Mixed Signals

When you’re on a bike it helps to communicate where you’re going. At first it may seem weird, especially if you’ve never seen anyone signal before. This was the case when I started biking. But I gave it a shot. At first I stuck to the basics: “right” and “left.” I started with the most textbook versions.


Then I realized it was much more nuanced- it was about using body language. Even the littlest gesture said something.  I could mix it up depending on the situation. I could convey urgency, scale it up or down, even completely change it up sometimes….


You can even get creative and make your own signals. Though, everything you do becomes signal of some sort…


But once you get over the awkwardness of hand signals- it’s a relief to have more in your commuter vocabulary than “right,” “left,” and “honk.”



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26 Comments on "Mixed Signals"

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For the record, extending the left arm downwards 45° indicates slowing or stopping. The more you know…


In addition to Left and Right I use a few other signals (N.B. these are from a UK, left side of the road, perspective).
“Please overtake” / “it is safe to overtake” – an overhead swimming action with the right arm.
“Please do not overtake” – a right-hand turn signal and looking behind to stare the relevant party straight in the eyes.
“Slowing down” – Left arm waved up and down slowly.
“You are an idiot” – Any number of body parts in any configuration suitable for the display of frustration or fear.
(Okay, that last one isn’t serious.)

Amazing, you have captured the the broad state of signal miscommunication perfectly. When traveling amongst the cages I use the traditional up for right, out for left and down signals as taught when learning how to drive my model T. I have either been lucky, or skilled enough in something of 30 years of riding of never tangling with a car. That is not to say I have had close calls, there have been several. At which point the universal signal of extending a certain finger to it’s upright position was satisfactory to indicate my displeasure. Well done as always,… Read more »
Justin Winokur

I really do not like the “fancy right”. It is misleading to any motorist who didn’t memorize the driving handbook. It looks kind of like a left but not really sure. When I use my left hand to signal right, I put it in more of a curve with my fingers pointing clearly to the right. Much less confusing. I do not trust motorist to know the proper signals so I use ones that I think are more clear.


The conventional hand signals taught in drivers’ ed were developed for drivers who could only use one hand to signal out the window, and date from the days when many cars did not have reliable signals (a car-collector friend has a car with little flags that pop out of the door frames!). For a cyclist, just clearly pointing in the direction you want to go usually gets the idea across.


i use the taught signals because my front brake (only actual brake on my fixed gear, and the most effective brake on bikes with 2) is on the right side so i dont remove my right hand from the handlebars unless absolutely necessary. however when signalling for a right turn my had is in a fist except for my thumb and i move my forearm side to side so it’s clear that im turning right. never had any problems with that signal


I do this do. Almost like I am doing a sideways stretch and with pointing fingers.

bostonperson whohasbike
bostonperson whohasbike

same here – left hand over head – pointing right.


“Hi?” Definitely let out a pretty loud chuckle at the office. 🙂

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