Bicycling inherently requires sharing the road with fellow cyclists and cars.
And without bright, flashing lights to indicate turns and stops like on a car, it’s essential to have a way to communicate with the people around you to ensure safety for everyone during a ride.
That’s why knowing your hand signals can make the difference between getting your message across and placing yourself in a potentially dangerous situation.
In this guide, we’ll cover the most commonly used hand signals that will help you become a safer cyclist on the road and allow you to communicate clearly and effectively with other cyclists and drivers.
There are two ways to indicate a turn with your arm, which can lead to some confusion amongst cyclists and drivers. The best way to communicate a turn is to stick your arm straight out to the side to which you plan to turn.
In the case of a left turn, that means pointing your left arm straight out to your left, while in the case of a right turn you would point your right arm straight out to the right of your body.
Turns can also be signaled by pointing the arm opposite the direction you want to turn into the air, bent 90 degrees at the elbow.
In this case, to turn right, you would put your left arm out to the left of your body and bend your elbow so that your hand is pointing straight up with an open palm.
To turn left, mirror this motion with your right arm.
This turn signal is most commonly used among cyclists to indicate a right turn (that is, they are using their left arm) because it allows slowing using the rear brake with the right hand.
There are two ways to signal stopping, both of which are nearly universally recognized by both other cyclists and drivers.
The first, is to put your left arm down and out to your side with your palm open and facing backward.
The second, used more often to signal a stop to other cyclists in a pack, is to place your right arm behind your back and make a fist in the middle of your back.
Letting cyclists and cars behind you know when you are slowing down is just as important as letting them know when you are planning to stop, since changing speed unexpectedly can easily lead to an accident.
To signal a slow down, point your left arm down and to the side with your palm parallel to the ground.
Move your palm up and down, keeping it parallel to the ground, to indicate slowing and to avoid confusion with the signal for road debris.
Road hazards that are confined to a small space, such as a pothole or bump, are important to signal to other cyclists when riding in a group.
These hazards usually appear suddenly as you are riding and are often be hard to see from the rear of a cycling pack, yet can pose the threat of a flat tire or more serious danger to any rider who hits them.
Point, with index finger extended, down and away from your body towards the hazard as soon as you see it and as you pass by it.
Road debris, such as rough road, remnants of a former car accident, or gravel, presents a similar hazard to other cyclists in a pack as a pothole.
But unlike a pothole, debris generally occurs over a diffuse area of the road.
Even when it may be impossible to avoid, it is important to signal debris since it can cause loss of traction.
To signal road debris, point downwards and wave your hand back and forth or shake your hand in a circular motion from the wrist.
Another important time to warn other cyclists of an approaching hazard is when there is something blocking the shoulder of the road you’re riding on, such as a parked car, open car door, or pedestrians.
This signal involves first pointing your right arm out, similar to a right turn signal, but with your hand open as if you were pushing against an invisible wall.
Then, move your right arm behind your back and place your hand with palm open and facing backward on the middle of your back.
When riding in a pace line, the leading cyclist will often move to the left or right before slowing down to drift towards the back of the pack and allow someone else to lead.
To signal when you are ready to allow the next person to pull through to lead, flick your elbow out to the right or left – whichever side you are planning to move over towards.
Every now and then, when riding in a group, you’ll feel the cyclist behind you get too close for comfort.
When that happens, it’s important to let them know that they need to stay further back and pay attention to keeping a safe riding distance before a close call becomes an accident.
To signal this warning, put your right arm behind your back and pat your butt.
Unfortunately, “universal” hand signals are anything but.
The hand signals that speak for themselves – such as sticking your left arm out to signal a left turn, or putting an open palm behind you to indicate a stop – are generally recognized around the world by both cyclists and drivers.
However, the majority of the hand signals described in this guide are recognized only by cyclists.
Critically, that includes signals like raising your left arm to turn right or moving your hand up and down to signal slowing down – signals that you will often use to signal to cars behind you.
Furthermore, while the hand signals described here are the most frequently used signals among cyclists, there are innumerable additional signals found in specific regions or even among specific cycling clubs.
Unfortunately, the confusion among hand signals is compounded by the fact that there is not always agreement among what a hand signal means.
For example, some cyclists interpret the raised arm – which generally means an impending turn – as a stop sign.
Before riding in a group, the safest practice is to make sure that everyone riding agrees on what hand signals you will be using during the ride and what they mean.
While you cannot control how cars interpret your signals, with a little forethought you can prevent a crash within your riding group.
Knowing your bike hand signals are an important way to stay safe on the road while riding and keep other cyclists around you safe as well.
They allow communication about both changes in your cycling pattern and unseen hazards on the road ahead.
Practicing these signals and sharing information with fellow cyclists can help improve everyone’s riding experience.
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