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Motorcycle Slang Secrets: 10 Phrases You Want to Know

Motorcycle slang is one of the many things that set this particular group of hardy individuals apart.

If you’ve ever seen a pack of riders on the highway, you’ve surely noticed something special. From hand signals to patches, everything has meaning that only other bikers understand.

Today, we’re peeking under the rug at this unique subculture. We’ll reveal the true meaning behind ten phrases you’ve probably never heard.

Let’s ride!

Understanding Motorcycle Lingo and Slang

To understand motorcycle slang, you first need to get a taste of the culture. Or, more accurately, several. Many different types of individuals enjoy riding these metal beasts, each with their own values.

Movies like The Wild One and Easy Rider cemented the image of the outlaw biker in American society. But there’s more to it than just a rebellious young person out to cause trouble. Motorcyclists love connecting with nature and each other differently than people who travel in cars. 

Generally, you’ve got enthusiasts and lifers. The first group enjoys riding and may invest significant time and money into their hobby. Usually, they’ve got a straight job, a house, and a family. They might ride sport bikes, racers, or touring motorcycles. 

However, bikers, and especially 1%ers, live in the saddle. They’re involved with clubs, and everything revolves around their ride. Most of these folks ride Harley-Davidsons and have a complex social structure. Hunter S. Thompson’s famous book Hell’s Angels chronicles the seedy underbelly of these groups. 

Each subculture incorporates different jargon and lingo that help set them apart from the crowd. To be accepted, you’ve got to understand the language. So, we’re letting you in on some of the secret phrases among motorcycle riders.

#1 Ape Hangers

This bit of slang refers to a specific type of motorcycle handlebar arrangement. Instead of a lower placement, ape hangers generally align with the rider’s shoulders. With their hands up over their heads, they look somewhat like large primates hanging from a branch. 

According to legend, this configuration evolved as a defense against wires hung to deter gangs of riders. The handlebars rose up and protected their necks on the fly.

However it came about, you can’t miss them roaring down the highway.


Motorcyclists riding around without helmets, clad only in jeans and a t-shirt, might make you angry. They should be wearing all the gear all the time to protect themselves. This is where the term ATGATT came from.

When traveling at high speeds with little protection, riders need something between them and the elements.

Traditionally, canvas or leather pants and padded jackets join boots and gloves to shield the body. Full-face helmets protect the noggin and also provide somewhere to stow communication in some cases. 

Of course, there’s always that shirtless dude cruising down the road, living in the moment. 

#3 Biker

Regarding motorcycle slang, there’s even a difference between bikers and motorcycle riders. One has an iconic image associated with it, and the other is more of a catchall term.

Bikers are the epitome of the American outlaw. Usually, we imagine them in black leather jackets or “cuts,” the patched vest standard in motorcycle clubs (MCs). They’re expected to be expert riders and carry themselves with a serious attitude. 

Sometimes traveling in packs, they’re an intimidating presence on the road.

Motorcycle riders, on the other hand, are more likely to be weekend warriors. They might drive a minivan during the week but take a different approach on weekends by touring on luxury cycles. While some ride Harleys, you’ll tend to see Hondas, Yamahas, and BMWs in their garages.

#4 Cager

Embracing the freedom associated with biking led to the rise of this particular motorcycle slang. Cager refers to someone driving in a car, truck, or van.

Trapped inside a metal box, they’re a frequent sore spot for riders because of distracted driving. Riding’s dangerous enough without mobile phones and kids screaming in the back.

#5 Keep the Rubber on the Road

Watching bikers ride through in big groups is always thrilling. If they pass another motorcycle, you’ll often see a “two fingers down” gesture referring to this slang.

“Keep the rubber on the road” is essentially a blessing between them. It’s wishing them safe travels with their wheels firmly on the ground.

#6 Lay It Down

Lay it down refers to a no-contact crash where a biker puts their hog on the ground. No rider wants this to be their only way out of an impact, as it can damage their vehicle.

However, it’s better to lay it down than to go over the handlebars and risk serious injury. Dressing in leather or canvas can protect skin from road rash in these types of accidents. 

#7 Ride at Your Own Pace

Like another piece of slang, “ride your own ride,” this phrase is about safety. Don’t try to reach beyond your skills just to keep up with more experienced operators.

Some folks have special training and can handle rougher terrain or higher speeds than you can. So take it easy and ride at your own pace. 

#8 Shiny Side Up

Just like “keep the rubber on the road” means to keep your wheels on the ground, shiny side up strikes a similar chord. Essentially, this piece of motorcycle slang encourages you to stay upright. In a crash, you could come to a stop shiny side down, and that’s a real problem.

But if you’re riding at your own pace, you’re less likely to be in this kind of situation.

#9 Twisties

Expert riders love this term because they’re so much fun. Twisties are sections of a road involving many twists and turns. If you see a bike going from side to side and the motorcyclist shifting their weight back and forth, that’s the twisties. 

These could be in mountain passes or alongside a beach. Wherever they are, they’re a blast to ride, especially if you’re an expert rider.

#10 Wind Therapy

Feeling down in the dumps? This piece of motorcycle slang is just what the doctor ordered. Wind therapy is perfect for those who find a sense of peace in the freedom of the road. Instead of focusing on the problem, head out for a ride on your favorite stretch of highway. 

Studies show that riding a motorcycle decreases stress by 28%, so maybe there’s something to this one.

Get Familiar with Motorcycle Slang Before You Ride

Whether biker or motorcyclist, these terms have special meaning within subcultures. And we just hit the tip of the iceberg with the ten on this list. Motorcycle slang goes much deeper. Before you suit up in ATGATT, take some time to get familiar with all the lingo. While you’re out there, if you pass another rider, wish them shiny side up and ride on!

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