When going downhill on mountain roads with no dedicated cycle path, it happens quite often that the cyclist becomes the head of a train of vehicles, as the winding road does not allow an easy and safe take over.

In such situation, I personally feel much safer if I can stop and let the train pass by (even though the drivers are not putting pressure, the idea of losing control of the bike while moving at 50-60 km/h with a lot of vehicles behind me is kind of scary).

I therefore search for a suitable place to stop like a parking area on the shoulder and when I find it I come to a stop there.

What I normally do to convey the cars behind me that I am scanning the road for a place to stop is to sit with my torso straight on the saddle, and then raise my hand before signaling I am moving to the side.

I am not sure this is easily understood by drivers, so my question is: is there a codified gesture for conveying the message: "I am looking for a place to stop?"

additional info

This question came to my mind after taking a two-way mountain road, with speed limit at 50 km/h and where my travelling speed was ranging between 30 and 50ish km/h.

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    Note that arm signals are highly variable between countries -- you've got two commonwealth answers, which may not be quite what you're looking for.
    – Chris H
    Commented Mar 26, 2018 at 13:00
  • Is this for a two-way road? I think it's pretty much a given on the single-track that you can't pull over until you reach a passing place (and a good central position is the best way to remind drivers not to try before then!). Commented Mar 26, 2018 at 14:26
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    None of the answers really mention it, but it is important that you understand why you are signalling: to let the cautious automobile operator know that you are ready and waiting for them to pass. To inform them that you are aware of their presence and are seeking to allow them to pass is a different signal, and one of both courtesy and an attempt to mitigate any impatient followers. Commented Mar 27, 2018 at 2:57
  • @TobySpeight, added that info in the edit
    – L.Dutch
    Commented Mar 27, 2018 at 6:41

4 Answers 4


I have this same problem on a couple of local descents.

There isn't signal that communicates what you want to say, clearly and succinctly. Anything you try and do will take at least a hand off the bars and reduce your overall stability at speed.

Here's some options:

  • What you can do is stop pedalling, and pull to the side of the road so there is as much space available for the vehicle to pass. THEN its up to the driver of the vehicle to decide if its safe to pass or not. A car will need some hundreds of metres of clear space if they have to cross the centerline so don't bother if you're anywhere near an upcoming corner.

  • In fact if you're getting close to a corner, its sometimes better to clearly take the lane by shoulder-checking and then moving into the lane. This stops anyone from passing you in a dangerous way.

  • If I absolutely needed to show I was slowing to allow a pass, I'd probably do something like pull to the side as far as possible, maybe unclip my outside pedal and have both legs straight down. If the shoulder was wide enough I would be very much off the roadway. Downside is most hillsides lack in road shoulders so there's not a lot of space. You can also try to look at the following driver and establish an eye contact - but they might think you're simply challenging them or something.

  • Lastly, another physical way to show you're stopping is to straighten your arms, lower your torso, and get off the saddle. This will put your backside backward, and is a pretty clear indication that you're braking hard. Mostly visible to other riders, someone in a car might not perceive it as clearly.

In some places, the painted centerline may stop the vehicle from being allowed to pass, so you might be wasting your time if the road is narrow.

Your other options are to get going faster, or to time your descent so it starts at the end of a car column with a space behind you. This can be aggravating if the line of cars is slower than your descent.


At all times be safe on a descent. Don't feel you have to push and outride your comfort zone/speed. There's a lot of kinetic energy when descending, and if that transforms into friction or a sudden stop, then its a bad day.

  • By Outside, I mean the side away from the centerline. For me we ride and drive on the left, so that would be as left as possible. For those who go on the right, flip it over. You get the idea.
    – Criggie
    Commented Mar 26, 2018 at 10:24
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    Often (though less so on descents), cyclists are slow and narrow enough that cars can safely overtake even when the centreline forbids it. Commented Mar 26, 2018 at 10:38
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    @DavidRicherby maybe - totally depends on the road, and the upcoming turns, visibility, driver's confidence level, and even the lighting level.
    – Criggie
    Commented Mar 26, 2018 at 11:47
  • More than the kinetic energy turning into friction I was concerned of the consequences of a sudden brake attempts performed by a logs loaded truck.
    – L.Dutch
    Commented Mar 27, 2018 at 6:48

I take a different approach to @Criggie, as many of the roads I ride are potholed, narrow, and/or winding. On descents I stay wide and take the lane -- I can see hazards ahead (and also be seen better). If I decide to look for somewhere to pull in, I sit up, stop pedalling and start scanning (with head, not just eye movements).

