The Art of Being a Brother … or Sister

trabant-601-04If you are asking me, a novice motorbike rider that has not yet caught a taste for twists and wind in your face, the best part of a ride is greeting other fellow bikers, or giving the (in)famous Riders’ Wave. Now seriously, how many other owners of vehicles do you know that will take the time to salute a fellow Saturn owner, for example? None! We, the bikers, don’t discriminate: whatever make or kind, whatever colour or art, we will always wave at each other. With a few exceptions: if you ride a Harley Davidson, we say Hello, you most often give us the nod! Or this is what we think as nobody likes to be ignored! Just to be clear, scooters and mopeds are NOT motorbikes, therefore acknowledging their presence on the road will definitely bring an uproar of dissatisfaction with possible grave repercussions from the bikers community! On the Can-Am’s and other 3 wheeled motorcycles, the jury is still out there! I wave anyway… just because I am friendly!

But how do you wave? Actually, I am quite confused why it is called a wave when all you do is extend your arm out. My kind of a wave is extending your arm out upwards and shaking it violently from the elbow, right to left or left to right . But I will not debate now the anatomy of a wave. Let’s discuss the multiple ways the riders wave! It turns out that the number of fingers one extends will tell the other rider how many cylinders his bike has: 2 fingers out – 2 cylinders, 4 fingers out – 4 cylinders. Now, to make things even more complicated, watch for which fingers you are extending. No, the middle finger is never a good choice when meeting a biker – you never know which one you just offended: the nice guy, that will laugh it off or the bad guy that will make sure you will not be able to move any fingers for an undetermined period of time! So, if you want to really tell the others that you are riding on top of 2 cylinders, extend your thumb and your index.  What if your bike is a 6 cylinder beast? I could not find a perfect answer on all the forums I researched but I would go with either one of my 2 favourites: the peace sign with the fingers pointing to the road or the low Hi five.

Unclear to me is who has the time to check out your wave and count the number of cylinders. Just imagine: let’s say I meet you on the road, riding at a comfortable (probably for you only at this moment) 70 km/hour. We wave at each other but I just could not be sure – did you wave 2 fingers or 4 fingers at me? 2 or 4 cylinders?  Exactly: I really don’t care! The fact that you waved is the important part! Remember Shakespeare? Remember Juliet’s famous quote: “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose/By any other name would smell as sweet.” Allow me to trivialize a bit the lines: what’s in a wave? That which we call a wave/By any other name would mean as much! Two fingers or 4 fingers, Hi fives or Peace wave, they all used to mean the same: if you ever are in need, we will be there to help you out! I don’t know and I hope I will never find out if the meaning behind the wave is still there. What I know is that the group of friends we are riding with will do just that: always stop and make sure you and/or your bike are ok.

There is another personal reason why I wave:it brings back memories from back home where I used to be the proud owner of a Trabant. Some of you might have heard about this corky East German car. I call it corky but most of the conoisseurs call it junk. Although the name is related to the Russian word Sputnik (satellite)  the little Trabi had nothing to do with speed, safety, scientific or technological development. Designed first as a 3 wheeled motorcycle, somehow it ended as an air-cooled two cylinder 500 cc, (later 600cc) two-stroke engine encased in a steel cage, draped in a plastic shell made out of recycled cotton or paper.

Small, light, grossly inefficient and extremely pollutant, owning a Trabant was good mainly for the ego: in a communist country where cars were scarce, to own a car meant that you somehow made it. The selection was quite limited: you could buy only a Dacia or an Oltcit, both Trabi and usRomanian made cars, a Wartburg or a Trabant, both East German cars. But there was something special about the Trabant and its owners besides the fact that the pre-owned cars were cheaper than the other makes and quit well taken care of: once you bought one, it was like going under a spell. The car came with an imaginary membership to a unique community: supportive, helpful and proud.

On a highway, country road or side road, wherever the car broke, you would always see more than one person working to fix the car. It did not really matter how busy or rushed you were, if a fellow Trabant owner was having mechanical issues, you stopped. If drivers like me, with little to no mechanical understanding or inclination, would happen to drive by, they would still stop and offer a coffee, a sandwich or just moral support. And as there were not that many cars in the country we were a very tight community; failing to stop (even if your wife was almost delivering your baby on the passenger seat) was considered the biggest snub ever and we all lived with the fear that next time when it happens our Trabi to let us down in the middle of the street nobody will stop!

In a country where the Secret Police’s job was to make sure nobody trusted anybody, it was the camaraderie that we all treasured. It had a subtle subversive note to it. The meetings were random and unplanned but between a couple pieces of advice on how to fix the engine, we would always slip something against the government, the communist leader and against the poor life we all were living. And it felt good. The blink of the headlights every time we would meet in traffic was more than just hello, I have your back! It was one of the few things that the government had no control over, could not censor or strangle.

So, wave on fellow riders! And smile, and nod and stop by for a coffee and a story! There is no better feeling than knowing I am now part of a great family.


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