In this question I have seen a number of answers/comments mentioning hand signals to notify traffic/cyclists behind you ahead of braking.

I have never seen anything similar in Europe (at least where I was cycling so far). We signal left/right for turns, changing lanes, overtaking - basically the same as cars (or we should, that is). I have not yet seen any kind of pendant to a cars brake lights.

  • Is signalling before braking a thing which is done in the US/Canada (this was the context of the above question)?
  • Is signalling before braking considered safe/advisable? (In the light of: you're warning those behind you but you yourself are braking one-handed.)

The way I see it you mostly need two hands on the bar for any kind of sharp braking, and light breaking should pose no problems for those driving behind you. Unless, maybe, if they're drafting (which makes them idiots if they do it in traffic). Also sharp breaking is generally called for in time-critical situations where you don't have seconds to waste for signalling.

This question is distinct from Hand signalling whiled decelerating, which covers left/right signalling while being forced to decelerate (e.g. at the bottom of a hill).

  • As someone from the UK, I agree with your logic - as a vehicle just like any other you should signal only when you are turning. Further more I thought this was ubiquitous.
    – PeteH
    Commented Jun 29, 2016 at 11:17
  • 2
    Frankly, hand signals of any sort are not "common" in the US, though most conscientious cyclists use them when turning. I personally only signal braking in unusual circumstances, when the cause of the maneuver would not be obvious to the following motorist. If cyclists are following I use voice signals. Commented Jun 29, 2016 at 11:41
  • 2
    When cycling in a close group (drafting on purpose) you might use hand signals when braking
    – Nic
    Commented Jun 29, 2016 at 11:48
  • Some bike lights, known as smart lights, can detect deceleration and with signal as such
    – Nic
    Commented Jun 29, 2016 at 11:50
  • 1
    @DavidRicherby I was taught such a signal in my Cycling Proficiency course (run by a policeman, IIRC) when I was ten or eleven years old. I used it during the course and on one occasion thereafter. I've never seen it used by anybody else, either.
    – srank
    Commented Jul 6, 2016 at 12:23

6 Answers 6


Signalling before braking is a defensive riding skill, to be used when you think there are riders close behind. In my answer to one of the linked questions, I wrote

If you think there are bikes behind you, signal with your hand (palm facing backwards) to show you're slowing and they should too, or call "SLOWING!".

The idea here is that while bikes crashing into you from behind can cause you to crash also, it's more likely to cause them to crash.

As you say, in time critical situations, you may not have time for signalling, in which case I recommend calling "SLOWING!".

You can argue, as many do, that cyclists should not be so close behind you. The conventions I have described originate in group riding situations, where a bunch of riders are in close proximity. They may be social riders, club riders, commuters, or organised ride participants. I have experienced these signal conventions in Australia and Europe.

The biggest danger is when random commuters ride close behind one another, since the rider behind doesn't know anything about the skills or experience level of the rider ahead. So, to answer your question, in the context of commuting

Is this considered safe/advisable?

No riding close behind a commuter in traffic is not considered safe or advisable.

Two cyclists should only ride in close proximity when they both know each other's skills, and are both comfortable to trade the benefits and the risks. In a commuting situation that is not the case.

Edit in response to David Richerby (thanks David for heads up)

Is braking one handed safe?

How safe it is depends on whether you can maintain control braking while steering one handed. It's certainly an advanced skill. When the situation is too urgent then focus on braking and control. If you're worried about following bikes, then call out as I suggested.

If you have time, I do recommend signalling first.

Second edit

The answer by muphblu led me to investigate what international standards for hand signals exist. I'm not going to reference what I found here, because it's a complete mish-mash.

To summarize, many places still allow riders to follow outdated rules adapted from the rules for motor vehicle drivers (and they were probably adapted from horse cavalry, but I digress). These require

  • for a near side turn (left turn in Australia, NZ, UK, et al, and right turn in US, Canada, Europe, Russia) to be indicated by holding the other arm out horizontally, with the forearm vertical from the elbow and hand facing forward.

