Bike Hand Signals: The Lost Art

Biking Signals: The Lost ArtWhen I first started writing 5 Toronto Biking Tips, it was titled "10 Toronto Biking Tips and Observations", but I decided to cap it at five in an effort to make it more digestable. That meant leaving a few key tips on the cutting room floor. It's time to remedy that. We'll consider this #6.

While biking this afternoon, I started thinking about my old friend Ed. Ed and I met at St. Pius X primary school and became good friends by the time we went off to different high schools.

When I first started biking all over the city, it was because of Ed. I was about 14 and we both had new mountain bikes. Although Ed was only six weeks older than me, he grew up without a father and seemed far more savvy and independent. He's the reason I applied for a job at the CNE. He also helped me with bike repairs, mapped out new routes to explore and, in his Air Cadets way, made sure we followed the rules of the road.

One of the first things Ed taught me about biking was to always signal. I've been doing so ever since. It's become a subconscious action. I not only signal when I'm turning right or left, but when I'm slowing down or stopping. This seems to be a lost art.

Here's a quick reminder with images scanned from the 1977 owners manual for a Sears bicycle.

Turning Left

Extend left arm straight out in the direction of the turn, horizontally.


Turning Right

Extend your left upper-arm out to the left, horizontally and angle your forearm vertically upward.


Stopping / Braking

Extend your left upper arm out to the left, horizontally and angle your forearm vertically downward.


Signal always! And Ed, if you're out there, thanks!

If you get hit by a car you may want to hire this bicycle accident lawyer.

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Comments (16 - click here to join in!)


This is great advice Mike, but the scary part is how many of today's drivers (cars)
Know what those hand signals mean? Most of them will think you are flipping them the bird.

August 21, 2013 @ 10:21 AM


I've overheard a lot of drivers state they have no idea what the "up" (right-turn) signal means. It's in the driver's ed. manual and tested for the G1. Depressing.

I also always signal, however it's sometimes pretty weak because of how shitty some of the roads are... very challenging to continue with just one hand on the bars. Also sometimes need to stop more promptly with both brakes.

August 21, 2013 @ 11:16 AM


I see people do the left and right signals, but who ever uses the "brake/stop signal"?

August 21, 2013 @ 11:58 AM


I use it if I'm planning on stopping in the middle of a block, or am slowing down because of an obstruction or something. Mostly so I don't get rear-ended by other cyclists. I'm usually at the front of the pack.

August 21, 2013 @ 12:02 PM

Toronto Mike Verified as the defacto Toronto Mike


I use it.

It helps cars know you're not running that red or quickly turning... it helps fellow bikers know you're slowing down or stopping.

It's as helpful as a brake light on a car if used properly.

August 21, 2013 @ 12:40 PM

Sam from England

Why cant you stick your right hand out when turning right instead of messing about? Also, doesnt braking with only one hand mean youre only applying the brakes to one wheel? Sounds dangerous!

August 21, 2013 @ 4:48 PM


Sam, I could be wrong, but it's probably because the hand signals are the old method of signaling when driving a car. When drive a car in North America you can't stick out your right hand to signal because no one would see it.

August 21, 2013 @ 4:54 PM

Sam from England

Yeah, but you're not in a car! How funny! I think our version for turning left in the olden days was to make a circular motion with your right hand which would be even more hilarious on a bike!

August 21, 2013 @ 5:25 PM


You're allowed to signal with your right-hand that you're turning right. I feel unless you're crossing lanes though, it's more visible at the corner from the left.

Regardless of how you signal ... you're going to be braking with one hand. Technically the left one (front wheel) has the most stopping power, but the right one is fine for slowing down enough to make a turn.

If I have to make a panic stop ... I stop signalling.

August 21, 2013 @ 5:54 PM

Blind Dave

Yup, I remember all those signals to this day. Had them drilled into my head as a kid.

I agree, though, that it is probably a lost art and very few drivers know what the signals mean these days.

August 21, 2013 @ 6:30 PM


Did you know that it is (still) legal (in Ontario, at least; and I'll bet most other provinces because those rules have never been removed from the law books) to use hand signals while driving? I wonder how many police on road duty know that?

August 21, 2013 @ 8:44 PM


I use them while riding both my bike and on my motorcycle. Any one who rides a motorcycle is familiar while them .

August 21, 2013 @ 9:10 PM

Mike from Lowville

I used hand signals on my bike as a kid, then used them riding my motorcycle(s) and still do! But, I also used them driving a farm tractor on the roads. We had a fake arm I would take with me when hauling a huge wagon of hay. Cars behind could not see the tractor, or me so turning left I would stick this fake extended arm out so people would know I was turning left. Right turns no worries because they could not pass in the ditch. Never had a problem. Don't know how that would work today, like Speysidephil says, most people don't have a clue!

August 22, 2013 @ 7:01 PM


@Mike from Lowville

I think I have seen that arm you talk about used once. Maybe it was you?
Anyway as far as I am concerned I ain't passing a hay wagon.
They are usually not going to far and I can wait.

August 22, 2013 @ 7:21 PM

Rick C in Oakville

You forgot one Mike

August 22, 2013 @ 9:36 PM


LMAO @ Rick C in Oakville. Hilarious!!!

August 23, 2013 @ 2:37 AM

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