Bikes do not have turning signal lights or any mechanical signals whatsoever, so it falls to the rider to provide those signals for the traffic around them.
Fortunately, they aren’t a ton of signals to learn; however, they are all important and failure to signal properly can lead to an increased chance of accidents or even fines, depending on the laws where you are riding.
For the most part, cyclists learn these signals when they first learn how to ride, but if you need a refresher course, we have you covered!
Riding Around Other Traffic
It’s not precisely signals, but it’s important to understand how to ride in relation to traffic around you. The most important thing to do is to make sure you are riding in a straight line, head up, and looking ahead one to two blocks.
This gives you enough warning of what is coming to be able to react and riding in a straight line makes your actions far more predictable to those around you. You should also practice cycling in a straight line even while looking over your shoulders to do a shoulder check.
Often when we shoulder check, the rest of our body (and subsequently our bike), turns with us and this means we are no longer as predictable to other drivers, cyclists or pedestrians.
You will also likely have to practice riding in a straight line with only one hand on the handlebars since you will need to remove a hand in order to perform your signals.
Even if you have mirrors, you still have to perform regular shoulder checks, so make sure you’re always riding in a straight line!
As noted, bikes almost never come equipped with turn signal lights or stopping lights, so signaling intent to turn or stop falls on the rider. It’s important to signal well in advance of any turn you are going to make and whenever you are going to make a turn, not whenever you feel like it.
Just like driving a car, there is a proper order to signaling a turn or a stop:
- Perform a shoulder check
- Perform the hand signal that will tell others what you are doing
- Put both hands on the handlebars
- Perform another shoulder check before making the turn (or the stop)
- In cases of emergencies, keep both hands on the handlebars and you will have to be very careful.
A left turn is signaled by extending your left arm out sideways with all fingers extended or extending your left arm out sideways and then pointing your index finger to the left.
A right turn is signaled by extending your left out sideways and then bending at the elbow at a ninety-degree angle so that your hand is pointing up and the palm of our hand should face out.
An alternative right turn is signaled by extending your right arm straight out with all fingers extended or with your right arm straight out and your index finger pointing to the right.
And finally, a stop signal is shown by extending your left or right arm sideways and then bent down at the elbow at a ninety-degree angle with the palm of your hand facing out.
While making turns or stops, it’s important to make eye contact with traffic around you so that everyone knows what the other person is doing.
It’s also a really good idea to teach bike riders what the signals are from cars so that riders can read drivers.
Riding with a Group of Cyclists
While many people think of the main signals to turn or stop and leave it at that, there is a whole other layer of signaling when you’re riding with a group of other cyclists. These signals, just like the signals for cars, helps to ensure that there are no accidents and that everyone stays safe.
There are several signals that you should be aware of to protect yourself and your bike gang from harm (these all assume you are leading the group):
- If you need to hit the brakes and you are in front of your group, put your hand behind your back and make a fist. This tells the group that you are about to stop.
- If you notice an obstacle in the bike lane (such as cracks, potholes, debris), make sure to warn the rest of your posse! You can do this by extending the arm on the side that the obstacle is on and pointing to the obstacle. Rotate your arm in small circles for added emphasis.
- Are your wheels sliding around because of loose gravel? Hold our arm out at a forty-five-degree angle with your hand open and palm towards the ground and then wiggle your fingers. This tells everyone that there is something loose which makes the wheels slide around.
- Noticing things like pedestrians, runners, dogs, other cyclists and parked cars that could be going the wrong way in your lane? Warn the group by first extending your arm out perpendicular to your body in the direction that the shoulder is on and then place the arm with your hand flat, palm out, behind your back. Repeat a few times if you can or as necessary.
- If you have a careless cyclist next to you who ends up in your space a lot, warn others by putting your arm behind your back and patting your butt.
- And finally, if you’re done being in the lead, signal to the next person that it’s their turn and you’re pulling aside. To do this, keep your hands on the handlebars and flick your left or right elbow out from your body, depending on which side of the group you are going to drift back on.
These are alongside the usual turn and stop signals since your group will have to know your intentions just as drivers do.
It will take some practice to be able to do these signals while riding in a straight line and keeping your attention on everything around you, but it’s well worth doing for the protection of yourself and others on the road.
When everyone is being safe, bike riding is much more fun and you’re less likely to get into trouble with other traffic! Practice these signals, get a feel for what they are like to perform while riding, and then use them whenever needed.