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    Hand signals: why are people mess 'em up?

    Lately it seems that people don't practice standard hand signals when cycling. No, I'm not talking about the fact that we mostly don't signal at all, but that when we do, many of us are doing it wrong.

    It started a few weeks ago when I was on a tour over in Ontario, Canada. The guides were using their right arms outstretched (as in a pointing gesture) off to the right to signal a right turn. I thought, WTF, but chalked it up to a cultural norm of a different country.

    Then I saw that to signal a stop, they used their left arm in at an upward right angle with a clenched fist, like our USA right turn signal! I got the possible military roots of that one, but it all seemed silly and stupid to me and another American rider, and we took to chuckling and flailing our arms every time they signaled.

    Then, I started noticing a couple of riders in my very home town doing that "I'm-pointing-to-the-right-with-my-right-hand-and-that-means-I'm-turning-right" gesture, and was really vexed.

    What gives? Do they do it differently in Canada? Is it just a Michigan thing that I think is standard? Is it not taught in Drivers' Ed. anymore?
    Chaad--'95 DeKerf Team SL, '02 Lemond Buenos Aires, '05 Novara Buzz, '73 Schwinn Collegiate, '06 Mountain Cycle Rumble, '09 Dahon Mariner D7, '12 Mercier Nano, '12 Breezer Venturi

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    rugged individualist wphamilton's Avatar
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    It's not that uncommon in the USA, most places. Right arm signal is generally considered an alternative signal.

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    It's explicitly legal in some US states for bicyclists to use the right hand to indicate direction. The reason for the "left hand up" gesture is because it's hard to stick one's right hand out of a car. That gesture, anyway, is kind of confusing. The meaning of the "right hand pointing right" gesture is pretty obvious.

    The "clenched fist for stop" makes some sense because riders well-behind can see it (unlike the "left hand down" gesture).

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    The only reason the left-arm-at-right-angle EVER meant 'right turn' was because putting up the right arm in a Model T would: a.) not be seen by following drivers; and b.)likely pop a passenger in the face. The extended right arm has ALWAYS been an accepted right-turn signal on two wheels.

    The 'stop' signal you describe IS a bit odd, though....

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    Quote Originally Posted by chaadster View Post
    Lately it seems that people don't practice standard hand signals when cycling. No, I'm not talking about the fact that we mostly don't signal at all, but that when we do, many of us are doing it wrong.

    It started a few weeks ago when I was on a tour over in Ontario, Canada. The guides were using their right arms outstretched (as in a pointing gesture) off to the right to signal a right turn. I thought, WTF, but chalked it up to a cultural norm of a different country.

    Then I saw that to signal a stop, they used their left arm in at an upward right angle with a clenched fist, like our USA right turn signal! I got the possible military roots of that one, but it all seemed silly and stupid to me and another American rider, and we took to chuckling and flailing our arms every time they signaled.

    Then, I started noticing a couple of riders in my very home town doing that "I'm-pointing-to-the-right-with-my-right-hand-and-that-means-I'm-turning-right" gesture, and was really vexed.

    What gives? Do they do it differently in Canada? Is it just a Michigan thing that I think is standard? Is it not taught in Drivers' Ed. anymore?
    I use my left arm because if somebody does something stupid and I have to slam on the brake I want my rear brake not my front brake, it's a self preservation thing(a learned self preservation thing), if cars start stopping when I'm signaling a right turn, I won't even notice...

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    The right arm pointing was not at all unambiguous to me or the other American; we were looking around tryin to figure out what they were pointing at.

    That the standard right hand turn gesture is taught to drivers, has been in use for more than 100 years since the Model T, and has no common analogue definitely recommends it over the "hey look over there!" right turn gesture.
    Chaad--'95 DeKerf Team SL, '02 Lemond Buenos Aires, '05 Novara Buzz, '73 Schwinn Collegiate, '06 Mountain Cycle Rumble, '09 Dahon Mariner D7, '12 Mercier Nano, '12 Breezer Venturi

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    Right arm outstretched as an alternative signal is currently awaiting action by the Michigan Legislature, with support from the League of Michigan Bicyclists, so things will be changing soon here at home. It's what I use because it's clear and I don't trust drivers to know ""proper" signals.

