Hand Signal Debate

“I thought holding your left arm at a right angle was the way to signal a right turn,” a friend said recently after going on a quick neighborhood ride with me.

Yes, I use the “alternate right turn” hand signal.

bike signals

I’ve decided to break from tradition on this for a couple of reasons.

It’s safer. Most people these days haven’t brushed up on what hand signals mean since high school driver’s ed. It is less confusing to simply point your arm in the direction you will be turning rather than using your left arm to signal a right turn.* Plus, as Wikipedia points out (ha), it is more visible to “any traffic likely to be affected” by your turn, including those behind you also intending to turn right.

It’s easier. As a newbie rider I found just sticking my arm out in the direction I was turning to be a more intuitive/instinctual movement. It was one less thing to think about and meant I could focus more on the traffic around me instead of my arm position.

I still use the traditional signal about 10% of the time, if I’m in a situation where I feel it makes me more visible. But 9 out of 10 right turn signals are “alternate.”

How do you signal?

* This may not be the case in cities with a larger number of vehicles that use hand signals, but most Nashville drivers have very limited experience with anything other than blinkers.

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98 thoughts on “Hand Signal Debate

  1. dickdavid says:

    I’m like you. I point in the direction that I’m about to turn, but I try to look cool about it and do that semi-finger point thing. It helps me feel less geeky about following the rules.

    BTW, I rarely use the stop signal. Most of the time that I’m making a stop from a significant speed, I’m in need of applying both my brakes. Fortunately, I’m usually never in thick enough traffic to need it.

  2. Eliot says:

    I use the “alternate” method too with a good point of my finger. I don’t really feel confident that people remember the official signals. They feel very unintuitive.

    While riding around Amsterdam, Paris, and London I found that everyone just points where they are going. Very clear and no mistakes.

  3. Charlotte says:

    I point in the direction I’m about to turn. We saw a traditional signal recently, my husband thought the oncoming lady was waving to us.

    It’s been pointed out to me that you can slow with your rear brake if you use the traditional signal, but other than that it’s an antiquated system intended for cars.

  4. Eliot says:

    Dickdavid – running stop signs is illegal, selfish, and dangerous.

  5. Keith Moore says:

    I always use the alternate right turn signal. The traditional signal looks too much like you’re waving at someone.

  6. dukiebiddle says:

    I’m going to make a couple of arguments in defense of the traditional right turn signal. I’ll admit that when I was a noob, I would more likely use my right hand for the “alternate” signal.

    First, everything on the left hand side of your body is more visible to drivers, even if you are making a right hand turn. Wikipedia is wrong on that count. You, as a cyclist, should be on the right hand side of the lane. The driver is on the left and side of the right lane, as that is where his/her steering wheel is, unless s/he is in a postage jeep or a classic English roadster or something. Thus, the cyclist is to the right of the driver. Hand signals on the cyclist’s left are more visible to the driver.

    Secondly, when you are making a right hand turn, or any hard turn, you are more likely to decelerate. The right hand brake, being less efficient, is better for deceleration. One false move decelerating with the left hand brake may cause a tumble over the handlebars, especially on a completely upright european city bike, as 90% of the weight rests squarely on the rear wheel.

    As for drivers being unfamiliar with the traditional right signal, I’d think you’d be surprised. I think everyone really does remember what that means.

    • Trisha says:

      Good points! Thanks for providing the opposite viewpoint (and clearing up the misunderstanding of dick’s comment upthread).

      I think the right arm is pretty much always visible to people behind you, even if you’re to the right of them — but the 10% of the time when I DO use the more traditional signal is when I’m turning right and someone is coming toward me from the other direction (in the opposite lane of course), especially if they are indicating a left turn in the same place I will be turning right. I feel like they’re more likely to see the left hand.

