In baseball, a coach touching his cap can tell the pitcher to throw a fastball. In a sailing regatta, a blue and white checkered flag will tell racers to return to the starting line. In a NASCAR race, a yellow flag tells drivers that there's a hazard on the track. Almost every sport comes with its own set of built-in signals, and cycling is no different. In fact, the sport is known to be notoriously signal-heavy. Make sure you bone up on the some basic cycling signals before setting out on a group ride. If you can't speak the cycling language, it could end up slowing you down as much as a flat tire or an unhinged chain.
First, the basics. Any urban rider should be familiar with the signals for right turn, left turn and stop:
- Left turn. Straighten your left arm and hold it out perpendicular from your body
- Right turn. Do the same as the left turn signal, but with your right arm.
- Alternate right turn. Hold your left arm perpendicular to your body, but bend your forearm at a 90-degree angle, holding your hand up toward the sky.
- Stop. Extend your left arm as if signaling left, but bend your forearm at a 90-degree angle at the elbow. It's a mirror image of the alternate right turn.
The above signals allow you to communicate with other road users such as cars or pedestrians, but there are also several hand signals that allow you to communicate with riders within your cycling group:
- Slowing down. Keeping your arm straight, hold it a 45-degree angle from your waist. You can use your left or right hand for this move.
- Leaving the front of the peloton. If you've gotten tired of leading the pack and feel like taking up a position at the rear, signal your intent by holding your arm perpendicular from your body and angling your forearm toward your waist. Use either your left or right arm to indicate which direction you're going, and hold the signal for three seconds before moving.
In a peloton, cyclists can often see little more than the rider in front of them. That's why it's up to the lead riders to point out potential hazards. Use these hand signals to keep the peloton out of harm's way:
- Railroad crossing. Hold out your arm perpendicular from your body and repeatedly swing your forearm toward and away from your body.
- Cars, runners and other moving objects. Hold your arm up in the air at a slight angle from your body. Use your left or right arm depending on the location of the obstacle.
- Pothole, roadkill or debris. Point to the obstacle, slightly rotating your arm for emphasis.
Hand signals may vary from region to region, so double-check them with a group member before setting out on your first ride. You should also make a point to use your voice as often as possible. If you're a little bit hoarse after a group ride, it's probably a good sign.
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