Cycling - Knowledge

Bike Hand Signals: Safe Riding Guide for Cyclists (with Infographic)

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Hey Cyclists, how safe do you ride your bike? You would say cent percent safely. But, we would like to ask, do you use bike hand signals? Caught ya! It is important to build a safe community with safe transportation systems which involve the participation of not only governmental and community organizations but also individual drivers and cyclists. Cyclists must avoid distractions and pay attention to all street and road signs and signals. It is important to be able to hear cars, other riders, people, opening car doors, dogs and possibly everything audible to your ears.

Ok, we all know that we can never be in complete control over our surroundings, being thoughtful and vigilant while biking is the best method to chip in our fair contribution and ensure that you don’t end up being a part of or a cause of an accident. While a big part of this is following the rules of the road, using proper hand signals is a major principle as well.

Rules of the road - Why to Use Bike Hand Signals

There are other “rules of the road” which are cycling-specific, like using hand signals, hand symbols and hand gesture. The truth is: if you ride a bike, you are most likely going to face a crash. Probably more than just once. Don’t get scared! Most of the times, it’s not that bad; some bad wrecks could happen, but most people love biking so much that they get right back on as soon as they are able to. Isn’t it?

It is admittedly a tad more work when signalling on a bike as compared to a car, where you have to take a hand off the handlebar and hold it out in the air, while conditions such as the weather being rainy or icy or if you’re riding on uneven surfaces like cobblestones make it more precarious a task. However, hand symbols and signaling is integral to basic bike safety.

Bike Hand Signals - The Indication to Safe Riding
Bike Hand Signals - A must for cyclists

You won’t believe when we say that – biking majorly involves using public roads and interacting with other cyclists, drivers, and even pedestrians.

See, how paramount bicycle hand signals is?

Proper hand signal usage is extremely important when riding with a large group because often only the lead reader has an uninhibited view of the road. The rest of the cyclists rely on this leader to point out objects on the road like rocks, gravel, and glass as well as changes in the road itself like bridges and potholes.

The more people are aware and can anticipate a cyclist’s move, the fewer chances are of an accident. Woohoo, look how important you are for everyone on the road. 

In simple language, if everyone knows what everyone else is doing next, it won’t hit them out of the blue and they will be prepared for it.

For this, we say bicycle hand signals is one of the best indicators to ensure others around you know what you’re doing.

“You’ve got to take Life and Ride it, till the wheels fall off” - Brad Simms

Bike Hand Signal Techniques to Keep in Mind

Just a minor tip before we head on to the types of bike hand signals. The signaling means taking one hand off the handlebar of your bike. In case you are new to cycling or have a new bike, it’s essential to ensure you can ride it steady with one hand, freeing up the other for signaling as and when required.

Some bikes such as road bikes have a tendency to steer quite ‘nervously’ when maneuvered with just one hand.

Practice steering and braking with either hand.

The front brake, operated by your right hand, is the strongest and most efficient, but the rear brake brings you to a more gradual stop; choose whichever makes you feel the most in control.

So what should you do?

The best way to master the bike hand signals technique is to be bold!

When you do use bike hand signals, signal boldly. Use your entire arm instead of just a finger, such that the signal is obvious and unambiguous. It informs others that you really mean what you’re indicating, it isn’t just a meek permission, it’s a bold statement!

Types of Bike Hand Signals

No blinkers, brake lights or bike lights?

Who cares, you have your hands, that will keep you safe on the roads!

Here is a pictorial description that could help you determine a few of them:

Bike Hand Signals

Types of Bike Hand Signals

Basic bike hand signals used for communication will help you stay safe and keep the rubber side down when riding in a group. Unlike motor vehicles, bicycles don’t have blinkers and brake lights to indicate when a driver plans to make a turn, is slowing down, or makes a sudden stop.

Instead, cyclists should use hand signals to alert surrounding traffic to their actions. Knowing these basic bike hand signals will help you and the people around you know what maneuvers you plan to do next.

While these signals are most beneficial for a biker, oddly enough it’s not too much effort to know them as a pedestrian as well. It helps with your own safety after all!

1. Stopping

Put your hand behind your back and make a fist. Not indicating the intention of stopping to rides behind you is the classic mistake that can lead to a pile-up.

Bike Hand Signals

Stop Sign (Source)

2. Turning Left

Extend your left arm perpendicular to your body, at least a distance of ten yards prior to making your turn. This is not only used to indicate to the other riders when riding in a group but also when you are riding alone as most bikes do not come with blinkers.

