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You’ve likely seen motorcyclists greet each other with a gesture. It’s a fairly typical move for riders on big twin Harley-Davidsons to high-revving BMW and Kawasaki sport bikes. However, the low wave isn’t the only motorcycle hand signal out there; sometimes riders tap their heads to on-coming riders and motorists. So, what does a head tap from a motorcyclist mean?

If you see a head-tapping motorcycle hand signal, you might want to mind your speed

As you round a corner or pass a motorcyclist on a back road, you might get a head-tapping hand signal. It’ll typically be a flat palm gesture in a patting motion. No, they’re not trying to do the “pat your head and rub your tummy” bit; they’re trying to warn you. 

Specifically, the head-tapping hand signal warns other motorcycle riders of a law enforcement officer or speed trap further up the road. As such, any riders and spirited drivers can avoid getting pulled over and served an expensive ticket or even points on their license. 

A set of motorcycle riders use hand signals to communicate.
Two motorcycle riders | Kesu01 via iStock

Of course, if you’re driving the speed limit, you probably won’t need a warning from a passing motorcyclist. However, if you like to push the envelope a bit, a courteous rider could be the difference between a fun drive and an expensive fine. 

Beyond hand signals warning motorcycle riders of police officers and speed traps, groups of riders use hand and arm signals to communicate. Obviously, unless riders use a Bluetooth system like a Sena headset unit, they won’t be able to talk to one another. Instead, riders can use clear, concise gestures to make their point. 

For instance, some riders will gesture from right to left over their head to indicate that they need to pull off the road. Furthermore, in some groups, pulling alongside a fellow rider and tapping your tank will let your companion know that you’re stopping for fuel. Of course, the easiest way to communicate is with a Bluetooth system.