What happened to biking hand signals?

Posted by Haddon on October 13, 2014 at 12:29pm

Source: ChainLink

So I can’t remember the last time I even saw anyone use those biking hand signals. I’m not sure I even know them to be honest.  Do they still cover these things anywhere? At elementary school age I recall a going to a bike class given by the police dpt where they covered this and made you ride a course through some cones.  I think I got a sticker on my bike or a card for my wallet or something. Does this still happen?  Or has this sort of signaling gone the way of semaphore flags?

For responders with nothing but snark: If your life is so sad you derive pleasure from being insulting I feel sorry for you as do most other people. Rather than being a detractor find something interesting and post it, you’ll feel better about yourself and other people will like you more. Thanks, Haddon.


Reply by Bob Kastigar 6 hours ago
I’m having mixed feeling about left-turn hand signals.
On a busy street most cars approaching me will stop for me to turn! There’s no real need for that I can usually ride at a pace so I can turn when there’s space and time to turn.
My signal is really intended for the cars behind me, not for the cars coming towards me.
When they stop, and I go, I usually give a “thank you” wave. Is there any other way to handle this?

Reply by Anne 6 hours ago
Yes I remember those classes too.
I never use them, mostly because other road users don’t know what the signals mean!
I will point towards my turn, make it very clear to the driver where I’m going.

Reply by Anne Alt 5 hours ago
I usually use them. In my neighborhood, unless I’m making a left turn, it’s a fairly even split between using them for cars approaching from behind and cars I’m meeting at a 4-way stop. Some drivers get them right away. Some have no clue. Some of the clueless ones slow down to see what I’m doing before they pass me or cross my path. More often than not, they seem to help.

Reply by David Barish 5 hours ago
I use them all the time. I have used bike hand signals when walking. If the sidewalk is crowded I will signal that I am about to turn left into the Starbucks. I really wish more people would signal their intention on bikes and in cars. We would all be better off. (exiting soapbox)…

Reply by Jeff Schneider 5 hours ago
I learned these signals (all using the left arm only) in about 1966, and never got out of the habit of using them:

Publication: Illinois Driver Info (PDF)

Left arm-only signals really make sense when you are descending a steep hill with an intersection at the bottom. You get to keep your right hand on the rear brake lever.

In England, bikes have the rear brake lever on the left for this same reason.

Long ago when most kids rode bikes to school and learned these signals there, we already knew them well when we became drivers. Now most kids don’t ride a bike for transportation, never learn the signals, and don’t know them as drivers.

I like using proper signals, and still do it out of habit, even though I know few others pay attention or understand.

Reply by John Durham 4 hours ago
I signal my turns, and my stops often as well. I see many other riders signaling as well; riders that weren’t signaling before are picking up the ‘lingo’ from observing other riders signaling. It’s a slow process, but I have seen improvement.

The signals aren’t complicated. Point in the direction you’re turning. Hand down with palm open indicating stop. Point to the ground with finger extended to indicate obstacles to riders behind you (large piles of glass, potholes, etc.). That’s it. Not complicated.

I’d like to see the “Left arm upturned as a right turn indicator” go away though. That was developed for automobiles and most often it just looks like someone waving, especially when done in a half assed manner. Just point in the direction you’re turning.

Reply by Lisa Curcio 4.1mi 4 hours ago
I use them, except, like John, I indicate a right turn by putting my right arm out instead of the left arm up signal. That signal was for cars without turn signals–yes, Virginia, cars did not always have turn signals–since one could obviously not extend one’s right arm out the passenger side window. I don’t know when they stopped teaching hand signals in drivers’ education classes, but young people seem not to understand the left arm up signal.

Reply by Anne Alt 4 hours ago
I don’t think that’s limited to young people.

Reply by Lisa Curcio 4.1mi 3 hours ago
Anne, you forget that I am at the age where anyone under 45 qualifies as “young people”. 🙂

Reply by Thunder Snow 1 hour ago
I usually signal my turns, though not my slowing or stops. I use my left arm for all signals, as I’m used to holding my right hand on the throttle when I motorcycle, and it’s easier to just ride my bicycle the same way, rather than rethink the whole thing each time.

Reply by Cameron 7.5 mi 10 hours ago
They were taught in drivers ed as recently as 1999, but were presented has something that you would see someone driving older farm machinery that doesn’t turn signals doing

Reply by BritBoy 7 hours ago

Bicycle Pump Valve Adaptor

Bicycle Pump Valve Adaptor

Growing up in England we had the Cycling Proficiency Test – i think we got a little badge or something if we passed – which I think pretty much everyone did.

I had always wondered why the brakes were reversed on UK vs US bikes!! Makes perfect sense. I;d never seen the ‘left hand raised to turn right’ (or vise-versa as it would have applied in the UK) being used by cyclists before I came to the States – though a car driver is supposed to do this through an open window of his car if the indicator (that’s ‘blinker’ in the US) wasn’t working.

One other UK vs US question someone may be able to answer…in the UK we nearly always use a ‘valve connector‘ that screws into the end of the pump and then onto the valve on the tyre (there’s different ended valve connectors depending if you run Schrader or Presta valves, but the part that screws into the pump is the same) – see image below – that when not in use is stored in the handle of the pump (these were old school pumps – I imagine a lot of UK pumps are like the US ones with the flexible hose that comes out of the body of the pump).

I sometimes worry about damaging the vale tip on a Presta valve when wriggling the US adapter hose off, as well as damage to the interior of the plastic/rubber adapter hose that comes into contact with the valve screw thread – with the UK valve connector this was never an issue as it screwed right on making for a perfect seal each time and for easy removal without losing any of the air…

Reply by The Korn 3 minutes ago

I signal my turns all the time. In my mind it doesn’t matter whether the driver really understands what I’m signaling, because whether or not they understand they have an idea that I’m about to do something different and tend to go slowly and cautiously as a result. So it’s pretty much a best case scenario as far as I’m concerned for everybody! They don’t hit me, and I don’t get hit, and they’re not unpleasantly surprised that I’m all of a sudden cutting in front of them.

I don’t bother signaling stops. I think they’re self evident.


The fact is, that despite the propaganda that is often sent to news outlets, cyclists are less likely to obey traffic signals today than at any time in the last 25 years. And that is not something that necessarily appears in so-called ‘anti-cycling‘ venues. It is simply a fact and everyone knows it and admits to it excepting of course cyclists who are afraid of the truth. This bit appeared in an article (Transportation Nation) following the needless ‘murders‘ of two pedestrians by cyclists in Central Park this year.

She said bicyclists tend to ignore red lights when there are no pedestrians waiting to use the crosswalk. But if those lights turn red when a pedestrian trips a sensor, and only then, bicyclists are more likely to stop — and to get into the habit of stopping when they see a red light. Such a system is now in use in Prospect Park.

Traffic engineer and former DOT commissioner Sam Schwartz likes the idea of a pedestrian-triggered signal system. But he would go further. “The crosswalk itself could be outlined with a series of embedded lights that are flashing on and off, visible even during daytime but especially visible during dark hours.” Schwartz said flashing lights in the crosswalk are likely to be noticed, and heeded, even by bicyclists who are moving with their heads down.

Ah, Yes! Charlize Theron gets it right!

Ah, Yes! Charlize Theron gets it right!

The trend away from signaling is coming at just the time when the numbers are trending upwards. And despite the fact that cyclists are often irate at the fact that motorists do not signal their intentions, they are largely silent about their own culpability in this offense.

But let it be said in our defense that we do have at least one signal that we display whether others are following suit or not.

This is either our IQ quotient or an indication that we need to urinate. Either way it looks good on her!