From flashing lights to reflective clothing, cyclists stay safe on the road through several means. In this short guide, however our focus is on cycling hand signals. Knowing the right signals will not only keep you safe on your ride, but it is also a must for showing courtesy to drivers and pedestrians.
When you are on a bike, it is difficult to communicate with other people, so you should use your hands instead. Especially when you are in a group ride, you don’t have to shout at other people just to relay your message. All that you need is to use the appropriate cyclist signals depending on what it is that you would like to do or communicate. If you are a beginner, we got you covered! Keep on reading and we’ll talk about the most common hand signals for cyclists. The next time you are out riding your bike, use your hand more often to stay safe and sound!
Table of Contents
- 1 The Most Important Cycling Hand Signals You Need to Know
- 2 A Note About Hand Signals
- 3 Other Safety Tips
The Most Important Cycling Hand Signals You Need to Know
Don’t be a noob on your next ride. Below are some of the most basic bike road signals that you can practice.
There are two ways by which you can do bicycle turning signals – through a straight or bent elbow. You must be pointing your hand at the direction where you need to turn.
The simplest way to indicate a right turn is to extend your right arm fully and point your fingers at where you are turning. In some cases, people do it with their opposite hand. For instance, if you are turning right, then you can use your left hand. Raise your arm, bend your elbow, and point to the right with an open palm. Some people prefer this because it keeps their right hand on the handlebar, making it easier to engage the brake when needed.
This is simply the opposite of the right turn. Point your left arm to the left side of the road a few seconds before approaching the turn. Alternatively, bend your right elbow at 90 degrees and with an open palm, point to the left of the road.
There are two most common ways to show the hand stop signal. The most common is by putting your left arm down to your side with an open palm facing backward. It is practiced when bikers have to signal a stop to car drivers at the back.
Alternatively, a stop hand sign can also be done by positioning your right arm behind your back and making a fist sign. This is more commonly practiced when you are riding in a group.
A hand stop sign may not be enough in some situations, so a good thing to do is to shout “Stop” instead. This is especially the case if the stop is sudden. It can make a difference between life or death! However, it is best to do this only when absolutely needed. If the other party is in a car, you might not be heard, which is why shouting does not always work. If you have no choice but to shout, do it as loudly as you can. When there are pedestrians, avoid shouting directly at them because this can be perceived as being disrespectful.
This is one of the bicycle hand signals many newbies often find confusing. Take note of the difference between stopping and slowing. Know when to do each. You will have an outstretched hand with a palm down on your side. But the main difference is that your hand is moving. Use your wrist to move your hand up and down to indicate that you are slowing down. The motion will be similar to patting a dog with your palm.
Be responsible when you are biking. To do this, you have to warn others when there is a hazard, especially if you are with a group of riders. As the first one who spots the hazard, you are duty-bound to inform others of what will confront them. The most common road hazards are potholes and bumps. Other cyclists can lose balance when they do not see it. When they fall, this will create a domino effect and will hurt others.
The simplest bike hand signal for a hazard is to point using your index finger. When needed, move your finger up and down or move it in circles to emphasize the hazard.
It is also important that you warn other riders when approaching shoulder hazards, such as an open car door or parked vehicle. Point your right arm, similar to a hand signal for right turn. The main difference is that your palm is open as if you are pushing an invisible object into a wall. Position your right arm behind your back with your palm open.
This is another hand signal that you can do when you want to warn other riders about things to avoid. This can involve a pedestrian or another car that is blocking the street. Put your arm behind your back, close your wrist, and extend your index finger pointing to the direction at which you recommend the other rider to move. This is going to warn those at your back so that they do not have to proceed at the direction where they are initially heading.
If you are riding in a group, this is one of the most important bike signals. If you have been leading the group, there will come a point wherein you will feel exhausted. The first thing that you need to do is to slow down then move to the left or right. To signal that you want another person to be leading the line, all that you have to do is to flick your left or right elbow, depending on the side where you want the group to move. The others will quickly get the message.
