Motorcycle Hand Signals

Motorcyclists often have to communicate with other people on the road much more often than people who drive cars. Whether it is warning other riders of potential hazards coming up or telling a car that is getting too close to you to back off. These are the basic hand signals every rider should know.

Left Turn

This is one of the hand signals that the law requires you to know. If you do not have blinkers you can signal you are making a left turn by extending your left arm straight out at a 90 degree angle to your body. Even car drivers that don't know these signals can figure this one out pretty easily. Signaling this way makes you much more noticeable and I have started doing this as well as turning on my blinker when I am merging into the freeway. Anything that can make cages more aware of my presence on the freeway is a good thing in my book.

Right Turn

(Note: Turning right is actually indicated with an open palm, not the closed fist like I have it pictured. Thanks Megaspaz!) Like the left turn this is another hand signal that you should know if you have your license. Unlike the left hand turn this one is a little more tricky to figure out if you aren't familiar with it so don't expect your average car driver to know what this means. To signal a right turn extend your left arm out and bend it at the elbow so your hand is pointing upwards. The reason this is done is because motorcyclists control their speed with the throttle in their right hand, so they can't very well extend their right arm to signal or else they would slow down.

Roadway Hazard Left (Hand and Leg)

If you are leading a ride or there are any other motorcyclists following you it is helpful if you point out hazards in the roadway as you pass them. This could be roadkill, large potholes, pools of oil, or a spot of gravel in a turn. If it is on the left an easy way to do this is by pointing at the object with your left hand at a 45 degree angle. An even more universal and safer way to do this is by pointing at the offending object with your left foot. I prefer using my foot that way I can keep both hands on the handlebars and there is no confusing what I am trying to say.


Roadway Hazard Right (Leg)

Like the left hazard if you spot something dangerous on the right just point at it with your right foot. You can't signal with your right hand though which is another reason why you should just get used to pointing at things with your feet instead of your hands.

Your blinker is on!

Although not an official hand signal by any means, I've recently been wanting a way to signal riders that one of their turn indicators is on. Motorcycles do not automatically turn off their blinkers after you successfully negotiate a turn so sometimes new riders forget they are on and will be riding for miles signaling that they are turning left! I've found the best way to signal that a riders blinker is on is to get in their field of vision and raise your left arm out while opening and closing your fist rapidly. You can combine this with turning on your turn signal briefly and then shutting it off after making the hand sign. I've only done this once personally and the other person seemed to get it. Feel free to let me know in the comments if you have any other ideas for a signal that might be more clear than this.


Slow Down

If you see a corner up ahead that isn't marked but you know its a hairpin that everyone is going too fast for, it's good to signal everyone to slow down before you reach it. Do this by extending your left hand to the side and motion downward like you are patting a dog on the head. This is a fairly self explanatory hand sign and even someone that hasn't seen it before should understand what it means. It's also good if you feel like another rider (or driver!) is following you too closely.


Cop or Speedtrap Ahead

Probably one of the most important signals for me is the 'Police Ahead!" motion. Unlike a lot of the other signs it might be a little confusing if you haven't seen it before. If you pass a speed trap and you see another rider heading towards it warn them by taking your left hand and tapping the top of your helmet a couple times. I'm pretty sure the reason for this sort of awkward hand sign is because police have lights on the top of their vehicles, so by tapping your helmet you are saying, "Hey man, watch out for cars with lights on top, also known as cops!"

I have personally been saved on 3 separate occasions because a fellow rider has been nice enough to warn me of cops ahead. Once was on a trip from San Jose, CA to Carson City, NV and on the last leg of my trip I was on a fairly deserted road at 5am in the morning. I hadn't seen another car in a while but I just happened to pass a biker who gave me the ol' helmet tap routine. I waved and slowed down my pace that might have been a little faster than the posted speed limit.. *cough cough*. The next hill I crested had a cop sitting right there that would have zapped me for sure! I am very lucky that the motorcyclist happened to drive by that day and save me from a beefy speeding ticket. The moral of this story is to signal other riders of all the dangers you might cross whether they be potholes or police officers. Not only does it leave you with a warm tingly feeling but you also get good karma for every rider you save from danger! Build up that karma my fellow riders and we can all ride a lot safer. BONUS HAND SIGNALS (USE AT YOUR OWN RISK!)

(BONUS)I am Disappointed in Your Driving Abilities

Sometimes when you are riding you will notice another driver making erratic or dangerous movements. Maybe they will be following you so closely they are clipping your license plate, or perhaps they merged into you almost forcing you off the road. In situations like this I tend to extend my left hand, bend it at the elbow, and raise my middle finger as an indicator of my displeasure. Use caution when performing this hand signal because it often makes the recipient of it very angry.