      My conclusions about drivers’ unfamiliarity with the traditional signal are entirely based on an extremely unscientific poll of friends and family, and one very unfortunate encounter with a rude driver. ;-) Most people knew it was a turn signal, but were fuzzy about which one. In other cities where cycling has been common for years, that might not be the case though.

    • Ghost Rider says:

      That’s just crazy talk…motorists and cyclists rarely know what the “traditional” hand signals mean anymore, despite their placement on driving tests.

      I’ve been a cyclist for 30+ and a motorist for 22 years (over a million miles in a motor vehicle) licensed in 8 different states, and I can barely remember what the traditional signals mean. Pointing your intented direction eliminates any ambiguity.

      • dukiebiddle says:

        I think “rarely” is hyperbolic.

        • Ghost Rider says:

          Maybe so…but I did an informal poll of my coworkers. Today I asked about 30 people (all middle-aged drivers) and only one could demonstrate all the “traditional” hand signals correctly. Most said something to the effect of “gosh, I remember learning those in driving school…but does anyone use those anymore?”

          • dukiebiddle says:

            If by all you are including “stop,” and the one that could not identify was “stop,” I would agree. I was never taught that one either. I’m not even entirely convinced that it is standard. But I believe the right turn signal is pretty universally known. I just can’t believe that anyone over 30 can’t remember it.

            • Trisha says:

              OK, now you’ve got me wanting to poll my coworkers, all of whom are over 30. As I mentioned earlier, the friend who asked me about the alternate signal was in the minority.

            • dukiebiddle says:

              Hey, I’m fully acknowledging that I could be wrong here.

    • pete w says:

      “Secondly, when you are making a right hand turn, or any hard turn, you are more likely to decelerate. The right hand brake, being less efficient, is better for deceleration. One false move decelerating with the left hand brake may cause a tumble over the handlebars, especially on a completely upright european city bike, as 90% of the weight rests squarely on the rear wheel.”

      Actually, most of the stopping power is in the front brake, 70%+.. it’s a physics thing, but think about pulling a moving bike to a stop compared to pushing – you have more power pushing. Similarly, it is almost impossible to lock up the front wheel – the back wheel’s braking power maxes out when the wheel begins to skid (not to mention less control of the bike).

      I agree that for decelerating into a turn the rear brake slows the bike adequately and in a controlled way. Just nit-picking! I would contend that the non-trad right turn better alerts cars trying to also turn right inside of your turn, generally my greatest concern.

  7. Dean Peddle says:

    I used to use the traditional right turn signal for years but got tired of drivers waving back to me and not understanding the signal. As Trisha points out…there isn’t much education on what these mean and people are usually confused so I just stick to pointing in the direction I’m turning like everyone else here.

    • Trisha says:

      Pointing makes it even clearer, I agree.

      • Charlotte says:

        I suppose if you were to point up in the air when making the traditional symbol it would negate the impression of waving.

      • DDK says:

        Yeah — I use a modified traditional signal where I point to the right over my helmet. Seems to do the trick, and nobody has waved back yet.

        My wife does the full-traditional signal, hand flat forward. Even knowing what it is I find it confusing every time and have to think for a minute to figure out what she’s doing.

        I like the point.

  8. bikedate says:

    the traditional signal has that do-you-swear-to-tell-the-whole-truth, boy-scout, apple-polishing feel to it… since we’re already wearing our king dorko helmets, do we really need more fashion strikes against us?

    also, on a road bike the upright position for the traditional is a little tougher, and as mentioned, the people affected by your right turn CAN see your non-traditional signal, even if cars behind you maybe can’t.

    • Trisha says:

      Another strong point for the “alternate” signal — which appears to not be quite so alternate?

    • dukiebiddle says:

      “…on a road bike the upright position for the traditional is a little tougher…”

      I have to be honest and admit, when I’m on my road bike, with my hands down in the brifters, with my weight distributed so evenly between the front and rear wheels, affecting the handling so much, I don’t feel comfortable taking either hand off the handlebars for any reason, and am much more likely to turn around and look to make sure I don’t have to signal at all.

