Hand Gestures (no, not that one)

So you start riding with a group of people for the first time, and you notice something odd.  Occasionally, one of them will tap their ass and point, or they’ll point almost straight down and two seconds later you hit a massive pothole. Every group of riders uses gestures along with verbal calls to signal to the riders behind them of what’s coming up. Sometimes it’s hard to hear verbal calls, so gestures can help pass along an important message – if you understand what they mean. Everyone should know the basic hand gestures of riding – left turn, right turn, stopping, and the bird. No, that last one should’t be given – remember, if you flip off a car, you’ve just upset someone moving a 2 ton+ vehicle. Not exactly what I’d call bright. When you ride with a group, you’ll find there are a few more, less-common signals. Some are club/team specific, meaning it’s something that particular group has come up with, so if you see something new, make sure to ask them what it means. It’s unlikely they’ll volunteer the info – not because they’re mean, but because riders tend to take for granted the info they’ve accumulated.

Note: these signals are the most common ones I’ve seen while riding with some local teams here and while on the MS training rides with multiple teams. I’ll include the three basic signals as well.

  • Stopping: left arm bent at the elbow (90º) towards the ground, palm facing back. You use your left hand so traffic can see your intention to stop.
    • Slowing/Stopping: while in a pace-line, holding your left arm down, palm flat to the back indicates you are intending to slow and/or stop. This is kind of like the primary stopping gesture, only less pronounced – you don’t stick your arm out at an awkward angle. Some people also pump their lower arm slightly front-to-back, indicating they intend to slow.
  • Left-Turn: left arm held straight out to the left of the body.
  • Right-Turn: left arm bent up at the elbow (90º). In a large group of riders, sometimes a rider will indicate a right turn by holding their right arm straight out to the right of the body. This optional gesture is most often used when there are two side-by-side pace lines by riders located in the left pace line (so the right pace line riders can see).
  • Obstruction: if there is an obstruction/danger on the ground ahead, such as a pot hole, crack, bump, gravel, branch, etc., hold your arm almost straight down indicating which side of your bike the obstruction is on. If it’s on your right, use your right arm. This gesture is usually accompanied by a verbal call indicating the type of obstruction. For example, if a gravel driveway is coming up on the right and the gravel has poured into the street, you can point down with your right hand and shout “GRAVEL”.
  • Walker/Rider Up: this isn’t as common on the road, but very common on bike paths. If your pace-line is approaching a jogger or slow biker, you can pat your butt twice and point in the direction where the person will be found. For example, if a walker is directly in your path, you can use your right hand to pat and point, because you’ll pass on the left and they’ll be on your right. If a walker is approaching from the other lane, you can use your left hand and point in that direction. This gesture is often used when the pace-line or group has spread out and shouts of “WALKER UP” or “BIKE UP” might not be heard clearly.
  • Perpendicular Obstructions: place one arm behind you and swing your arm left to right once or twice. This indicates that there is something cutting across the road, such as railroad tracks, gravel or water, and is usually accompanied by a corresponding shout of “TRACKS”, “GRAVEL”, or “WATER”.
  • Parallel Obstructions: place one arm at your side – depending on which side the obstruction is found on – with your hand flat facing the body, and swing your arm front to back several times. This gesture is used for obstructions such as storm drains and large crevices that follow your line of travel where a tire can easily be trapped.
  • Pace-line Merging: hold your arm out at a slight angle (about 30º from the ground) in the direction you are intending to merge, pointing with your finger. It should be done before you start your move. This indicates you’d like to shift into/out of the pace-line. NOTE: make sure to still glance behind you, as some might miss this gesture.