Bike Hand Signals

Turning Left

3. Turning Right

This is super simple! In order to indicate you are turning right, simply extend your left arm away from your body and make a right angle (90 degrees) with your hand pointed to the sky.

Whereas for an alternate right turn, bring your right arm perpendicular to your body, at a minimum of ten yards, prior to making your turn.

Bike Hand Signals - Turn right

Turning Right

4. Oncoming Hazard

To point out an upcoming hazard, take the arm on the side of the hazard behind you and point across your back in the direction the cyclist behind you.

Hate hazards on the road?

Then find out the top cycle-friendly cities in the world.

Bike Hand Signals -Oncoming Hazard


5. A Pothole/Road Hazard

Extend your arm, left or right depending on the direction of the pothole/road hazard, and point, rotating it in small circles to emphasize. When you are riding in a group and are one of the back riders, it isn’t always convenient to know what’s upcoming and this signal could be more than useful to be on the look-out for!

Bike Hand Signals - A Pothole/Road Hazard

A Pothole/Road Hazard

6. Gravel/Debris

Often there is debris on the roads, of the likes of gravel, sticks, sand……motioning to bring these to notice can help save someone in your group from a road rash.

When riding in a pace line, or drafting, in case a road hazard is spotted, the rider in the front holds out his arm at a 45-degree angle, hand open, palm towards the ground and wiggles his fingers to indicate loose gravel or debris. Each of the following riders, in turn, copy the similar signal until all riders down the pace line are made aware.

Bike Hand Signals - Gravel/Debris


7. Slowing down

Have you ever used this hand signal to slow down your bike? We can see you feel guilty! This is a legitimate bike hand signal, but unfortunately, it has fallen behind on its usage.

To indicate this, use your right arm making a downward flapping motion.

Bike Hand Signals - Slowing down

Slowing down

8. Pull Through/Come Through

If you are a leader of your bike group, then you would understand this better- it does indeed get a bit tiring leading the group.

And in order to hand over the reins to someone else, all you need to do is with your hands still on the handlebars, flick your left or right elbow away from your body, as per the side of the pack you intend drifting back on.

9. Get on My Wheel/Move Over and Pay Attention

If the rider wants you to draft, he or she will pat their own butt to indicate which side you should draft. No one wants a rider that continually drifts into your space, a slight touch of the wheels is all it takes for everyone to come crashing down.

Bike Hand Signals - Move Over and Pay Attention

Get on My Wheel/Move Over and Pay Attention

10. Cattle Grid, Railroad Tracks, and Speed Bumps

How to tell the other riders about hazards?

Well, in the case of hazards that run the length of the road, such as railroad tracks or speed bumps, the rider will point a finger downward and sweep his arm back and forth across his back.

Bike Hand Signals - Speed Bumps

Cattle Grid, Railroad Tracks, and Speed Bumps

11. Thanks/ Acknowledgment

We have all ignored it. Admit it, have you ever appreciated someone for a good turn on the roads?

Well, It’s very easy to be a pleasant rider out on the roads but is often the most forgotten signal or pleasantry a rider could possibly offer. To acknowledge someone doing you or your group a ‘good turn’ this sign keeps it simple – a raised hand of thanks.

An additional smile and or a raised thumb/thumbs-up could also go a long way in conveying genuine appreciation.

Drafting: How to Ride in a Pace Line

What is drafting? Not the draft on your laptop for sure!!

You might have noticed, riders in large groups and in lines, wheel to wheel – that is called drafting. This is common when there is a headwind, crosswind, or when an overall faster pace is desired.

While a fun group activity, it can also be fairly dangerous as it requires cyclists to ride within inches of each other’s tires in order to get the maximum aerodynamic benefit.

Much crashes in drafting involve someone clipping the wheel in front of them, or someone not pointing out a hazard, etc.

Bike Hand Signals - Drafting

Follow Drafting

Are you going first time on a road bike or first time riding with a group?

Then we totally understand the feeling of intimidation. There are possibly multiple things going on in your head, like confusing bike hand signals, different drafting techniques, and cars.

But hey, fret not!

We are here with easy, quick and effective tips that will increase your bike-riding IQ in these areas.

Below we’ve mentioned a few pointers for efficient drafting:

  • Place weaker riders behind stronger riders.
  • Ride smoothly and predictably, say no to sudden brakes or quick accelerate.
  • New riders have a tendency of jumping up and picking up the pace.
  • Always maintain a constant speed, you can move faster as a group than you can ride alone.
  • When tired, sit out your turn, but let the riders coming back know you are resting and allow them space to move ahead of you.
  • Strong riders need to fill in any gaps in order to preserve the flow, meaning even jumping across and moving back up the line early.
  • When rotating to the rear of the line, stay close to the pace line coming up the side of you to help stay in contact with the group as you hook onto the back of the line.