  9. alice says:

    I had never even seen this way of signalling before, here in the UK we just point the way we are intending to go, seems clearer to me? Here, if stopping, the official hand signal is to wave you arm up and down like a bird flapping its wing, I think this is effective as even if someone doesn’t know what it means it at least draws attention to you and people behind you know you are about to do *something* even if they are not 100% clear what : )

  10. dukiebiddle says:

    I honestly cannot see how people think a right hand signal is more visible to the driver. Am I missing something obvious that is completely going over my head?

    “As Trisha points out…there isn’t much education on what these mean… ”
    Unfortunately, that is a very good point. Although I think all state’s written driver’s exams require that drivers know what these signals mean, nobody teaches vehicular cycling rules to children anymore. As your parents can tell you, in the old days, EVERYONE was taught vehicular cycling rules. Now they just tell children if they don’t wear a helmet they’re going to die and they’re probably better off just playing video games instead, as the outdoors KILLS!

  11. Dwainedibbly says:

    The traditional (USA) right turn signal came about because automobile drivers kept sticking their fingers into the ears for their front seat passengers when they tried to signal a right turn.

    The “left arm bent 90 degrees” signal only exists for automobile drivers. If I’m ever driving a car without a functional right turn indicator, I’ll use that hand signal, but when I’m on a bicycle I use the “alternate” method.

  12. I’ve tried to use the traditional right turn signal a few times and it seemed to confuse people. Pointing in the direction one is going is the typical way of signaling where I live.

    • dukiebiddle says:

      I thought nobody signaled in Boston. ;-) When I was a little kid and we’d go up the east coast to Maine to visit my grandparents, Philly and New York were never a problem, but my father would get sick to his stomach about halfway through Connecticut in dreaded anticipation of having to share the road with Boston drivers. He haaaaaatttttted driving through Boston.

  13. Scott says:

    Now that I think of it, I only signal to the left. I always leave my right hand on the bars because that is my only handbrake, and left is usually where I have to signal when crossing a traffic lane. I like the two-finger point.

  14. Jason says:

    I always thought the traditional right-turn signal was developed for drivers because that’s the only visible arm they have to use. Otherwise, it doesn’t make a ton of sense to me. I think most drivers (including me, I also drive a car) get that a person pointing to the right is about to turn right. Interesting perspectives on both sides, though.

    Jason Crane
    RocBike.com

  15. dottie says:

    The majority of the time I use the “alternate” right arm straight out signal, pointing my finger to make it more obvious and less dorky, as others have noted. However, I use the “traditional” signal a lot, too, for a reason no one else has mentioned. I feel much sturdier with my right hand on the handlebars. I could ride one-handed all day long with my right hand on the bars, but I still practice riding with only my left hand. I don’t know if it’s because I’m right-handed or if it’s a mental block, but the result is that if the terrain is bumpy (and it often is with potholes) or if I have to maneuver around other cars at all, I use the “traditional” left arm up signal. In bad traffic or when I’m already annoyed by drivers trying to recklessly homicide me, I point and push my arm up and over my helmet to the right to make it 100% clear and visible, as DDK said.

    I read somewhere that even if the driver does not know exactly what the signal means, he or she at least is alerted that you are about to do something and may be more cautious behind you. Interestingly, Chicago’s bike map shows the hand signals and never even mentions the “traditional” signal, only the right arm out for a right turn.

    • dukiebiddle says:

      I’m a lefty, and I feel much more stable holding the right handlebar too. I’m not sure why, although I suspect it’s a brain stem thing from an entire childhood of conditioning of shifting and signaling with my right hand. After a 20 year hiatus I still feel the same way. When I’m bending into a right turn and try to signal by pointing with my right hand I always feel like I’m about to lose control.

    • Trisha says:

      That does happen to me occasionally and is a good reason to go for traditional. I do agree that people know you’re up to something and will be more cautious even if they don’t understand exactly what the signal indicates.