This is another important hand signal that you need to use when you are riding with a group. In some cases, other riders tend to lose focus. They are getting too close for comfort. While it is good to relax, losing focus can result in an accident. To warn someone, all that you need is to extend your right arm behind your back and pat your butt. If this does not seem to work, then you can stop and politely warn the other rider. Do not be aggressive or confrontational and this can be misconstrued by the other party.
Courtesy is one of the most important things you need to practice as a biker. A simple way to be courteous is to show your thanks or acknowledgement. For instance, if one driver has allowed you to pass through, then you should be thankful for such a gesture. This is not a requirement, but this seems to be a humane action. A simple raised thumb will be more than enough that yu are thankful for whatever the other person has done.
A Note About Hand Signals
Aside from knowing how to do the cyclist hand signals listed above, it is also important to keep in mind the tips below.
Different Countries, Different Signals
The bike riding hand signals we earlier mentioned are commonly practiced in the United States and many other countries. However, take note that there can be differences depending on where you are, so be aware of the local practices.
Mind the Brakes
Look at the position of the brake lever in your bike. Depending on the brand or model, its specific location will be different. It is important that your one hand is often on the brake so that you can stop immediately. So, if the brake lever is on the right, then you should be using your left hand most of the time for signaling. This way, you can immediately engage the brakes when you need to do an emergency stop. If you hand is in the air signaling, braking is difficult and you might end up losing your balance.
Do Not Wait Until It Is Too Late
It is also important that you time your bicycle signals properly. Waiting too long will give the other party lesser time to react, making the hand signal ineffective as a warning. For instance, if you are turning right, make sure that you signal as you approach the turn and not as you make the actual turn.
Talk to the Group
If you will be riding as a group, one of the best things to do is to gather everyone and talk about basic biking hand signals. This is especially true if the group is diverse, which means that there are riders from different countries. It is good if you can agree on the most common signals, such as stopping, slowing, and turning. This way, there is a lesser chance that you will end up with a misunderstanding.
When you are on the road, do not let your anger get the better of you. Unlike when you are inside the car, you are more visible when riding. When agitated, your actions can be seen by others. Never ever lift the middle finger regardless of how annoyed you are. This can trigger anger from other people and can result in a violent confrontation. As much as possible, be the better person and do your best to avoid a fight.
Other Safety Tips
It is not enough that you learn the basic cycling hand signals. For a safer biking experience, here are some important things.
- Do not forget to inspect your bike before every ride. Pay attention to the tell-tale signs of common problems. Fix the issue before you leave.
- Keep your bike clean and well-maintained. This will prevent several problems that can potentially result in an accident on the road.
- Wear the proper safety gear. From helmets to elbow pads, gear up for what lies ahead. Hand signals are not enough for your protection when riding.
- Go with a group or someone you trust if you are a novice. It helps to have someone experienced to guide you throughout the ride.
- If you are riding past stopped or parked cars, maintain a safe distance. This will prevent you from being hit when someone suddenly opens a door.
- Avoid wearing earphones when biking. While it is good to listen to music during your ride, it will make you less aware of your surroundings.
- Know your place on the road. Make sure to use bike lanes whenever they are available. Do not use the bike on a sidewalk that is meant for pedestrians.
- Show respect to others, including both drivers and pedestrians. You do not own the road, so better learn how to share it with others.
- Do not use both hands to signal. Make sure that there is always one holding the handlebar so that you will gain full control of the bike, especially when braking.
- Keep your head forward. Avoid looking at your back, especially when you are moving. If you have to do so, slow down or stop to check.
- Ride on the same lane as the traffic and pedestrians. You should never ride on the opposite direction of the incoming vehicular or foot traffic.
- Always pay attention. Cycling is not the time to reflect on your life. Your focus should be on the road and not on anything else.
In sum, knowing how to signal on a bike is one of the most basic skills any cyclist must learn. It promotes a safer ride while also being courteous to other people on the road, including fellow bikers and pedestrians. Especially if you are in a group ride, it is critical that you practice the proper cycling hand signals to warn other cyclists of what you are about to do.