  • for an offside turn (right turn in Australia, NZ, UK, et al, and left turn in US, Canada, Europe, Russia) to be indicated by holding the same arm out horizontally. I.e. you point in the direction you're turning.

  • for stop, it's a mess. It can be the same as the nearside turn, or with the arm strait up, or in some parts of the US, the arm horizontal with the forearm vertically down and the palm facing back. I think of this as "holding those behind back".

In additional, many places allow point in the direction you're turning for turns in either direction.

I have not seen any updates to the cavalry-style stop sign.

What is a cyclist to do?

Any time you suspect there are riders behind, you need to take extra care, because you are the one who can see ahead, and they cannot.

So when approaching the kind of situation described in the linked question, if you can see the situation developing before you arrive, it's time to start signalling (with the palm vertically down and facing back) to those behind so that they can be ready to stop. In this case you're already using your brakes lightly with the other hand if you can.

If you don't get any warning, there's no time to be gentle. Call out loudly that you're braking / stopping, and get on the brakes asap. Try to feather the brakes if you have room, so that those behind have a better chance of avoiding you.

An advantage of calling out is that with a loud enough call even the motorist can hear you. (I swear I've moved whole cars sideways this way).

Why palm vertically down, facing backwards?

Cyclists who ride close together tend to be road cyclists, and because of the position they tend to ride in, they will more easily see a low signal than a high one. And to make the high cavalry-style signal, you need to sit up, which is the opposite of what's needed for braking. And we can get our hand back on the brakes more easily from the low position too.

So, is it a thing?

Well, yes. But not an officially or universally accepted thing.

  • Ah, in the context of group riding/peloton/etc this makes perfect sense. Must have missed this when reading your post.
    – fgysin
    Commented Jun 29, 2016 at 12:07
  • @fgysin No, while the signal originates in the group context, I didn't mention that fact in that answer.
    – andy256
    Commented Jun 29, 2016 at 12:09
  • The point I was trying to make in my question: as far as I can tell outside of group riding signal with your hand (palm facing backwards) will not be interpreted as a I'm-about-to-brake signal where I'm from - because nobody ever signals braking. I was wondering if this practice is more established in different parts of the world.
    – fgysin
    Commented Jun 29, 2016 at 13:19
  • 1
    In the question, it seems pretty clear that "Is this considered safe/advisable?" means "Is signaling braking considered safe/advisable? (e.g., because it means you're braking one-handed)" not "Is cycling close behind another commuter considered safe or advisable?" Commented Jun 29, 2016 at 15:00
  • Hmm. I read it the other way, but as usual you make a good point.
    – andy256
    Commented Jun 29, 2016 at 15:08

I know you were asking about US/Canada, but anyway:

In Russia official rules for drivers prescribe to use the following gestures:

enter image description here

(from left to right: turn left, turn right, brake)

It applies to cars with broken signal lights, motorcycles with broken signal lights and also for cyclists


Blue one shows all signals by his left arm, Red one shows all signals by his right arm. It's useful because sometimes it's not safe to use particular arm.


  1. You want to turn right but there is an obstacle on the right side, though you can show right turn by raising left arm bent in the elbow.
  2. IMHO when you raise one of you hands, it is better to , use rear brake.
  • What is the red cyclist in the first two pics doing? Is he signaling that he will not make a turn, or does it need two cyclists to signal a turn, or?
    – StefG
    Commented Jul 6, 2016 at 5:09
  • @StefG Blue one shows all signals by his left hand, Red one shows all signals by his right hand. It's useful because sometimes it's not safe to use one of the hands. Example: You want to turn right but there is an obstacle on the right side, though you can show right turn by raising left arm bent in the elbow. Another example: IMHO when you raise one of you hands, it is better to , use rear brake.
    – muphblu
    Commented Jul 6, 2016 at 12:00

I'm a ride leader for group rides held in Chicago. I cover hand and verbal signals before every ride. But most of these signals only apply to group rides. We use hand & verbal signals for:

  1. Slowing (might be slowing to see if entire group can make it through a light)
  2. Stopping (might be stopping because entire group can't make it through a light)
  3. left turn
  4. right turn
  5. potential danger on the right
  6. pot holes

These signals are all very common here in Chicago for group rides. Finally, if you are participating in a very large group ride with hundreds to thousands of riders, the verbal commands "Rider On!", and "Rider Off!" are very important.

