10 Cycling Hand Signals You Need to Know

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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.


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  • 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.

    • 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.

  • 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.


    • 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.