The Online Voice of the Bicycle Alliance of Washington

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

How to Say "Kudos" on the Road

As the green Toyota Prius passed me, the driver honked twice.

With a bicyclist’s instincts, I flinched, wondering what had I done wrong. I completed a quick mental rundown of my status: Riding a reasonable, safe distance from the right side of the road – check. Maintaining predictable line of travel – check. Following all applicable rules of the road – check. Clothes, bike, and panniers all behaving as expected – check. Sometimes people honk for no reason. I had just decided this was one of those cases when I noticed the driver’s friendly hand-wave. I waved back (extra friendliness never hurt anybody), then wondered who I had waved at. Did I know anybody who might drive down Lake Washington Boulevard at 8:00 on a Thursday morning?

Eventually I figured out that yes, I have a friend who works in Seattle, owns a green Prius, and would most likely take that route to work. A couple hours later, her email arrived in my inbox:
Subject: Hope I was not too startling

I assume it was you in a pink shirt with your streamers biking down Lake Wa Blvd that I honked at and waved at this AM on my way to work. I was hoping that didn't make your teeth clench and raise your adrenaline not knowing what I was about.

One author I read pointed out that while cars and drivers have recognized ways of communicating disapproval to others on the road whether it be people, bicyclists or other cars, we don't have a recognized means for communicating approval...
Chalk it up as one mystery solved before 10:00 am.

The larger mystery that my friend brought up, of how should people express approval on the roads, remains unsolved. Honking, fist-waving, and angry shouting provide us with abundant means of expressing displeasure, but what happens when somebody wants to express friendly or positive feelings on the road? Usually drivers (of cars or bikes) employ the same methods of communication – honking, waving, and shouting – and their intentions are all-too-easily misconstrued. This is your chance to offer some clues to solve this mystery. How should motorists communicate approbation to bicyclists, and vice versa?


  1. I don't know about not having a positive sign. When I drive and see a cyclist that is "doing good", I just give 'em a thumbs up sign, that usually does the trick and they understand its a good thing.

  2. I hate the honk. That's not a good thing at all. Honk and I'm looking all around to see what is happening, to me a honk is a warning as per the RCW. I won't take the chance that it's to say 'Hi" and miss something that might kill me.
    I do use the thumbs up to drivers though. When I signal that I'm moving left and I'm let in I turn my left hand signal into a thumbs up to say thanks.

  3. A thumbs-up works when somebody is looking your way, but usually it relies on eye contact between the thumber and the thumbee. The real question is: How do you get somebody's attention in a positive way?

  4. Thumbs up too...or sometimes I wave and smile., I stay focus and positive. I am always amazed of the speed feeling the wind and sun against me it is really a good feeling.

  5. Heheh... a sort of salute or thumbs up works. Maybe they should make an "anti-honk" equipped on vehicles that blares a feel-good sound. lol