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    Quote Originally Posted by ursle View Post
    I use my left arm because if somebody does something stupid and I have to slam on the brake I want my rear brake not my front brake, it's a self preservation thing(a learned self preservation thing), if cars start stopping when I'm signaling a right turn, I won't even notice...
    Well you can run your brakes any way you want. I run my front on the right, for continuity from my motorcycle days. Not that I recommend you signal with your right, obviously.
    Chaad--'95 DeKerf Team SL, '02 Lemond Buenos Aires, '05 Novara Buzz, '73 Schwinn Collegiate, '06 Mountain Cycle Rumble, '09 Dahon Mariner D7, '12 Mercier Nano, '12 Breezer Venturi

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    Quote Originally Posted by LansingWes View Post
    Right arm outstretched as an alternative signal is currently awaiting action by the Michigan Legislature, with support from the League of Michigan Bicyclists, so things will be changing soon here at home. It's what I use because it's clear and I don't trust drivers to know ""proper" signals.
    Whoa! Really? Seems crazy. Good to know.
    Chaad--'95 DeKerf Team SL, '02 Lemond Buenos Aires, '05 Novara Buzz, '73 Schwinn Collegiate, '06 Mountain Cycle Rumble, '09 Dahon Mariner D7, '12 Mercier Nano, '12 Breezer Venturi

  10. #10
    Senior Member KZBrian's Avatar
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    Michigan has legislation in process to allow cyclists to use the right arm for right turn signals.
    House bill 4996 " FOR A RIGHT turn,....IF THE PERSON IS

    OPERATING A BICYCLE, EITHER SHALL EXTEND HIS OR HER LEFT ARM UPWARD

    OR SHALL EXTEND HIS OR HER RIGHT ARM HORIZONTALLY."

    Long overdue IMO. I have used the unmistakable "Point right with the extended right arm to indicate a right turn" for a long time now.

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    Quote Originally Posted by chaadster View Post
    Well you can run your brakes any way you want. I run my front on the right, for continuity from my motorcycle days. Not that I recommend you signal with your right, obviously.
    Interesting, don't recall ever seeing a bike set up with the brakes that way but if the right hand signal became universal I'd adapt, how do you signal a left turn?
    Last edited by ursle; 07-21-12 at 07:23 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by chaadster View Post
    Lately it seems that people don't practice standard hand signals when cycling. No, I'm not talking about the fact that we mostly don't signal at all, but that when we do, many of us are doing it wrong.

    It started a few weeks ago when I was on a tour over in Ontario, Canada. The guides were using their right arms outstretched (as in a pointing gesture) off to the right to signal a right turn. I thought, WTF, but chalked it up to a cultural norm of a different country.

    Then I saw that to signal a stop, they used their left arm in at an upward right angle with a clenched fist, like our USA right turn signal! I got the possible military roots of that one, but it all seemed silly and stupid to me and another American rider, and we took to chuckling and flailing our arms every time they signaled.

    Then, I started noticing a couple of riders in my very home town doing that "I'm-pointing-to-the-right-with-my-right-hand-and-that-means-I'm-turning-right" gesture, and was really vexed.

    What gives? Do they do it differently in Canada? Is it just a Michigan thing that I think is standard? Is it not taught in Drivers' Ed. anymore?
    Driver's Ed??? Yeah, before turn signals were invented! I actually snicker a little when I see cyclists with their left hand up to indicate a right hand turn. Makes me want to wave back with my left hand and say "Hellooooo!!!!".

    The right hand out to indicate a right turn makes more sense for cyclists. Point in the direction you want to turn, simple!

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    Quote Originally Posted by NaBlade View Post
    Driver's Ed??? Yeah, before turn signals were invented! I actually snicker a little when I see cyclists with their left hand up to indicate a right hand turn. Makes me want to wave back with my left hand and say "Hellooooo!!!!".