  • What does Rider On and Rider Off mean? I've never heard these before.
    – Brad
    Commented Jun 29, 2016 at 16:54
  • ad 6. pot holes, bollards and (sign)posts
    – Carel
    Commented Jun 29, 2016 at 19:19
  • @brad I'd guess it means "mount up we're about to depart" and "we've stopped here for a bit you can get off your bike without being left behind"
    – Criggie
    Commented Jun 29, 2016 at 20:09
  • @Criggie if that's the case it seems like the kind of this where a sentence is much less ambiguous that this terse phrase
    – Brad
    Commented Jun 29, 2016 at 20:12
  • @garyE can you confirm the meaning of "rider off/on" please ?
    – Criggie
    Commented Jun 30, 2016 at 0:36

In my city we had some significantly large earthquakes 6 years ago. Since then, many of the roads have been sub-standard.

Any cyclist signalling has to take one hand off the bars, and risks hitting pothole or gravel and having correspondingly less control. So unless there's another road user waiting in a situation where signalling would be good manners, then I just won't bother.

Pedal signalling still works, but its not listed in the local road rules so only cyclists and motorcyclists would possibly understand.

  • 2
    What's pedal signalling?
    – andy256
    Commented Jun 30, 2016 at 3:22
  • @andy256 When about to turn you raise your inside foot and lower the outside foot, mostly to stop pedal strike. You're supposed to coast to a stop with the cranks level, to show "not turning" and only raise the primary pedal to the take-off position once you're stopped. Only another rider gets it though.
    – Criggie
    Commented Jun 30, 2016 at 5:41

Hand signals that I have seen while cycling (USA context):

Left turn: left arm straight out, palm forward or downward

Right turn: right arm straight out, palm forward or downward; or left upper arm straight out, left lower arm straight up, palm forward

Hazard in road: arm on side of hazard pointing downward, in general direction of hazard, possibly with a slight hand-waving motion

Slowing or stopping: left upper arm straight out, left lower arm straight down, palm back; or (cyclists only; presumably to distinguish from pointing out a hazard on the left side) left hand at small of rider's back or covering derrierre, palm facing back; generally accompanied by vocal "slowing" or "stopping"

  • Fair enough - that's what the rules mandate, but do you see many/any riders using them ? I certainly don't unless someone is clearly waiting for me and a signal would demonstrate my intent.
    – Criggie
    Commented Jul 4, 2016 at 23:41
  • 2
    On group rides all over the USA, I see these signals used universally. Commented Jul 5, 2016 at 0:51
  • What about normal riders like commuters, etc ?
    – Criggie
    Commented Jul 5, 2016 at 3:02
  • I concur - I was taught these signals in the mid-70s and used them all the time as a child, teen & adult. When I moved from the west to the midwestern US and joined group rides, everyone used the same signals. When I'm riding alone, I signal braking to warn the cars behind me that I'm slowing since they won't hear me even if I'm screaming. They may not know the signal, but seeing my hand moving in an unusual way will, I hope, draw their attention to me so they realize they're closing in more quickly now & hit their brakes before killing me.
    – FreeMan
    Commented Jul 6, 2016 at 14:55

In the UK, signalling before braking is officially a thing:

enter image description here

However, while the left and right signals are commonly used by cyclists, horse riders and tractors, I have never seen the I intend to slow down or stop signal used by anyone.

  • They're great! +1 for making me laugh :-)
    – andy256
    Commented Jun 30, 2016 at 10:16
  • britishcycling.org.uk/knowledge/article/…
    – BlueChippy
    Commented Jul 5, 2016 at 12:35
  • I've seen motorcycles do the slow down one in the US, but its usually in a group and because there is a cop up ahead lol
    – Nate W
    Commented Jul 6, 2016 at 14:54

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