Safety in numbers happens when everyone follows the routine.
If there’s one thing you can learn from riding in a group, it’s how to pay attention. A group ride can go from an elegant, synchronized dance on the pedals to a pileup of riders and gears in a literal blink if just one person in your group spaces out and fails to lead with or follow the proper signals. Stopping or slowing, changes in direction, or pointing out road hazards top the list of essential signals a cyclist should know before heading out for a group ride, but there are a few other fun ones that will at least capture the attention of your fellow riders, which is sort of the main point when signalling on a group ride.
Group riding hand signals tend to be universal and are simply transferred from one hand to the other, depending upon which side of the road you ride on. Using your voice is one of the most effective ways to alert other riders to changes in ride flow, especially because voice signals set in motion a chain reaction where everyone in the group calls out the signal and as we know, many voices are louder than one. With either method, it’s best to start signalling before you alter the ride flow so that other riders have time to react. What follows are the most common hand signals along with their accompanying voice signals, plus a few less common ones.
Extend your hand, palm down, away from your body and at a slight horizontal angle for everyone behind you to see. Move your hand up and down to indicate a change in speed.
Voice signal: “Slowing!” This will let the group know that it can keep rolling but to slow down to the pace of the rider(s) ahead of you.
Raise a hand as if you were asking a question in class to clearly signal that you will be coming to a halt.
Voice signal: “Stopping!” If the act of stopping is sudden or abrupt, then go with the voice signal because trying to coordinate a hand signal and braking at the same time could prove perilous if you lack balance and coordination.
Extend your arm straight out to the side in the direction of your intended turn. Try raising your arm slightly above shoulder level so that riders behind you can see your signal. You can even point the direction for extra emphasis.
Voice signal: “Left turn!” or “Right turn!” It wouldn’t be a bad idea to use both the hand and the voice signals because hand signals can be easy to miss in a big group, especially if taller riders block the view, or if riders in front of you miss the hand signal. It’s also important to say the word “turn” after announcing the direction because otherwise you may have cyclists looking instead of turning left or right just before they plow into the rider who’s turning in front of them.
These take all kinds of forms, like potholes, illegally parked cars, storm drains, random debris, and even road kill. Road hazards turn up unpredictably so the most reliable way to signal their presence is to point them out.
Voice signal: Due to the (sometimes amusing) variety of road hazards, voicing them may have a counter effect if it’s not clear what the hazard is. The result may be a bunch of curious cyclists swerving erratically to see what’s in the way.
An approaching or trailing motor vehicle is best signalled by calling it out with either a “car up!” for an approaching car or “car back!” if the vehicle is coming from behind.
The way to signal speed bumps is with a shoulder shrug upon approach. That way you can keep both hands on the handlebar for balance and stability while still indicating an interruption in the road’s surface. Calling out “Bump!” works well too, although “bump” is subjective so some riders may prepare for a mountain when the bump is really no more than a molehill.
Buckled tarmac, gravel, sand, and broken glass can all threaten a great day out on the bike. Plus, if your group has a “no drop” rule (meaning that no one gets left behind) then it’s in everyone’s best interest to signal uneven surfaces. The way to do that is to extend the arm at an angle with the palm down and parallel with the surface, and move the hand back in forth over the indicated surface.
Voice signal: Calling out surface hazards — especially in the instance of glass — is less a voice signal and more a desperate plea to avoid ruining your ride (and mine).
If you’re the passive-aggressive type, then you need do nothing more than slow down to a crawl in hopes that the person who’s half-wheeling you (riding one-half wheel behind you) or sucking your wheel (following you so closely that your wheels almost touch) will get the hint and pull ahead.
Or, you can take a page out of the pros’ playbook and slap your thigh once or twice to get the attention of your follower and then draw a circle with your index finger to indicate that he or she should go around to pass you.
How to signal during group rides will help keep you and your fellow riders safe from the minute you set off on your ride until you roll back home afterward. You are expected to know the signals and you should expect other riders to know them as well so that you can all share and enjoy the road responsibly.