A Beginner's Guide to Cycle Signaling
Bicycling is more than just a great way to fulfill your daily exercise regimen. On the contrary, cycling is also a great way to explore unfamiliar places, enjoy the marvels of the outdoors, and get around without relying on fossil fuels. However, it is important to remember when you start cycling on busy roads (or even partially busy roads) that as a cyclist, you are expected to behave more like a car than a pedestrian. You need to travel with the flow of traffic, you need to obey all stop signs and traffic lights, and you need to respect other drivers and the rules of the road at all times. These requirements are not meant to impair the enjoyment of your cycling experience, but rather to ensure your personal safety.
Why Signaling Is Important
One major component of obeying the rules of the road is using signaling. When you drive a car, you are expected to use turn signals before turning down a new street or into a driveway. Of course, your car handles some of your signals for you,such as brake lights, but the basic purpose is still the same. As a driver, you use signals to let other drivers know what you are doing on the road. This non-verbal communication helps to maintain order and balance, even in busy traffic, and drastically cuts down on the number and severity of accidents.
Similarly, as a cyclist, you must use signals to communicate with other drivers. Usually, as a cyclist, you won't be occupying as much of the street as a motorist or even a motorcyclist would be. The small size and relatively slow speed of bicycles mean that they are often pushed to the shoulder of the road or into bike lanes to make way for other traffic. In heavy traffic, though, it is sometimes safer to join the flow of traffic than remain on the outskirts of it. Such a maneuver helps other drivers see you and recognize your intentions.
Still, even if you are riding on the shoulder of the road or using a dedicated bike lane, you should absolutely use hand signals to denote turns, stops, or other actions. Signaling is important for drivers because it helps avoid fender bender accidents. A turn signal, for instance, can let the driver behind you know to slow down and let you turn, which can, in turn, reduce the likelihood of you being rear-ended by another driver. While fender benders can damage cars and, in some cases, cause minor injuries to the drivers, the equivalent of a "fender bender" can be catastrophic or even lethal for a cyclist. When you are driving a car, you are strapped into a seat and traveling in a massive steel contraption that weighs 4,000 pounds. The car, in other words, absorbs most of the force of a collision. When you are riding a bike and someone hits you, there is nothing to absorb the force of a collision, which is why car-on-bike accidents often result in severe injuries for the cyclist. To put it quite simply, knowing how to signal properly can prevent these accidents and save your life.
Learning How to Signal
Before you head out for a bike ride on high-traffic roads, make a point of learning both. Knowing how to signal a turn but not how to signal a stop can be almost as dangerous as riding with no knowledge of signals whatsoever. In other words, make sure to learn your cycle signaling as comprehensively as possible, even from the very beginning. Read on for a guide to the cycling signals that you must know before your next road ride.
- The Left Turn: With your palm open and facing forward, extend your left arm straight out to the side. Your arm should be perpendicular to your body, pointing in the direction you which to turn. You should signal at least 10 yards before your intended turn.Some bicycle signals are intuitive and obvious, like turns. Others are less easy to predict, like the stop signal.
- The Right Turn: The signal is the same as the left turn, except in the other direction. 10 yards prior to making a right turn, extend your right arm straight out to the side, away from your body, with your palm open and facing forward. Once again, your arm should make a 90-degree angle with the rest of your body. Both of these turn signals make it easy for drivers behind you to read your intentions. It is also a good idea to use the right or left turn signal while leading a group of other cyclists, as other riders in your group may not necessarily know where to turn.If you are uncomfortable taking your right hand off the handlebars, you can also show a right turn by holding out your left arm as if you were making a left-hand turn single. To turn this signal into a sign for a right turn, bend your arm at the elbow so that your hand is pointing straight upwards. There should be a 90-degree angle at your elbow. For the most part, though, this signal is obsolete because it is confusing?particularly to non-cyclists. For best results, extend your right arm away from your body instead of using the left arm for a right turn signal.
- The Stop/Slow Signal: Sometimes, you will have to stop before making a turn, or just to wait for other traffic at an intersection before moving through it. The stop signal is essentially the cyclist's version of a brake light. Again, extend your left arm sideways. This time, though, have a 90-degree angle at your elbow with your hand pointing down. Your palm should be facing the drivers or cyclists behind you. If you are coming up to a red light or stop sign, the traffic behind you will probably be anticipating a stop and slowing down anyway, in which case the stop/slow signal might not even be necessary. However, if you are biking in a group and you need to stop to check directions, get a drink, or deal with a broken chain, this signal is essential to make sure that the rest of your group doesn't come crashing and piling into you.
In addition to the basic signals for turning, braking, and stopping, there are numerous other cyclist hand signals for acknowledging other drivers or bikers, pointing out obstructions or dangers to fellow cyclists, and more. For instance, when a driver passes you slowly and safely, you might wave at them to give them a thank you.Or, in another scenario, when you are riding in a group and leading the way, you might point down at the road to warn the rest of your group about a pothole, a drain, or some other obstacle. Particularly when it comes to smart practices for group riding, you will want to confer with the other cyclists in your group to decide on how you are going to communicate with one another.
There are hand signals for everything from slowing down the pace of the ride, to avoiding parked cars or other obstacles on the side of the road, to telling another biker to move up and lead the group. However, different cyclists may have slightly different concepts of what each hand signal means, while others might not be familiar with any hand signals beyond right turn, left turn, and stop. Take a few minutes before a group ride to familiarize everyone with the turn signals you'll be using. That way, everyone is on the same page as far as communication is concerned.
For more images and information of the different turn signals described in this article, do a Google image search for "cycling hand signals." There are plenty of charts, diagrams, and photographs that show cyclists just like you demonstrating the use of each signal. You can also use Google to familiarize yourself with variations on different hand signals and how the norms of cycle signaling tend to vary from one country to the next. Otherwise, we wish you a safe and fun cycling adventure! By knowing the etiquette for signaling, you don't just protect yourself from accidents, but you also make the road a safer place for drivers, bicyclists, and even pedestrians alike.