  16. I don’t signal, when taking a hand off the handle bars might be risky. Two hands are better than one.

  17. Cyclin Missy says:

    I tend to use the traditional right signal because I also feel more comfortable keeping my right hand on the handlebars when I’m on my road bike. On my mountain bike, it doesn’t matter so much.

    It always made sense to me to bend my left arm to signal a right turn, because my hand was farther to the right that way than when signalling a left turn. My brain works the same way when thinking about which way to push the turn signal level in a car. Wierd, huh?

    • Greg says:

      I agree with Cyclin Missy. I’m just more comfortable braking with my rear brake on a road bike, but I think using the alternate right turn signal is easier for drivers to understand.

      Either way, as long as you’re signalling, everyone should be happy. :o)

    • Trisha says:

      I am impressed by your logic!

  18. sara says:

    I use the alternate right hand turn signal, pointing with my right & was somewhat surprised to see that on New Haven’s new biking page, this is the signal they have pictured:

    http://www.cityofnewhaven.com/TrafficParking/BikeSmart.asp

    • dukiebiddle says:

      Okay, I have to admit that that perturbs me nearly as much as it disturbs me. Not that there are two acceptable right turn signals, which is fine, but that a city’s bicycle safety page would simply neglect to address cannon safety technique and replace it with the casual one. It’s just encouraging safety ignorance. If they were functioning under the guidance of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration or some other over-arching umbrella safety organization, that would be one thing. So all the parents teaching their children the cannon safety procedure are basically teaching their children to do this weird thing with their arm that nobody will understand? Annoying.

      • dukiebiddle says:

        oops. I meant “canon.” I always do that. *stupidstupidstupid*

        • dukiebiddle says:

          Like I said, I have no problem with people using their right hand to signal a right turn, but when they are only teaching one, less canon type of signal, that’s just one more person that has no idea what other people are doing who have been taught properly.

          Also, if the NHTSA decided to change the right turn signal, I would be totally behind that too, as long as they orchestrated a nationwide policy shift and taught every child and every adult that the old signal was antiquated and that a new and improved signal brought us in sync with international standards. You don’t let something safety oriented just happen organically all willy-nilly and differ from community to community, from school to school, or from state to state. Everyone has to be in sync.

          • Trisha says:

            I get what you’re saying — I’m a tradition lover myself! But based on the comments on this post, if only one thing is taught it should be the more intuitive “alternate” turn. Sounds like the language of turn signaling has evolved.

      • Ghost Rider says:

        It’s not “encouraging safety ignorance” — after all, they ARE teaching SOME form of hand signal. Just because those signals don’t subscribe to tradition doesn’t make it wrong…merely different.

        Because so many people have mentioned lack of motorist/cyclist education and confusion when it comes to these hand signals, it seems to make sense for some of us to use what we believe is less ambiguous — the directional “point”. Again, not right or wrong, but different. All this confusion makes one wish for some switch-activated electric turn signal, doesn’t it? ;)

  19. anna says:

    I wanted to write about hand signals myself once. It’s slightly different in Europe. We only use straight left arm = left turn, straight right arm = right turn and left hand up = decelerating/stop (the latter corresponds to your left picture for the right turn). But even more important than signaling is to shoulder check – I do it twice: before I indicate and then again before I actually turn. That can safe lives :).
    There are also a few more to indicate obstructions on the road, but they are mostly used by road cyclists that cycle in a bulk.

    • dukiebiddle says:

      “There are also a few more to indicate obstructions on the road.”

      Do you mean road obstruction jazz hands?

  20. Ummmmmmm, okay. I have to admit this. I think of sticking your hand out left, means left. Sticking your hand out right, means right. Anything else, I wouldn’t know what’s going on. Ouch! Lucky you don’t ride around the streets of Brisbane. And lucky when I’m on my bike most other people must think like me!

