Cycling Hand Signals 101
What are hand signals on a bike?
Riding with fellow cyclists can be a very noisy and confusing situation, so understanding the main signals is imperative to a safe and social ride. The nature of riding in groups means if you’re not on the front, you might not be able to see everything up ahead, which is why riders need to be well drilled and understand the signals, to keep everyone in the group safe.
They’re mainly used from a safety perspective, although pointing out things like puddles is always appreciated by fellow cyclists. It’s incredibly important that when riding in groups, no matter the size, that you remember the ‘bus’ of people attached to your wheel. Pointing out things like potholes, drain covers, obstacles in the road and cars has a domino effect and will continue down the line of riders in a well-trained group, ensuring ultimate safety for everyone.
It only takes one person to not understand a signal or forget to signal and someone within the group could puncture, be knocked off or taken out by an obstacle and hurt. And nobody wants that!
You should point out every obstacle or pothole that is within your cycling path that is a real hazard (unless there are so many potholes in one place it would be dangerous to take your hands off the bars – then you can verbally communicate it). Even if it’s a little wider from your wheel, still point it out as you never know if someone behind you is sitting slightly further out. You also need to point out parked cars if you’re in a group so you can all negotiate around the car safely, who knows if a door will suddenly open?
Thinking of getting involved in some sportives? Knowing your hand signals is imperative for sportives, as the groups can be quite big and a majority of riders will be venturing onto new roads – everyone wants to stay safe and enjoy their ride. Sportives? What are they you may ask, well why don’t you hop over to our sportive blog for some more in depth information – maybe we can help get you signed up to your first one.
The different hand signals used on a bike
Slowing/stopping – with your arm stretched up high above your head and fingers balled into a fist, this signals to those following you that there is a reason to stop/slow down up ahead – whether that be traffic lights or a car pulling out.
Use this signal when you’re confident you’re going to need to pull your brakes and free wheel to slow down a lot.
You can also call out ‘slowing’ very loud and clear – this can be used if it’s too dangerous to take your hands off the bars or you need to brake immediately with both hands.
Some groups of riders may signal slowing or stopping in a different way. Arm stretched down and out to your side, palm facing towards the people behind you while moving the arm up and down for slowing. Arm stretched down and out to your side, palm facing towards the people behind you for stopping.
It’s always best when riding in a new group to confirm which signals they opt for, and use verbal communication as well.
Indicating – an essential signal for all road users and group riders. Stretch your arm straight out sideways – which arm will depend on which way you are turning i.e. if you’re turning left – use your left arm with a flat hand.
Ensure you are signalling this one clearly, so all other road users can see your intentions. If you have had to stop at traffic lights, signal as you’re waiting to turn and again when the lights turn green. Before manoeuvring, always check over the relevant shoulder to make sure nobody is trying to overtake you, and everyone has understood your intentions.
If you’re in a larger group of riders, it’s best to raise your stretched out arm a little above shoulder height, just to ensure everyone can see it. Make sure to signal with enough time to give other cyclists and road users time to react.
Pothole or hazard in the road – when approaching a hazard in the road i.e. drain cover, pothole or manhole cover, stretch out the arm on the side of the upcoming hazard and point to the floor.
You can also call out ‘hole’ when signalling or if you can’t take your hands off the bar because it isn’t safe, then just make sure you call ‘hole’ very clearly and preferably with a side it is on i.e. ‘hole left.’
If there is gravel or debris on the road, such as glass that can easily cause punctures, point it out with a low outstretched arm/hand and a shake of wrist/wave at the ground.
Speed bumps across the road should also be pointed out (especially the nasty ones!). In the pro peloton they use what we like to call ‘chicken wings’ – keep your hands on the handlebars and flap your elbows twice. Alternatively, you can point your finger towards the floor behind and wave it from side to side.
Oncoming hazard – as you approach an oncoming hazard, take the arm on the side of the hazard, place it behind your back and point across your back in the direction the cyclists should move to, to avoid the hazard. These hazards can be things such as parked cars, cars with their nose sticking out of junctions, or bollards, a slower cyclist you want to overtake etc.
If you’re riding side by side in a group and you have to move out into the road to avoid an immovable hazard, it can also be sensible and safest to ride single file.
Come through – we all know riding on the front of a group can get tiring and we’ll often need someone to take over. While riding, flick your elbow out on the side you want the rider behind to pass you, then look over your opposite shoulder (you will move the opposite way to the rider coming through) and move out to give the rider extra room to come up the front.
Additional calls for use on a bike
Clear left/right – used when turning out of a junction and joining traffic to indicate that the road is clear, allowing your fellow cyclists to move through the junction slowly rather than having to stop.
Car Up/Car Back – this one will vary depending on where you’re based and the people you’re riding with. They will mean one of the following – but it’s best to always check with your ride buddies:
Car up – means there is a car behind which will be moving up the group.
Car down – means there is a car in front and will be moving down the group.
However, you could also come across:
Car back – there is a car behind he group waiting to pass
Car ahead – there is a car in front
On the left/right – mostly used between cyclists to warn another rider that you are there or that riders are approaching and overtaking. It’s often used when approaching someone moving slower, or in races when the bunch is moving around a lot.
Enjoy your group rides and remember your hand signals.