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Recently I took a hit from behind. Fortunately it was just my friend's bike rather than one of those large-boxes-for-one-person. I was partly to blame because I failed to indicate that we were slowing down.

(However, as I understand the Highway Code, if you run into something that has the right to be in your right of way then you are to blame, so the incident wasn't really my fault but my friend's.)

Generally I rely on road-positioning to signal my intention, but I do stick my arms out for left and right if the situation deserves it. What other signals are there that I can use to show that I am slowing down, that there are hazards to avoid, etc.?

Are there any conventions, either in the Highway Code, as used in the peloton or in other cycling clubs that I could benefit from adopting?

I am also interested in best practice for signals that I can use with other road users, e.g. to let someone in a large-box-for-one-person know that I understand that it is their right of way - the equivalent of a flash of the headlights as it were.

I personally refrain from using single-finger gestures and banging on the tops of tin-boxes, however, it would be good to know what I can use to show my disgust/outrage in a way that is 'fair'.

If there are no online references, here would be as good a place as any to establish a list of 'to be universally understood' gestures and signals that can be used by cyclists.

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See also Hand signaling while decelerating. –  ChrisW Jul 9 '11 at 0:34
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Refraining from gestures without substance is probably a good idea. We used to carry concrete filled water bottles to add "substance" to the back window of particularly dangerous or clueless drivers. Never had to use one personally, but I had a kid hit me with a crutch stuck out his passenger window once on an urban MTB ride, and my riding buddies decorated his car pretty good. Can't say I really felt bad about it. –  zenbike Jul 9 '11 at 11:56
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For tips on riding in a group, including hand signals - bicycles.stackexchange.com/questions/502/… –  Unsliced Jul 9 '11 at 19:44
    
Note that the UK Highway Code uses the phrase "right of way" exactly once, in the preamble to the section General rules and techniques for all drivers and riders, where it says "The rules in The Highway Code do not give you the right of way in any circumstance". –  David Richerby Aug 22 at 9:45

7 Answers 7

up vote 4 down vote accepted

Yeah, what Stephen says is about all I know (though I don't run with the racing crowd). Pointing at road debris is commonly done, but probably useless, since it doesn't allow time to react -- I prefer to just yell "Trash!", especially now that I have a bad arm and the signaling is more difficult.

Using the hand signal (left arm (US) extended with elbow bent downward at about a 45 degree angle and with open palm facing backwards) for slowing is a bit more useful than pointing at road debris, but shouting "Slowing!" or "Stopping!" is still a better signal -- easier to accomplish, and more likely to get the attention of the rider behind.

And, of course, there's the shouted "Car back!" signal given from the rear (no possible hand signal here) when a vehicle is overtaking a group of bikes, and "On your left/right!" shouted when overtaking another bike.

(I'm sure that some cycling groups have additional agreed-upon signals, but I don't know of any others that would be generally recognized in the US.)

For motorists, I use the basic hand signals -- left arm extended for left turn, right arm extended for right turn. I occasionally use the "slow" signal (described above) when needed to signal that a motorist needs to use caution (because, eg, of cyclists ahead that he may not be able to see), and I've used it once or twice when occupying a full lane to signal that I'm going to retain occupancy (such as when negotiating a single-lane bypass through a construction site). I also sometimes use the left (US) hand extended, palm down, with a repeated downward motion to signal "slow down", when there are cyclists or some other hazard ahead.

When following others at all closely, cyclists need to learn to watch the feet, rear derailer, and rear brake caliper of the cyclist ahead. These signal speed changes, and careful observation will clue in the cyclist behind even when the cyclist ahead fails to somehow explicitly signal.

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I'd disagree regarding the pointing, at least when road-cycling in tight packs. In this scenario your focus is often largely on drafting and riding with your leader, and any cyclists in front of you effectively serve as a blind spot. Pointing draws your attention both away from the task of drafting and towards something you otherwise may not have seen--even 1 second in these cases is at least enough to brace your legs, and is often enough time to both gauge and react to whatever is being pointed out –  STW Jul 27 '11 at 4:04
    
Except in a tight pack the cyclist ahead doesn't have one second to react, after the object in question has come into view, and before it has already passed. (I'm not saying don't do it, I'm just saying the utility is questionable at best.) –  Daniel R Hicks Jul 27 '11 at 12:16
    
I suppose I'll just summarize anecdotaly: I'm confident that riders pointing has prevented me from some rough hits. I appreciate it when riders take the initiative to point at obstacles, and I try to return the favor –  STW Jul 27 '11 at 13:24

Experienced riders hold their hand behind their back to indicate that they will be slowing down or stopping. Saying "slowing" or "stopping" is also used as a secondary indicator, especially if you have to react quickly and can't afford to take a hand off the bars.

