The Basics of Signaling

Signaling is an incredibly useful tool for all users of the road. How many times do you shake your fist at a someone for not doing something as simple as telling you where they were headed! Signaling is critically important in traffic. We increase our safety and visibility when we signal, to both cars and fellow riders. If you accept the reasoning, signaling is also the polite thing to do in lieu of CVC laws that require us to do so as bikers.

But many people are not sure of what accepted signaling looks like. I learned mine from a booklet that looked like it was printed in 1952. Nothing much has changed, but it could be updated to cover what people do in practice as well as what people consider proper. You choose when you are on the road.

First up is signaling a right-hand turn. I usually slow down or come to a stop before I make a right turn, depending upon what obstacles or space I have in the lane I will be entering. For the right turn signal, there are two kinds. The L-shape signal is more formal, if we can call a signal formal, but I typically find pointing toward where I am going is easier for a driver to see and quicker for anyone around me to comprehend what I am about to do next on my bike.

Classic right hand turn signal

Turning right

Right hand turn signal

I know there are a number of arm height variations for signaling and in the second picture above, mine is exactly shoulder height. Perhaps it depends on your comfort level of removing hands off the handlebars or your general energy level in raising your arm.

Left hand turn signals are easy – it’s just pointing left. Typically a left turn means you are entering a left lane or a left turn lane from the right. Use your best judgement to use the signal far enough in advance to make room between cars to let you in. If I don’t have a turn lane or a turn light, I tend to throw that left turn signal up a few times to remind drivers why I am there. Usually cars behind me will go around me, and I am not that offended since they are incredibly busy people and can’t afford any obstacles in their path forward.

Left turn hand signal

One last signal for good measure is the sign for “slowing down”. It’s used more for other cyclists you are riding with, for instance, a group ride or a paceline, but it can sometimes help in traffic. It’s dropping your hand to either the left or right near your hip with your palm facing behind you. It’s like saying “Woah, easy there” to the folks behind you. It’s not often used, but it’s still good to know in case you find the moment to use it. Oftentimes, drivers (or even just humans in general) have difficulty determining speed, either toward them or away from them. It can especially be difficult to determine speed for an object smaller and more narrow than a 2-ton steel brick. You could use this signal to note that you are slowing down so they should be, too.

Signal for slowing down

I hope this helps you learn the basics of hand signals while biking in traffic. Would you consider adding some turn signal lights to your bike seat like these? Another velowriter discusses the aesthetics of adding turn signal lights to a bike. What are your thoughts on signaling?


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