10 Cycling Hand Signals You Need to Know

Share it:
10 Cycling Hand Signals You Need to Know

Learn these 10 basic cycling hand signals to keep you — and those around you — safe out on the road.

The hand signal you use for stopping will most likely depend on the situation. If you’re only riding with one or two other cyclists, a closed fist behind the back is probably sufficient. On a large group ride, raising your hand above your head may be a more appropriate option because it is more visible to cyclists several positions behind.

Keep in mind that when a sudden stop is required, you’ll likely have both hands on the brake levers. In this situation, calling out “stop” over your shoulder is your next best option.

When you’re riding with other cyclists, it’s always a good idea to alert those behind you when your speed begins to decrease. This can help to keep others following closely from accidently riding into your wheel.

To signal that you plan to begin slowing, extend your arm with palm down and move your hand up and down. While signaling, it’s always a good idea to call “slowing” if possible.

Whether you’re entering an adjacent lane of traffic or making a left turn at a traffic signal or stop sign, you’ll need to indicate to others on the road that you intend to change your direction of travel.

To signal a left turn, extend your left arm away from your body to shoulder height, parallel to the road.

Just as you would signal for a left turn, a right turn should be signaled when you intend to change direction and move to the right.

In a group, extending your right arm away from your body to shoulder height and pointing in the direction of the turn is usually acceptable. When you’re riding solo, make your signal more visible to motorists by using an alternate signal, extending your left arm away from your body at a 90-degree angle.

An unseen pothole has the potential to cause an accident. When in a group, point out a pothole or other obstacle that shouldn’t be ridden over by extending your arm on the side of the obstruction and pointing to it.

If possible, alert others behind you by calling out.

Dirt, gravel, sand or other loose debris on the road that might cause you to lose traction should be signaled to all trailing cyclists.

Though there are two variations to this signal, you should always extend your arm on the side of the loose debris. With your arm extended, you can either wiggle your fingers or wave your hand side to side, palm down.

While a bit tricky to signal, you’ll need to alert cyclists behind you of a parked car or an open car door. To signal an approaching hazard, place one arm (use the arm that is on the same side as the hazard) behind your back and point in the direction those behind you need to move.

For example, if there is a parked car on the right side of the road blocking the roadway, place your right hand behind your back and point to the left.

If you’d rather not get too complicated with your signals, train tracks or cattle guards can be pointed to just as you would to signal a pothole.

The one downside to not having a specific signal is that if the train tracks often run in the same direction you’re traveling, making it easy for wheel to slip into the groove if you aren’t aware of what you’re trying to avoid.

To signal for train tracks, extend your arm, point, and move your finger in an back-and-forth motion horizontally.

This signal is most commonly used in a pace line during a group ride or race. When you find yourself on the front of the pack and have either completed your pull or are too tired to continue maintaining the front position, a flick of the elbow will alert the rider behind you that it is their turn to pull through and relieve you of your duties.

The road can be a stressful place. While it’s easy to get mad when an inconsiderate motorist creates a dangerous situation, it’s just as easy to forget to acknowledge others when you’ve been given the right of way.

Waving to other motorists and your fellow cyclists on the roadway helps to create a less hostile environment and positively promote the sport of cycling. It’s also a good way to remind yourself to have fun and be friendly when sharing the road with others.


GEAR UP FOR YOUR NEXT RIDE

> Men’s Cycling Gear
> Women’s Cycling Gear
> All Cycling Gear


Related

  • Scott Lewis

    Wow… these are not the hand signals I learned 60 years ago and have used ever since. In fact, they are confusing when considered in that context. Stop, is left hand lowered, palm facing back. Left turn is left arm extended and bent up.. as you have for stop, or wave. The left signal you have is useless when you are in traffic against parked cars. I’d be interested to know where these came from.

    • Jim Nihart

      I agree, the standard for all traffic on the road is the same for bikes as well as cars and always has been.
      Left arm extended to the left for a left turn, left arm out and bent elbow “like Waving” for a right turn and left arm extended down for a stop. Putting the right arm out to indicate a turn makes no sense from a visual standpoint of the driver of a car.
      All of the others are just some kind of club rider BS.

      • tmana

        I’ve read that the logic for using the left-upper-arm-out, forearm-up for right-hand turns originated with left-hand-drive automobiles before the age of built-in directional signals. Cyclists who argue against that in favor of extended right arm say that the legally-defined signal is obsolete and nonsensical, especially if one “takes the lane”. Those of us who continue to use the raised right arm understand that even when we take the lane, there may be motorists in the leftward lane who will miss a right-hand signal. This is an especially important point in areas where “share the road” and “ride as far to the right as practicable” means that we are riding on a shoulder, in a would-be shoulder, or forced into the “door zone”…

  • dain crawford

    I somewhat agree with Scott, except that I think he meant Right turn is left arm extended out and up – what you say is stop.