Now check out where to look when following another rider:

1. The Lower Back

Judge your following distance by the lower back of the rider in front. Do not focus on the rider’s rear wheel.

2. Over the Shoulder

Even if you are following someone, it is important to know what’s ahead of you! So the best way is to glance over the shoulder of the rider in front to see what is coming up ahead of you.

3. The Front Wheel

Want to avoid the potholes, hazards easily? Then, glance down at the front wheel of the rider in front to check on the state of the road ahead.

Use your Vocals – Call Out!

Bike Hand Signals
Use your Vocals – Call Out!

While hand signals are the deal, it does help to sometimes accompany these with verbal warnings as well.

1. Clear left/right

When a group is attempting to join the flow of traffic from a junction, they can only move in when the road is clear, without having to stop but importantly, checking for traffic after. This call hence is used to indicate that the junction offers a clear line of sight in both directions for the group to move. In case this call is absent, it means that it is currently unsafe to cut across, or pull out of the junction.

An alternative to this is “Car Left/Right” which indicates the presence of traffic in such a situation. Importantly, 3ke sure to make the call distinctive enough so as to not confuse the word ‘car’ with ‘clear’.

2. On the left/right

When riding in a group or drafting, this call indicates to the rider in front of you, where they are in relation to you. For example, calling out “on the left” would mean that you are approaching them from their left flank. This is particularly followed in sportives, or where routes can be especially mountainous. If you are planning mountain cycling, these hacks will certainly guide you!

3. Car up

This call alerts the riders behind of an approaching car, usually which is heading towards the group. It is mostly utilized in times of a narrower road as opposed to the dual-direction single carriageway where vehicles have enough space and their own lanes, making contact unnecessary. It could also be altered to apprise of other vehicles such as bikes, tractors, maybe horses… or even runners…

4. Car back

This is the solo call that actually originates from the tail end of the group, which basically is to inform that a car is approaching from behind. Of course, since the message needs to travel in the opposite direction, it is vital to make the call clear.

Keeping all these in mind could be slightly overbearing, but in case you belong to a club or are a regular member of a specific group, it is slightly better to agree upon what calls will be used, when, and what do they clearly indicate. Not only will this save confusion and avoid misunderstanding but will also make your riding experience much more enjoyable.

Safe Riding Practices

  • Carefully look in all directions for vehicles, other riders, and pedestrians.
  • Take special care at intersections or driveways where vehicles may be turning.
  • Do not dart across roadways, as this will increase the potential of not being seen by vehicle drivers.
  • Ride in a bicycle lane when provided, or ride as close to the edge of the roadway as possible in the same direction of other vehicles.
  • Preferably ride along a single file, or else follow drafting pointers.
  • Never solely rely on being seen by drivers. Wear reflective or light colored clothing, especially if riding at night.
  • Don’t forget to make hand signals prior the turn, this way other riders would know about your movements.
  • Be aware of the bike rules of your state.

The common saying rings a bell,

It’s just like riding a bicycle, once you learn, you never forget.

 Bike Hand Signals
Use hand signals

No matter how long you’ve been a rider, or even if you rely on muscle memory to help you hop on that bike, as a cyclist it’s a good idea to remain up to date on cycling safety and signals to ensure you, and everyone else on the road, is safe during your next ride.

Competent cyclists politely cooperate with other drivers by yielding when required, choosing the correct lane at intersections, using lights at night, and otherwise following the same traffic laws as motorists.

Do you know what?

Such cyclists are far safer.

Everyone wants to be safe, going wherever they are going in an orderly fashion, and being good citizens of the road. For all of this, it’s terribly important to have accepted if not expert knowledge on hand signals. Even if you aren’t on your bike you owe it, to pay attention to cyclists that are trying to share the roads with you.

It might not be the ideal situation, waiting for a slow cyclist in order to get where you’re going, or that a cyclist is hogging the entire lane, but sharing the same space, involves the understanding of these intimations made by them, or else it’s dangerous.

While, no one’s reporting a cyclist that doesn’t signal, it’s all you can do to pay close attention to anyone else on the road by just being aware.

Cycling Hand Signals - Infographic 

Riding a bicycle sure has its own set of dangers, same as driving a car or maybe even flying an airplane has.

The important thing is to acknowledge the rules, accept them, remain alerted and Keep Riding!

hand signals for cyclists

And don’t forget to share the road and share the information!

Cover Source and Infographic Source