  21. Karen says:

    Interesting question. I think the alternate signal probably is more recognizable to the majority of people who don’t bike. However, Officer Dave of the Flag PD told me he thinks the traditional signal is better seen by drivers – and he spends quite a bit of time on his bike. I don’t know. I know a gentleman who uses a variation of the traditional right signal, pointing his left hand up and over this head toward the right. I suppose this is meant for the driver with a 6th grade reading level.

  22. Max says:

    I prefer to use both signals simultaneously. It just seems the safest thing to do. I also turn around and shout “Hey! I’m turning up here!” as an added backup measure.

    Seriously though, I have mostly used the “classic” modified with thumb out over the helmet, for the past 30+ years and it seems to work well. Goofy? Probably, but people notice goofy. And that’s the point, right?

    Another option of course would be to never make right turns…

  23. Carolyn says:

    I use the alternate right hand signal as it makes more sense to me.

  24. RidingPretty says:

    Wow 57 comments and counting. Very impressive! Who knew simple hand signals would be a hot topic and not a yawn.

  25. I use hand signals most of the time, but to be honest I feel a bit silly doing it. I think it’s about time they made electric turn signals for bikes. It’s not like they have to invent new technology to make them. All they have to do is make it to fit bicycles and I think they would be wildly popular among commuters especially and give bikes more presence as vehicles on roads as well.

  26. oh. just noticed Ghost Rider mentioned electric signals too. Yay! I’m glad I’m not the only one who think they would be cool to have.

  27. ksteinhoff says:

    My brother and I have this debate every time I go back home to ride with him. I’m a right-pointer; he’s a 90-degree left armer.

    We did a poll of a bunch of young drivers at a sandwich shop on one ride. I asked them “What would you do to signal a right turn if your electric turn signals didn’t work?”

    “Signal?” was the most common response.

    Forty-five years of driving experience has taught me two things about signaling:

    1. Q: If you see a driver extend a left arm out of the car and point to the left, what does it mean?
    A: The window is open.

    2. Q: (particularly in FL) If you are following a car and the light on the left side of the car is blinking, what does that mean?
    A: The bulb isn’t burned out.

    I DO use some “unofficial” signals (no, NOT the one you’re thinking). If I’m approaching an intersection where I have the right of way and I’m afraid a car is going to pull out, I’ll hold my hand out, palm at about a 45-degree angle, indicating, “don’t do it.”

    Once I’ve made eye contact and am clearing the intersection, I’ll give sort of a wave and a nod of thanks (for not killing me).

    On a long, lightly-traveled country road, I’ll give a little wave when I see someone coming up behind me. It lets them know that I see them. If they give me plenty of room (usually the case in the country), I’ll wait until I see them look in their rearview mirror and I’ll give them another wave. 90% of the time it’ll be returned.

  28. Ash says:

    “Now they just tell children if they don’t wear a helmet they’re going to die and they’re probably better off just playing video games instead, as the outdoors KILLS!”

    Trish, please note those last two words; they sound familiar;)

    Anyway, I am over 30. I live on a road often frequented by bikers coming in and out of the nearby state park. The first time I saw the traditional right hand signal, I did not know what the biker was intending, and I did, in fact, think they were waving at me…or something. I did figure it out after a few seconds (probably after they made a right turn;). I just don’t remember the traditional signals, even though I spent most of my youth on my bicycle (although we didn’t really have any traffic on my street). I would say that, for me, a driver, the alternate signal would’ve probably been clearer. However, I can see how the arm off to the right may be a wee bit less visible.

  29. Jeff says:

    I like to keep my right hand on the handlebars, as others have mentioned, both for stability and the ability to apply the rear brake. To prevent drivers from thinking that I am waving at them when I use the traditional right turn signal, I sometimes make a fist with my left hand rather than leaving it open.