    Right arm extended out to the right for Right turn can be difficult for cars to see, depending on other riders and surroundings.

    Not sure I would recognize the difference between the signals for Pothole, Train Tracks and Debris. They are all obstacles to be avoided and I am not sure that the slightly varied hand signal adds anything. As riders we need to be watching ahead all of the time.

    • egarym

      I agree with you completely on the right turn signal. It can be difficult for cars to see if you use the right arm for a right turn. I use the left arm for signalling turns and stopping and use the right arm for pointing out obstacles.

    • thorn

      in fact, the signals that matter most to know and use are all if thise described in the drivers’ manual for one’s state. no, not everyone pays attention to that part of the manual, but at least it’s a common ‘go-to’ for the info.

    • D. Brent Walton

      I agree, A left hand raised means turning right. Stop is left arm to the square, forearm down at 90-degrees.

      • Dick Mundy

        agree

      • il grand fondo

        Agreed- 2 sets of signals equals accidents

    • tmana

      I’ve never come across a signal for “train tracks” in my group rides. For “pothole”, the downpointing hand is moved in a circle (like the perimeter of a hole). The “debris” signal is used specifically for glass or gravel. For “move to the left/right”, we take the appropriate arm, extend it low to the side, and make a sweeping motion from the side of us to behind us, warning the rest of our group to avoid the (usually parked) obstacle.

    • Ralph Anhold

      ‘Official’ right turn signal is left arm, bent up as many say. Recently, many locations have also accepted right arm straight out to right for a right turn. The all left arm signals were invented for autos (left driver’s side, left arm) before turn signals were required on cars. 🙂

      • Allan

        YES. pisses me off people don’t know this.

    • Dick Mundy

      Agree, esp. re right turn: left arm out, forearm and hand UP at 90 degrees. Stop signal is left arm out, forearm and hand DOWN at 90-degrees.

  • Abba Thiebaud

    I’m in agreement with the rest of the commentators. The driving public doesn’t care about signals that are (possibly) improvements for cyclists but most know the straight left arm = left turn, crooked up left arm = right turn, crooked down left arm = stop. These hand signals (in the blog post) are great I guess for cycling in a bike only area, but drivers will not know what the heck you’re trying to tell them when you wave your arms around weirdly.

    Just call out the other items, “Pothole left” “Slowing”, and have the rest of the group pass the info along. If they’re not close enough to hear, they’re far enough behind to be observant of the lead’s maneuvering, without sudden changes in their lines.

    • Eliot

      Even close up, it is often hard to hear. It’s a simple courtesy to warn the riders behind you. True, drivers aren’t likely to know what wiggling hands and pointing mean, but I bet they will look where you’re pointing and/or slow down, neither of which are horrible problems.

  • Patrick Donovan

    Yes right turn is left arm out and forearm up…you would use the same hand signals for a motorcycle with out signals. All the ones here are for pack riding to alert other cyclists only. As a former cyclist in the city this is what trffic cops taught to signal motrists.

    • Tricia Kovacs

      Some states, including Ohio, permit the right arm straight out for right turns.

  • Scott Lewis

    Correct. I meant to say right turn is left arm bent up… good to know the world hasn’t changed while I wasn’t looking.

  • Richard Sheng

    For “Stop”, I learned to use either hand in the small of the back, palm facing back. I especially like the last one described. It really doesn’t hurt to be friendly to other cyclists and automobile drivers and although bad driving behavior can make this challenging, I’ve found that a smile is the most common response.

    • tmana

      I’ll usually either nod or salute, depending on whether or not I need both hands to control my bicycle. Either movement is large enough to see and distinct enough to not get confused with a navigational-intention signal

    • Tricia Kovacs

      I give a thumbs up.

  • Tricia Kovacs

    Marc, please update this post for the stop signal. Signalling a right turn when stopping will get a cyclist killed. You might be confusing the “I’m stopping” with the “You stop” hand signal. There is no legislated “You stop” signal.

  • Dawn Kulich

    The signals for stop and right turn are not correct. ALL the signals are supposed to be done by the left arm/hand, and stem from original signals for driving before car lighted signals were invented for the auto.

    https://driversed.com/driving-information/driving-techniques/using-turn-or-hand-signals.aspx

    • kagi

      It depends on the laws of the state (or country) where you’re riding. Here in North Carolina, both right-turn signals (right arm straight, left arm bent up) are legal. That said, the stop signal shown above is illegal everywhere, as far as I know.