For road debris or obstacles, you should hold your arm out to the side and point down at the road to where the debris will be relative to your bicycle.

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Most of what my cycling community is similar, with a few variations.

Slowing is signaled by an open hand behind the back. If the hand makes a fist, it means we are stopping.

We point out dangers like potholes or dead animals with finger. Sand, glass, or gratings get a hand waved toward them like a brush.

If we go through a stop sign without stopping the front will call "rolling".

If there is a parked car that could be dangerous, either due to a possible open door, or we are riding 2x2, the right arm is waved behind the back in a sweep back.

With cars, I tend to point where I'm going and look them in the eye. When I'm concerned that they aren't paying attention, I put my palm towards them, the universal symbol to stop.

Lastly, if you make the right hand turn like in the pictures, roadies will mock you endless, simply point right...

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Here is a diagram of commonly used universal hand signals for Slow/stop, and right turn/left turn.

Hand signals GIF

I suggest we make this a Community Wiki question, and use as a reference page.

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Can you post a reference? FTR, I am nowhere near 60, and was taught these same signals in a cycling class in high school, 15 years ago. The alternate is more immediately understandable, IMHO, especially to non-cyclists, but not discouraged in my county. (Seattle) –  zenbike Jul 9 '11 at 8:13
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It's what I was told by the county police (Olmsted County MN) cycling liason officer about 20 years ago. I don't doubt that you were taught differently, though, since old habits die hard. –  Daniel R Hicks Jul 9 '11 at 11:48
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Yep, they surely do. I'd appreciate it if everyone would add photos of any signaling that is relevant, as there are some incredibly complex and informative systems available, for use between cyclists. I'm trying to find my book which had info on Pro Peloton signals from before the advent of race radios. –  zenbike Jul 9 '11 at 11:52
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The question is focused on cycling in a group, e.g. bicycles.stackexchange.com/questions/502/… –  Unsliced Jul 9 '11 at 19:44
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In Washington state, RCW 46.61.758 allows for both the left-arm signal or the right-arm signal. All drivers are expected to know the left-arm version, as it's specified in RCW 46.61.315. Similarly, Oregon's ORS 811.395 states that bicyclists (only!) may signal right turns with their right arm. Idaho's 49-810 is the same as well. I think the MN officer was wrong. –  lantius Jul 10 '11 at 0:08

In the UK, the Highway Code describes a standard signal for indicating that you intend to slow down: Extending your right arm and waving it up and down. Unfortunately, it's difficult to perform this and brake at the same time so it's not great for urgent, unexpected stops.

Additionally, despite it being in the highway code, it's uncommon enough that many road users don't recognise it.

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Riding behind an inexperienced cyclist, I put my arm out at slightly down, with palm downwards; even if the motorist doesn't recognise the gesture, their being unfamiliar with it might slow them down or give it a wider berth. –  ChrisW Jul 24 '11 at 23:53

Cycle, the CTC magazine, had a panel 'Sign language for cyclists' (as well as another on warning shouts) in the article 'Group Dynamics' on pages 34–37 of the February/March 2011 issue. Unfortunately it's only accessible to subscribers though.

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I am also interested in best practice for signals that I can use with other road users, e.g. to let someone in a large-box-for-one-person know that I understand that it is their right of way - the equivalent of a flash of the headlights as it were.

The following aren't official or best practice, necessarily, but my experience is that drivers seem to behave as if they understand them.

I like a sweeping gesture with the whole arm, as if opening a door; or a beckoning. Big gestures, like these, except that mine are meant to be seen as a motion (by one car) instead of static (by several cars).

To wave someone past me at a 4-way stop I use a hand gesture like shooing a fly away from in front of my face (the 'Australian salute') ... with a limp wrist, so it ends with my forearm vertical and my hand pointing in the direction of travel. Wearing gloves might add to the effect/visibility/authority of the gesture.

To be explicit that I'm not going anywhere until after they do, e.g. for a bus or a dump truck, I sit up, hands off the handle-bars; and put one hand or two on my hips; and wait. I also do this when I'm stopped in a bike lane and looking behind me (so that everyone knows that I'm stopped), waiting to cross through lanes of traffic.

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