    The right hand out to indicate a right turn makes more sense for cyclists. Point in the direction you want to turn, simple!
    In the state were I grew up, the old hand signals were still being taught in State-sponsored drivers' education classes as well as included in that State's driver's rulebook (or whatever it's called ... the book that contains mostly complete information about safe and defensive driving in many scenarios, as well as State driving regulations) in the late 1990s. I found that one portion unnecessary, as most drivers' turn signals never burned out due to lack of use.

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    New York State...proper right turn signal by bicyclists is either right hand extended out or left hand up. It's the law.

    Most drivers around here however are totally clueless as to what I'm trying to communicate to them with hand signals though.

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    Senior Member zonatandem's Avatar
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    As usual the Michigan legislature is way be hind the times . . .

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    Quote Originally Posted by ursle View Post
    Interesting, don't recall ever seeing a bike set up with the brakes that way but if the right hand signal became universal I'd adapt, how do you signal a left turn?
    Most cyclocross racers run the front brake on the right, as do most motorcycling bicyclists, because then the brakes match. Also, since most people are right-handed and have better fine motor control on the right hand, it makes some solid sense to give that hand control of the front brake, for generating maximum braking and avoiding crashing.

    EDIT: I should add that front brake on the right hand facilitates maximum control and maximum braking power while using standard hand signals.

    As for signaling a left, that's left arm outstretched, parallel to the road.

    Wow, I'm really shocked at how much ignorance there is of standard rules of the road. Did you folks who don't know the standard hand signals get motor vehicle training? Just curious if that explains it.
    Last edited by chaadster; 07-21-12 at 10:00 PM.
    Chaad--'95 DeKerf Team SL, '02 Lemond Buenos Aires, '05 Novara Buzz, '73 Schwinn Collegiate, '06 Mountain Cycle Rumble, '09 Dahon Mariner D7, '12 Mercier Nano, '12 Breezer Venturi

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    Do you "right hand pointers" think the gesture is better than "left hand up," and if so, why?
    Chaad--'95 DeKerf Team SL, '02 Lemond Buenos Aires, '05 Novara Buzz, '73 Schwinn Collegiate, '06 Mountain Cycle Rumble, '09 Dahon Mariner D7, '12 Mercier Nano, '12 Breezer Venturi

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    Quote Originally Posted by LansingWes View Post
    Right arm outstretched as an alternative signal is currently awaiting action by the Michigan Legislature, with support from the League of Michigan Bicyclists, so things will be changing soon here at home. It's what I use because it's clear and I don't trust drivers to know ""proper" signals.
    Well, my whole point is that the gesture is NOT clear, and if you don't think drivers know the standard hand gestures, I don't know what confusing the signals even more will do to ameliorate that problem.
    Chaad--'95 DeKerf Team SL, '02 Lemond Buenos Aires, '05 Novara Buzz, '73 Schwinn Collegiate, '06 Mountain Cycle Rumble, '09 Dahon Mariner D7, '12 Mercier Nano, '12 Breezer Venturi

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    Quote Originally Posted by zonatandem View Post
    As usual the Michigan legislature is way be hind the times . . .
    Well, given that the times are characterized by the collapse of American education and the degradation of intellectual capacity, I think that being behind the times is nothing to be ashamed of!
    Chaad--'95 DeKerf Team SL, '02 Lemond Buenos Aires, '05 Novara Buzz, '73 Schwinn Collegiate, '06 Mountain Cycle Rumble, '09 Dahon Mariner D7, '12 Mercier Nano, '12 Breezer Venturi

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    Quote Originally Posted by Blinkie View Post
    In the state were I grew up, the old hand signals were still being taught in State-sponsored drivers' education classes as well as included in that State's driver's rulebook (or whatever it's called ... the book that contains mostly complete information about safe and defensive driving in many scenarios, as well as State driving regulations) in the late 1990s. I found that one portion unnecessary, as most drivers' turn signals never burned out due to lack of use.
    Same here, although I licensed in the mid-80s. The standard signals are still required knowledge for driving licenses in Michigan.