    I frequently use the traditional ‘slow/stop’ signal. When I am taking the lane, and the car in front of me slows or stops quickly, I use this signal to alert the driver behind me, just in case he doesn’t notice or can’t see the brake lights of the car in front. I also use it to signal drivers not to try to pass me while I myself am passing a bus, etc. – that is, to help prevent the ‘squeeze play’.

  30. Dean Peddle says:

    What a great thread!!! Anyways this got me thinking this morning while riding so I tried to put myself in the drivers position. If you are coming to a intersection and the drivers are either 90 degrees to you stopped and waiting or 180 degrees (ahead) and waiting what does it look like to them? Even if they know the “traditional” signal they now have to figure out what side of the road you are on and what way you would turn. When you point it’s so much easier for the driver. I think Dwainedibbly said it best above….that the “traditional” signal is for car drivers putting their hand out the car window as nobody would see a car driver pointing to the right.

  31. My goodness. I was unaware that turning was so complicated!

    • dottie says:

      I know! I felt the same about bike bells. Who knew there were so many different and passionate viewpoints. That’s why I love the internets :)

  32. Max says:

    I had been thinking of rigging some on my cargo bike, and just today I stumbled across this via amazon.

    There are others listed too. So they are actually made, in one form or another. (I was thinking it would have to be a radio shack project.)

    Perhaps they have those flight ground crew wands on there somewhere. semi-colon, parenthesis.

  33. Max says:

    Oops. From reading the customer reviews on those signalers it sounds like they are still a radio shack project.

    One of the product reviewers did make an interesting comment about how when riding at night they use reflective gloves. There was another product that attached to the back of the hand and somehow blinked when the arms were raised. And to get close to back on topic, if a rider’s hands were flashing signals, then it would be best to use the new technique.

    • dukiebiddle says:

      I think electric blinking body suits is a couple stops past the point where I get off the bus. ;-)

    • dukiebiddle says:

      With that said, if I was a bicycle commuting Michael Jackson impersonator, I think I would be forced to use the traditional signals with my left hand. But then again, I would be very visible with my rhinestone socks and high-water pants.

  34. Frits B says:

    Somebody must have been thinking about electric signals on bikes: see this website in Belgium:

    http://www.gadgethouse.be/online_bestellen_5611/Richtingaanwijzers-voor-de-fiets.html

    They are sold out for now. Simple idea: battery operated LED’s, switch on handlebar, indicators both front and rear.

  35. Frits B says:

    Short info from a cycling website in Holland, September 2008 (translated):

    Taiwan company GD-Innolife recently started production of a wireless taillight with turn indicators:

    Pic: http://fietsen.web-log.nl/photos/uncategorized/2008/09/22/innolifeachterlicht.jpg

    Two versions are available, one fed by an AAA battery (26 hours), the other with a lithium rechargeable battery (13 hours). The indicators are operated from a control panel on the handlebars. Light can be slow flashing, rapid flashing or steady. In the center of the light unit are 3 LEDs for the red taillight, flanked by orange LEDs for the indicators. They flash for 30 seconds, then are switched off automatically.

    Weight of the taillight with indicators is 91 grams only. The control panel of the rechargeable unit measures 75 x 40 x 20 mm, so roughly 3 x 2 x 1 inch. The AAA version is slightly smaller and lighter.

    There is no mention of compatibility with legislation. Some countries require a minimum distance between the indicators that is more than this unit can offer.

  36. Apertome says:

    Great discussion. I just blogged about this last night, not having any idea this discussion was here. I have long used the traditional signals, but I am moving toward the “alternate” right signal because I’ve had too many drivers confused by the traditional one.

    Regarding electronic turn signals, I had something like that as a kid. They worked OK, but were not very bright. I seem to remember that I just bought them at Target or some place like that. I wonder if they might still be available. Target might be a better place to try than a “serious” bike shop.