  • Joshua Putnam

    You should really rewrite the intro to note these are appropriate *only* within trained groups. Riding solo on open public streets, you should use legal signals that will be understood by other road users. Signaling a right turn when you really intend to stop can turn a close pass into into a rear-end crash in which you’re at fault for failing to signal.

  • ShatteredGlass00

    These are all correctly described standard signals used in GROUP RIDING all over the world. The confusing part is that the intro says it’s also for solo riding. Conflating signals used to communicate with other cyclists in the group with signals used to communicate with other traffic is not helpful, as demonstrated by the commentary here.

    Stops are indicated as shown in large groups so that those in the back can see the signal over a sea of helmets. The same signal, arm straight up and high, is used to indicate one is stopping due to a mechanical issue. Those in the back of the group (the brake lights, if you will) should use a standard slow/stop arm signal so that car drivers behind know the group is coming to a stop.

  • Hal Simpson

    So, go asked a bunch of 30 year old non bi/motorcyclists what the hand signals are for a right turn, stop and left turn. 9 out of 10 of them will get it wrong.
    Thus Colorado now allows you to point in the direction you are turning, with the arm in that direction.

    Holding your left hand up at a 90 degree angle is an absolutely useless signal for a right turn, if the motorists around you have no clue what it means. Pointing with your right arm might be missed, but if they see it, almost all of them will figure out what it means.

    • Robert Craven

      they shouldn’t be driving, in all the drivers handbooks I’ve looked at a right hand turn signal is left hand out with forearm 90 degrees up. The driver of the car can’t stick his hand out the right side window. We have these signals so they will be the same as for drivers whose indicator lights have gone on the fritz.

    • Jeff Burns

      If they don’t know, they can’t pass the written drivers test and need to be pulled off the road. 🙂 I’ve known those since taking bike safety in 1st or 2nd grade, “re-learned” them in drivers ed, and had to identify them on the drivers exam 30 odd years ago. I think the written exam needs to be refreshed every 8 years to get a license… If your taillights are out on your car, as long as you use the hand signals, you’re still OK legally. (sub-optimal to the extreme, but legally ok)

  • Dave Holland

    When your cycling articles are on shaved legs and helmet hair, silly fake hand signals fits right in.
    If you don”t know hand signals check someplace that does, http://cyclingsavvy.org/ or http://www.bikeleague.org/ridesmart . And, always check your state DOT website.

  • Dacker

    For lack of a better idea, perhaps regional differences have developed. I ride with several groups here in Portland, Oregon in which all these groups use the same hand signals.

    We wave a finger at any sort of road hazard, be it glass, a pothole, loose gravel, or sticks, and call it out by name. It really doesn’t make sense to have multiple signals — you just need to communicate there is a hazard on the road to be avoided.

    For railroad tracks, we display two finger behind the back and call it out verbally. Two fingers for two rails makes sense.

    • Jeff Burns

      well, the legal hand signals are nearly universal across 50 states. And stop is ALWAYS left arm straight over and hand down. this article is potentially deadly to follow.

  • Robert Craven

    how can anyone justify posting the WRONG hand signals? Just adds confusion and will get cyclists KILLED

    • Robert Craven

      Please either remove this article or print a retraction or correct it

  • Brian McNeece

    The bent left arm to signal a right turn (for drivers of cars) was developed because a car driver has only one visible arm to signal with. A cyclist has two. So using the right arm to signal a right turn is totally intuitive, and car drivers catch on quickly. You can also point with the index finger and pump the arm a bit. Most of the other signals are for other cyclists in the group and are also emphasized by shouting “pothole!” or “gravel!” etc. Good to share.

  • Mark Cox

    C’mon naysayers! I know the state traffic laws for a right hand turn is the left arm extended and pointing up. That hand signal was designed for a person driving a car. From the drivers seat (in the USA) it is not possible to stick your right arm out the passenger window. The only way a person can signal a right turn from the drivers seat is to extend the left arm and point up. It makes perfect sense when riding a bike to signal a right turn with your right arm extended. I have been using this for about five years now and never had any problems with people understanding my intention to turn right. I know that some groups use different hand signals within their specific group. That’s okay as long as everyone knows the signals. Thanks Marc Lindsay for taking the time to write the article.