Then when I do see somewhere to pull in, I give a slowing signal (scroll down) on the left (we drive on the left in the UK). Strictly speaking a slowing signal should be given on the right, but that looks too much like a right turn signal given that most drivers don't seem to have much of a clue about arm signals; it also occupies the primary braking hand. Because I was in the middle of the lane (or the middle of the road if single track) to start with, my lane positioning gives a further clue to those behind that I'm pulling in -- it's not just a little wiggle like going round debris, I move half a lane to the side. I also unclip even if I don't intend to completely stop, but I tend to unclip in plenty of time as a precaution.

I'm reluctant to wave cars past, except when at the back of a group and relaying signal from further ahead. Drivers are too unpredictable to make judgement calls for them (there are plenty that are slower than you'd think), and I often don't have that much more line of sight than they do. However once I've pulled in to let them pass, I often wave them on.

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    @DavidRicherby I've seen it in strung-out group rides. I also use it leading kayaking groups if I'm leading from the front and want a bit of space to check out what's rounf the next bend (but then it's more of a patting gesture). I've even (when driving) seen bin men give it when they could see a horse and rider coming towards me but their lorry blocked my view. This is all in the Bristol area -- I believe I'm only 100km west of you. There's less point in Cardiff, where taxis overtake while you're signalling right
    – Chris H
    Commented Mar 26, 2018 at 12:57
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    ...That's why I give the stopping signal on the side I'm pulling towards, as the interepretation fails gracefully to a turn signal
    – Chris H
    Commented Mar 26, 2018 at 12:59
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    If you give the slowing down signal and someone dosn't recognise it they do tend to at least pay you more attention. It makes people aware you are going to do something, even if they don't know what.
    – Clumsy cat
    Commented Mar 26, 2018 at 14:53
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    Since you gave the UK hand signals here are the US hand signals. As an aside I'm probably biased since I'm a yank but the US hand signals seem harder to confuse.
    – Erik
    Commented Mar 26, 2018 at 15:30
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    @Erik they're harder to confuse with each other, but the idea of sticking out the arm that points where you're going is natural (we do have a right-hand signal for car drivers turning left but I doubt many people would recognise it). So overall it probably balances, and I notice that you're supposed to give all signals with your front brake hand
    – Chris H
    Commented Mar 26, 2018 at 15:42

Hand signal for a stop

In Denmark, raising your hand next to you shoulder is the accepted bike signal that you're going to stop. Not sure if all drivers will understand, and as there are no hills in Denmark I have no idea how this would work on a descent at high speeds, but it is a pretty effective signal.

  • Even if it's not fully understood, it's probably helpful if the driver understands it's an acknowledgement of his/her presence ("I've seen you, but can't cooperate just yet"). Perhaps a good idea to prefix it with an obvious over-the-shoulder glance back. Commented Mar 26, 2018 at 17:06
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    Is she stopping or saluting the shaman to the right? Commented Mar 26, 2018 at 17:16
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    This is an excellent piece of advice on the flat or at slow speed. So +1 However becomes more interesting when you're rolling at ~50 km/h and have no access to one of your brakes while signalling. Also at that velocity, potholes and surprise-gravel approach really quickly and both hands on the bars works a lot better for downhill stability.
    – Criggie
    Commented Mar 26, 2018 at 18:54
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    In Canada cyclists are using this hand gesture to indicate turning to the right. While it is a good signal in many places, in some it will be misunderstood.
    – gschenk
    Commented Mar 26, 2018 at 19:33
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    Also in the US. This signal means turning right, whereas arm out and down (instead of up) would mean stop.
    – Cullub
    Commented Mar 26, 2018 at 21:44

Through complete serendipity I have found another answer to my question, on this page, which at least seems to apply to Japan; enter image description here

To me it is completely new, but objectively it makes sense.

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    From the rear, the stopping one looks like someone riding their bike. Took a second look to see the glove position.
    – Criggie
    Commented Apr 2, 2018 at 8:07

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