Bike Hand Signals 101

Safety should always be at the forefront of a cyclist’s mind as there are many dangers they could encounter on the road. They do not have the protective confines that a car offers and are inherently more at risk. In 2021 alone, 966 bicyclists were killed in traffic crashes, and 41,615 sustained injuries. There are safety techniques that both cyclists and drivers can implement to promote road safety and prevent accidents.

One specific way a cyclist can minimize their risk of a cycling accident is by utilizing hand signals. While some people might know the standard way to show they’re making a left or right-hand turn on a bicycle, there are quite a few more signals that will notify other cyclists or motorists behind you of upcoming road hazards.

The Basics

There are three basic hand signals. The left turn, right turn, and stop. Many individuals will learn these the first time they take a driving course to signal to other drivers in the event their brake lights do not work.  

For each signaling maneuver, there are a few safety steps you should follow. 

  1. Before signaling, perform a shoulder check similar to how you would if you were driving a car for awareness of what and who is behind you. 
  2. Then, perform the hand signal about 100 feet before you have to turn or stop and hold it for 3 seconds to give motorists and other cyclists a chance to see it. 
  3. Before turning, stopping, or moving out of the way of an object, place both hands back on the handlebars for balance, and perform one more shoulder check before turning.

Two shoulder checks may seem unnecessary, however, it only takes one second for someone careless to come up behind you that you didn’t see before and they either didn’t see your signal or ignored it causing an accident. If you ever find yourself injured from someone’s negligence, it’s best to reach out to an experienced bicycle accident attorney in your state or the state where the accident happened for assistance.  

Turn Left

Lift your left arm until it’s parallel to the ground and fully extend it with an open palm. Take extra caution on left turns as they are more dangerous to cyclists than right turns. 

Turn Right

There are technically two different ways to signal a right turn. Similar to a left turn, you can raise your arm until it’s parallel to the ground and fully extended – except with your right hand. However, the legality of this varies from state to state in the US. Check with your state guidelines for confirmation.

The nationwide ‘accepted’ way, is to use extend your left arm to the side and make a 90-degree angle with your hand pointing to the sky like the letter ‘L’. This is the way you would have been taught in a driving course as you could only stick your left arm out of the car window.

Stop

You may have to stop for various reasons along your bike journey. This can include all manners of road hazards. As bikes don’t have brake lights, it can be harder to tell if someone is slowing down right away. Signaling will give people more time to react.

This will be very similar to the second version of the right-hand turn. You will extend your left arm out and once again bend your arm at a 90-degree angle, but this time your hand will point down in an upside-down ‘L’. Ensure your hand is open and not closed. 

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    Niche Signals: Communicating with Cyclists

    If you are riding with a group of other cyclists more caution is warranted, especially if individuals are cycling directly behind one another. If one person doesn’t pay attention, it could end up cashing a crash pile-up. With such close proximity to one another, reaction time is extremely limited. 

    Slow Down

    If you don’t need to come to a complete stop but do need to slow down, extend your right arm down by your side like you normally would if you were walking. Then with an open palm, move your right arm forward and back

    Road Hazard

    Road hazards are always an issue no matter where we are. This could include cracks, potholes, or debris. To signal this, you will extend the arm on the side of the obstacle and point at it. 

    Pothole

    If you want to specifically notify that there is a pothole to watch out for, you’ll extend your left or right arm out, depending on which side it is, point to the ground, and draw a circle. Continue to point at it as you pass by. 

    Pay Attention

    You can signal to the cyclist behind you to pay attention if they’re riding too close to you or to be weary of upcoming hazards. To do so, place your left or right hand on your bottom and pat it. Either they’ll realize they need to stay further back to create a safe distance or be weary of what’s ahead. 

    Utilizing hand signals can greatly improve your safety while interacting with cars and other cyclists around you. Every individual in a cycling group should be vigilant and know niche hand signals. If you are new to a cycling group, discuss your experience level with them as well as what hand signals they commonly use. They may have their safety practices or hand signals than mentioned above. Stay safe and informed on the roads.

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    Bike Hand Signals 101 — Bike Hacks