Bicycling Signals

The beautiful, summertime weather draws more bike riders onto the roads, and in spite of bicyclists traveling at a slower pace compared to motorbikes, accidents do happen and can sometimes be a catastrophe.

Wouldn’t it be great if bicycles were built with rear-view mirrors, brake lights, and direction indicators? Since they typically aren’t equipped with these features, safety is an even bigger issue for the casual and frequent cyclists alike. Biking isn’t my primary form of transportation, but for me and my husband, cycling serves as a workout experience. We aren’t huge fans of the gym, and like to be active outdoors.

I feel vulnerable and often worry about my safety while I’m cycling, especially if I’m on a street without a designated bike lane. If there is a bike lane, I stay as far to the right of the white line as possible to make sure that I’m not hindering traffic, even in the least.

I am adamant about using the proper hand signals before every stop, turn, or debris for drivers and my fellow cyclists. I stop at every stop sign and red light, and strive to avoid upsetting the driver who’s, often times, riding in my blind spot. Most importantly, I try to stay as aware, but calm and fluid as possible. Let’s face it, bicycling requires some major finesse.

Here are some of the signals I use most often while cycling:

Slowing

With your arm outstretched, palm-down, and slightly behind you so cyclists tailing you get a clear view of your hand, move your hand up and down at the wrist to show that you’re about to pull the brakes to slow your speed.  You can call-out, “Slowing!” This will give riders an extra warning.

This signal may also mean Approaching Debris. Dirt, gravel, sand, a pot hole, or any other type of hazard on the road might cause you to lose traction, and should be signaled to all cyclists in your group. Though there are two variations to this signal, you should always extend your arm on the side of the loose debris, and you can either wiggle your fingers or wave your hand side to side with your palm facing down. If you keep your left arm extended and point with your index finger in a back-and-forth motion horizontally, you are signaling that there are train tracks next to you.

If you keep your arm extended to the left, away from your body to shoulder height (90 degrees), and parallel to the road, you are signaling that you are Turning Left. Whether you’re entering an adjacent lane of traffic or making a left turn at a corner, traffic signal or stop sign, you’ll need to show to others on the road that you intend to change your direction of travel.

Stopping

The hand signal used for stopping depends on how many people you’re cycling with. If you’re only riding with one or two other cyclists, a closed fist behind the back is probably enough. On a large group ride, raising your hand above your head while calling out “Stopping!” may be a more effective option because it is more visible to cyclists riding behind you. While riding with my husband, we don’t typically raise our hands higher than our heads to signal stop since it’s just the two of us most times. Calling out “Stopping!” in a loud and urgent manner is deemed necessary if the nature of the stop is abrupt. This helps avoid collisions, especially if you’re using both hands to brake.

Turning Right

The current convention for signaling right, either while cycling in traffic or cycling with other riders, is to extend the right arm perpendicularly to the body. It is the common sense approach for cyclists’ right arm to point in the same direction of the intended turn. Prior to the common sense approach of extending the right arm to indicate a right turn, the norm was for cyclists to extend the left upper-arm out to the left, horizontally and angle one’s forearm vertically upward. I’ve already developed the habit of using my left arm. This signal is no longer in use in some areas due to safety concerns. Some organizations strongly urge cyclists to use the right arm technique.

Signals vary by country, so check your local rules of the road for cyclists. If you’re riding in a group, make sure everyone is on one accord before your journey to ensure the safety of all riders. Now, hop on your wheels, and enjoy the ride!

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