    hand signals.jpg
    Chaad--'95 DeKerf Team SL, '02 Lemond Buenos Aires, '05 Novara Buzz, '73 Schwinn Collegiate, '06 Mountain Cycle Rumble, '09 Dahon Mariner D7, '12 Mercier Nano, '12 Breezer Venturi

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    Super Moderator no1mad's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by chaadster View Post
    Most cyclocross racers run the front brake on the right, as do most motorcycling bicyclists, because then the brakes match. Also, since most people are right-handed and have better fine motor control on the right hand, it makes some solid sense to give that hand control of the front brake, for generating maximum braking and avoiding crashing.

    EDIT: I should add that front brake on the right hand facilitates maximum control and maximum braking power while using standard hand signals.

    As for signaling a left, that's left arm outstretched, parallel to the road.

    Wow, I'm really shocked at how much ignorance there is of standard rules of the road. Did you folks who don't know the standard hand signals get motor vehicle training? Just curious if that explains it.
    It was taught in my Driver's Ed class more than 20 years ago. It's also in the published Driver's manual. However, it's arcane knowledge, easily discarded from non-use.
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    Super Moderator no1mad's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by chaadster View Post
    Same here, although I licensed in the mid-80s. The standard signals are still required knowledge for driving licenses in Michigan.

    hand signals.jpg
    It's required info for the test here in OK. However, once one passes the written and driving records, you don't have to re-test to renew- not even the eye exam. Just show up, update address, have your picture taken, and hand over your old DL. As far as the DPS is concerned, I still weigh 140 pounds (I've put on roughly 80 more since then).
    Quote Originally Posted by Cyril View Post
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    Quote Originally Posted by chaadster View Post
    Do you "right hand pointers" think the gesture is better than "left hand up," and if so, why?
    Two reasons....

    I fully expect that a right hand extended when approaching an intersection is more easily understood by the clueless ones than my left arm extended upward.

    In some situations the extended right hand is easier to see. (ie.) I'm southbound and signaling a right hand turn to head west. At the intersection a car is at a stop sign facing east. He is more likely to see my right hand extended than my left hand upraised.


    Quote Originally Posted by chaadster View Post
    Well, my whole point is that the gesture is NOT clear, and if you don't think drivers know the standard hand gestures, I don't know what confusing the signals even more will do to ameliorate that problem.
    In my opinion the gesture is very clear. On this point we will just have to agree to dis-agree.

    As far as the motorists thinking I'm pointing out an object...I can't stop laughing at that one. I'm sorry, no disrespect intended. It just hits my funny bone. If I want to point out something to a motorist I would use a jabbing motion with the appropriate hand, depending on what side of the road the object was on. I would use the same technique whether on my bike or in my truck.
    Last edited by cranky old dude; 07-21-12 at 11:18 PM.

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    Senior Member Hoshnasi's Avatar
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    You ask this....

    Quote Originally Posted by chaadster View Post
    Do you "right hand pointers" think the gesture is better than "left hand up," and if so, why?
    And acknowledge this...

    Quote Originally Posted by chaadster View Post
    Wow, I'm really shocked at how much ignorance there is of standard rules of the road. Did you folks who don't know the standard hand signals get motor vehicle training? Just curious if that explains it.
    I think that is the answer to your question. If there is so much ignorance to standard laws then the ignorant ones will truly have very little clue what a left hand pointed in the air means. However, that same group will have a much better inclination into what a cycling pointing to the right means as he gets closer to an intersection.
    Last edited by Hoshnasi; 07-21-12 at 11:37 PM.

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  25. #25
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    I have been using a right hand extended for 35 years, because the left hand up is car specific and I really don't think it ever made any sense to use it on a bike. I have seen very few cyclists using the left hand, and when they do it looks wrong. They usually fail to make it look like a turn signal anyway, and nobody knows what they are doing.

    I really don't know why hand signals in a car are legal anyway. I saw a guy in a car making a right turn with hand signals, and it took me forever to realize that was what he was doing. It's not different enough from someone with their hand out the window enjoying the breeze to really make sense.

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