Since we don’t have turn signals or brake lights on bikes, at least not yet, a few simple hand signals can alert drivers to your intentions. It’s important to signal early so as not to surprise drivers. When you surprise a driver you stand a very good change of being hit, so signal early. These elements of bicycle safety may just save your life.
First, it’s critical that you always ride with traffic, on the right side of the road in the US. Signals are usually made with the left hand, although the signal for a right turn can be made with either hand. Always make sure you are wearing high visibility jerseys or windbreakers to make yourself as visible as possible. Wearing fluorescent clothing, like see me wear, has been proven to let drivers see you earlier at a greater distance.
For communicating with drivers, there are just three simple signals.
Left Turn: Extend the left arm straight out shoulder high to indicate a left turn.
Right Turn: Below you see two versions that are considered acceptable; I much prefer the first (preferred version) as it seems to me that the rider’s intent is clearer.
Right Turn Preferred Version: Extend the right arm straight out shoulder high to indicate a right turn.
Right Turn Alternate Version: Extend the left arm out shoulder high with the elbow bent up 90 degrees.
Stopping or Slowing Down (below): Extend the left arm out and down at a 45 degree angle with the palm facing back.
If you use these signals whenever you ride they will very quickly become routine and should help make you safer on the road.
Cyclists riding in a group or paceline have additional signals, but that is beyond the scope of this blog. However, if you ride with another cyclist, there is one rider to rider signal you should be aware of and always use as one manner of bicycle safety.
Something Potentially Dangerous on the Road: If you see a pothole, rough pavement, glass or a foreign object on the road, signal the rider behind you by extending the right arm out and down at a 45 degree angle with the palm facing back and wave the hand slightly to the left and right. It’s important because sometimes a rider close behind you will not see the object on the road until it’s too late to avoid it.
Bicycle safety is crucial whether you’re riding by yourself or with another cyclist. The more you are seen and let others know your intentions the safer a rider you are. Keep these hand signals in mind.