    • tmana

      It does NOT make sense if you are riding “as far to the right as practicable” and there are more than one lane of motorists to the left of you. The right-hand signal will be missed, and the drivers will cut you off at the intersection (or “right hook” you).

      • Mark Cox

        Tmana, I’m not sure I understand how the drivers on your left will cut you off on a right hand turn. When we turn right we typically stay as far to the right as possible so we stay out of their path. Regarding the right arm straight out as a right turn signal, I find it easier on a bike and have been using it for years without any problems or even near-misses.

  • George Grabrick

    I have to say I’ve been using most of these hand signals for years, all learned while on group rides. I have also been teaching my boys to use them as appropriate while riding. One day while out on a ride with my younger son (11 at the time) we passed a car in a drive way and received a complement from an older woman about how well we were signaling and to keep up the good work. I think for the most part drivers, who are non-cyclists, have no problem understanding the navigational intentions of these hand signals. The “old” standards do still work, but times are a changin’.

  • Dacker

    I live in the Portland, Ore. area and ride with several groups. For us, the signal for railroad tracks is two finger behind the back, which indicates a pair of tracks. Also, we point and wave one finger at any on-road hazard such as a glass, pothole, loose gravel, or sticks, and call it out by name. It makes more sense, IMO, because all these are all hazards to be avoided and none require its own signal as they are all handled in the same manner.

  • Hal Ballard

    There is no cyclist so wide that a motorist couldn’t see a right arm outward to indicate a right turn. Unless you’re hugging the curb, then maybe.
    I also close my hand in a pointing position in the direction I am turning.

    The other signals…meh.

  • Roscoe Bonsweenie

    Hand signals are only of value if the person behind you happens to be a cyclist who knows the hand signals.

  • John

    I agree with the others and in fact this is a pretty irresponsible article. The DOT hand signals for turns and stopping have been around forever and are all with your left hand as several have stated. I’ve ridden in large organized rides and club rides in NY, PA, MD, VA, TX and CA and not once ever have I seen a stop signaled like that. Now in club rides you WILL get right turns signaled in this manner but it isn’t the proper LEGAL hand signal for the turn…that is more of a group ride signal.

  • Bogie Rosypal

    When I’m out riding with my kids I tend to stay in the back of the line so that I can keep an eye on them, in addition, my bigger body is more easily seen by cars coming up on us. I will notify the drivers behind me of how many riders they will be passing by extending two fingers if it’s just me and one of my kids, three fingers if I’ve got both of them. While not everyone will know what I’m doing as they approach, hopefully they’ll get the message as they begin to pass us.

  • Kevin OSullivan

    Potholes are especially immediate in terms of priority – We hand signal, but accompany by shouting “hole!” – if a rider only has a second to react it may help them get the message faster… “hole!” gets their attention!

  • Eban Lehrer

    Asinine. If there’s a car behind you, they will probably be confused and you then stand the chance of being hit or run off of the road.

  • Allan

    Who made this up ???? confusing with the official old rules in automobiles before turn signals.

  • All the world is not the USA and all the world does not ride on the RHS. Depends entirely on your country, state, and local laws. Here you’re required to signal a right turn with an outstretched right arm, hand vertical so people can see it, there’s no legal requirement in Vic. to signal a left turn, but if you choose to, its an outstretched left arm, hand vertical.

  • Tim Bates

    Probably should include a note that these are for countries that drive on the right. Stop in particular swaps hands for Australia, UK, etc.
    Also, some states/countries no longer recognize/require hand signals used in the early days of driving (such as stop)… Always check local laws as some may places may require you to signal in a specific way on the road, and using old fashioned or incorrect signals may confuse drivers (in the rare case they are actually looking in the first place).

    • DougieL

      Also the raising of the hand to mean right turn comes from carriage driving. You’ve got the reins in your right hand (assuming you’re right handed) so you raise your whip hand to indicate a right turn. That’s so you don’t have to fumble about moving the reins to your “wrong” hand to make the signal (and, possibly, lose control of your slowing horse(s) in the process).

      On a bike left arm out for left, right arm out for right makes more sense.

      Waving your right arm (or left when you ride on the wrong side of the street) will be completely ignored by every car driver. They just don’t teach them hand signals any more (it used to be part of the UK driving test when flashing indicators or semaphores indicators weren’t manadatory).

      https://www.gov.uk/guidance/the-highway-code/signals-to-other-road-users has the full set of rules for UK road users including cyclists.

  • Gumpy Bike rider

    i don’t signal anyone most of the time. I’ve read too many times the other biker blamed the signaler for thier help. i believe every one should be responsable for themselves. I don’t want anyone to depend on me.