  37. E A says:

    I use both depending on the situation.
    As a member of a local cycling club pointed out, though, the traditional signal works best in group rides. That way the car traffic on the left of the group can “see” (whether they understand the signal is debatable). I think within a group or when leading a ride, it’s best to use signals that help communicate with both the group and with the drivers. Now… if a person is riding at the end of the group of cyclists and signals with the alternate right signal to alert traffic that may be following the ride… that’s another option.

    Personally, I use both and adapt as necessary for safety and visibility.

  38. Mamavee says:

    I find this fascinating. As a newbie biker and adult learned driver- I did tradit. I remembered it from driving school (and being in Indian three wheeled cars that have no lights. ) I goggled the turns to make sure I did it right and now I see how complicated it is.

    I still like traditional. I rarely signal for right turns though as I’m holding on and preparing to turn. I taught my kids and thier friends the signals too. I think I’ll do a tradit with pointing over my head from now on.

  39. dottie says:

    For anyone still interested…

    Here is the signal instruction from the City of Chicago.

    Also, on the local Chicago cycling discussion board, a guy posted that a driver yelled at him for using the “alternate” signal, saying “that’s not a turn signal, dummy.” Any weird thing can and does happen in Chicago.

  40. Hot topic! I use the alternate right turn signal, and my opinion is that the traditional method is obviously meant for drivers who have to signal out the left window and can’t reach across the car.

    I wonder if anyone used turn signals in the old days when there were bicycles but no (or few) cars?

  41. I signal the direction I am turning. The funny signal thing (I believe) comes from motorcycles – you need to keep the right hand on the accelerator.

    We don’t have that problem!

    No one pays attention to my signalling anyway here…

  42. nanotopia says:

    i use the traditional method- ALWAYS
    when i occasionally drive i see how this matters. however, it is unfortunately true
    that this is no longer taught in driver’s ed (here in TO) and not included in the comic strip manual handed out at the department of motor vehicles.
    people in Toronto tend to drive like hell anyways so you need to really make sure they see you as a cyclist.

    when biking several times this past summer i noticed people using the so-called ‘alternate’ hand signal method and thought it was completely dangerous and that they had NO clue what they were doing. i am surprised that it is considered an alternate way to signal. we are suppose to pass on the left technically as well, so these right hand signals are dangerous in my opinion.
    i do not recommend them.

  43. Max says:

    If there is still anyone interested, I think this will clarify things:

  44. Anne says:

    I prefer the old school right turn signal (left hand up) for several reasons.

    1. Signals with the left hand are more visible to traffic in all directions.

    2. I often do group rides where signals with the left hand are much more visible to following riders.

    3. I find it easier to be consistent in which hand I’m keeping on the handlebars and which I’m using for signals.

    I like the idea above of slightly modifying the traditional right hand signal by pointing right over the head. Best of both worlds, IMO. I’ll have to try that.

    • Tinker says:

      You guys are a hoot!

      Unfortunately for the non-traditional turn signal, my FRONT BRAKE is on the left grip, put there by the factory (front roller brake, rear coaster brake) and I like it that way (35 years of riding motorcycles will do that to you). On a Motorcycle, BOTH BRAKES are on the right, unless you have some non-traditional controls (and my gut level response to any emergency/uncertainty is to grab a handful of my right hand brake, NOT to peddle backwards, or to use my right foot to brake [motorcycle]).

      As to electric turn signals, Amazon has had two systems for years now, and both get lousy reviews, either because of the non-waterproof nature of the systems or the fragility (they are flimsy plastic).

      Why would bicycle turn signals be inherently less useful than motorcycle turn signals? (Motorcyclists tend to spend more time in the ditch on their sides than bicyclists, surely?) I like the LED lights but there are problems with them, such as a very narrow viewing angle, and the problem with size/brightness is a lesser problem. The wrist bands / gloves make use of a position sensor that switches the blinker on when you position it “properly” for a signal, but not for the traditional Upright Left hand/right turn. (Can’t do it on a simple switch, either.) Maybe a more complex switch mechanism, like that used in the Wii hand controller? Somebody tell me that some computer/commuter nerd has done this!

