of riders you know or through old-school hand signals (see below) to keep strangers in the other lane safely clued in to what’s ahead.
Know Rider-to-Rider Communication
Even if it’s your first day as a licensed biker, you already know that there’s a secret language that goes on, bike to bike, out on the road. But you may not know that there are both written and unwritten hand signals you need to know. Of course, there are the ones you learned in driver’s ed, such as a straight, extended arm to signal a left turn or a folded-down arm to signal a stop. But then there are the ones you learn through years of communication with fellow bikers, like a tap on the helmet to alert your fellow riders of a cop or speed trap ahead.
Wave at Your Fellow Riders
Another important hand signal to know? The wave. Legend has it that the bike-to-bike wave started back in 1904 when William Harley and Arthur Davidson (yes, that Harley and Davidson) passed one another and gave a friendly wave. There are many variations on the biker’s salute, with the most common being two or three fingers pointed downward at a 45-degree angle, but there are tons of unique and regional versions out there. The motorcycle wave is all about showing solidarity and forging a connection among your fellow riders.
See a Rider in Need? Stop
Many of the unwritten rules of the road for bikers center around helping each other and forging a sense of community. You always want to make sure you stop and assist a fellow biker—or, any motorist, for that matter—in need. If you see someone who may be in distress or if you’re traveling through a dangerous area, such as a steep mountain pass or a rural road where there’s no gas station for miles in either direction, you may want to flash a thumbs up or down to make sure other travelers know you’re okay and vice versa.
Respect the Road and Fellow Motorists
As bikers, we know we stand out from the typical commuter rocking his grocery-getter, but we shouldn’t be at odds with him. Always practice defensive driving and make sure to give other cars and motorcycle riders plenty of room, but don’t hesitate to help them out by letting them in or waving them ahead of you, either. Just remember that drivers may have trouble seeing you or staying out of your lane, so definitely ride defensive and remain visible whenever possible.
Group Riding? Whenever possible, Stay in Formation
This is one situation where a biker-to-biker headset really comes in handy. When you’re riding as a group, you need to stay in a safe, roomy formation—ideally, in a staggered line with a two-second distance between you and the rider directly in front of you—in order to keep everyone together without crowding or encroaching on the rest of traffic. It can be difficult to maintain a neat formation when you’re going for longer group rides, but knowing your hand signals or having a reliable Bluetooth system can go a long way in this situation.
Bikers Are Upstanding Members of the Community
Know that you can rely on your fellow riders, that they’re generally not dangerous gang members and that many motorcycle clubs spend a ton of time and effort raising money for charitable causes in the community. Most importantly, remember that by simply mounting a bike, you become an automatic member of that community, and that comes with a responsibility. Follow laws, be courteous of others and help your fellow rider and you’ll be a welcome addition to any region’s motorcycle community.
The Most Important Rule? Learn as You Go
One of the biggest mistakes young and novice riders tend to make is pushing themselves too far beyond their limits too early. This applies to everything from taking hairpin turns at high speeds to learning the best way to convey important information to other riders on the highway. As you enter the world of riding, keep your ears and eyes open so you pick things up as you go and never find yourself in a dangerous, awkward or uncomfortable situation.