      So you get reduced braking AND reduced steering stability with the non-traditional signal. Not a good combo, and even worse when you are riding in a group. And how do you get around sticking your hand in the person to your right’s face? RUDE!

      So, what have we learned? Usually the traditional method is better seen, easier to perform, and may well be safer, especially if you stick your right hand out in front of “Pig Knuckles” McGurk, on a day when he didn’t bring his lunch. On the other hand, idiots in cars seem incapable of remembering simple instructions from high school Drivers Ed.

      I’ll sign off now, especially since I am several months late to the party anyway.

  45. Michelle B. says:

    I use the alternate, since I think most folks can understand that. With that being said I got called horrible names by a driver that clearly did not know what a bicyclist was doing on the road and why I had my left arm pointing to the left. I find it hard to brake and signal, so usually I have to pick. If I choose to ride my other bike which is a cruiser, all is well since it has coaster brakes! I think more bikes should have them.

  46. Dave says:

    I’m coming in on this a bit late, but I typically use the classic, bend your left arm, right turn signal. My main reason for this is actually opposite of something dukiebiddle said above – on my Raleigh, the brakes are arranged opposite of what is normal here – that is, the right lever operates the front brake. Therefore, using my left hand to signal leaves my right hand on the bars for shifting/braking if I need to while signaling.

    On my wife’s Raleigh, it has front and rear hub brakes, so neither brake is really more or less effective, so I’ve just kept this up on that bike as well, as it then still leaves my hand near the shifter.

    Really, I think it’s just a question of what you’re more comfortable with. Someone is going to misunderstand or simply not see you no matter which way you do it, so just do it the way it feels good for you :D

    I have to say, I agree with Michelle B. that this is one of the things I like about coaster brakes – leaves your hands more free (great for riding with coffee/umbrella/camera too).

  47. bongobike says:

    Wow, this thread is almost a year old, but I have to write something because it really irks me when I see people making the “traditional” right-turn signal. After reading many responses here, I seem to be in the majority. It is only natural that pointing to the direction you are turning is the clearest signal (duh!). The ONLY reason the “traditional” signal exists is because drivers cannot stick their right arms out the right window, folks (at least in this country)!!! It is a car-based signal. Don’t do it on a bike, period.

    • “Don’t do it on a bike, period.” Why not? Just because it evolved from car culture, it doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t apply to cycling. Should we ride our bikes on the left side of the street if we are going to make a left hand turn? I do believe the rule about being in the right lane evolved from car culture, not bikes. Yet, it’s a pretty good idea to use the right lane, like motorists.

      I’m in the minority here. Actually, I use both, but i “feel” more comfortable using the traditional signaling convention. Honestly I think there are valid points to both conventions, but to say “don’t do it” without a compelling rationale is rather presumptuous.

    • Dave says:

      I use the traditional right-turn signal for two reasons – I am more steady on my bike with my right hand on the bars, and my right hand has both my front brake (the stronger one) and my shifter, so I can reasonably completely control the bike with my right hand.

      If that makes me stupid, so be it, I’m still using the traditional right-turn signal.

      For the record, I’ve never had a conflict with anyone that was due to them misunderstanding that signal.

  48. Ko de Drpsgek says:

    Hier in Nederland steekt NIEMAND nog zijn hand uit… :-(

  49. Trisha says:

    I like the pointing to the right and have adopted that modification in recent months, at least when I do use the traditional signal.

  50. jim says:

    I read an article in which the driver (that hit a cyclist) said she had “no idea” he was giving a turn signal. She thought he was waving at someone. I point right or left and only when I think the driver does not know my intention.

  51. jim says:

    I have one but I bought it for my trailer. It has a cord with a switch on it but it wasn’t long enough to go from the rear of the trailer to near my hands, so it sits in a box with my spare parts.
    It has a LED in the middle with the turn signals on either side. Runs on 2 AA batteries.

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