(BONUS)The Californian

If you are cruising near the beach with some great waves you will do other riders a big favor by letting them know of the current oceanic conditions. The only safe way to do this is by launching yourself unto your seat and riding your motorcycle like you would a surfboard. Please note that while a motorcycle can be ridden this way, they will sink if used as an actual surfboard.

Comments

I do believe the right turn hand signal you show, is a stop hand signal. On group rides that I normally go on, right turn is raising your arms up with the hand in a fist with the index finger extended which indicates single file for the right turn. Also, the slow down hand signal could also indicate cop or hazard as well.

--- AFM #998 If there's anything more important than my ego around, I want it caught and shot now...

Thanks Mega :)

I added a little note. Haha the funny thing is I was racking my brain to remember that signal and I just decided to go with the closed fist because of another picture I saw. I think you are right though, the closed fist does mean stop.

Ben

the arm pointing down. And it's in your DMV manual.

Bicyclists have to learn this, because obviously we don't get blinkers.

Problem with hand signals, is every group uses some variation. No group that I've ever been on has used arm down for stop. They use what the MSF actually uses on the range to tell you to go to the staging area and stop which is the arm up with a clenched fist. There's probably a few more hand signals in the DMV handbook that are different with most motorcycle group rides. I'd suggest if you're going on a group ride organized by a different group, find out what the hand signals they use. I can say for sure, if you use the DMV hand signals on a group ride, most everyone will probably go WTF?...

--- AFM #998 If there's anything more important than my ego around, I want it caught and shot now...

Thanks for posting this; it's somehting many people don't understand. Don't forget STOP (Extend your left arm at a 45 degree angle with the palm of your hand facing rearward). Here's one of several good links for more hand signals: http://www.njmc.org/etiquette/

I recently purchased a "gently used" 2001 Suzuki Savage as a first bike. Did a cursory examination, rode it around the parking lot, make the purchase, then (stupid me) discovered the previous owner had removed the turn signals. I've gotten in a lot of practice on hand signals over the last couple weeks, believe me. Just wish cagers knew what it all means.

I need to learn the hand signals . .I do think the closed fist is kind of universal, stop.

Oh . . the bike will surf fine. Whats holding you back? ((-;
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2006 Harley Davidson Dyna Wide Glide
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hmm .. the DMV versions here are a bit different... left turn t he same.... right turns and stops is what gets confusing here.... stop is the 90 degree, palm open and up. Stop is same only the arm turned downwards with the 90 degree bend.

****Life's journey is not to arrive at the grave safely in a well preserved body, but, rather to skid in sideways, totally worn out, shouting "Holy Shit....What a ride!!!"****

One time i passed a rider and he put his left hand up and pointed to the sky, while spinning his hand around like a police light. At first i didn't get it but i slowed down and right as i came over the hill i realized what was up, a speed trap was up ahead. I'm sure the hand on helmet approach works just as well but in case someone else sees that hand signal they'll know. Also pointing at the gas tank is what i use when riding in a group to pull over and fuel up.

Really good article, Ben. My understanding is that right hand throttle control on motorcycles has nothing to do with the raised left arm convention for a right turn signal however.

The current US hand signal system was developed early in the 20th century for car drivers, not motorcyclists. State motor vehicle laws demand uniformity however, so they apply to motorcylists as well.

Car drivers in the US sit on the left side of their vehicles. The more intuitive right turn hand signal would involve extending the right arm straight outwards, but that would be completely inside the motor vehicle's interior; it would often go unnoticed by other drivers. Raising the left arm outside the vehicle to signal a right hand turn is less intiutive, but it's more visible.

Almost no one except motorcyclists and bicyclists hand signal turns anymore. So the officially sanctioned hand signal for a right turn is often misinterpreted by cage drivers as a friendly (if somewhat stiff armed) wave to some passerby.

So as a practical matter, motorcyclists are faced with a difficult choice. You can either signal a right hand turn the official way and risk not communicating your actual intentions to the drivers who need to know, or you can extend your right arm outwards (the mirror opposite of the left turn signal). Regardless of what's officially sanctioned, all drivers intiutively understand an extended right arm to indicate a right hand turn. But that's not always safe to do on a motorycle for the throttle control reason that Ben mentioned.

Alternatively, you can do what I was taught to do when signalling turns on my motorcycle: consciously turn your head in the direction of your intended turn at the same moment you turn on your blinker signal. Especially when you're wearing a high visibility helmet, the combination really gets drivers attention, and unequivocably communicates your intentions.

wow! You learn something new every day. That makes complete sense haha, it would have never occurred to me that car drivers would need to signal too. Thanks MajorHavoc :)

By the way I do the very visible head turn to the direction I plan on going whenever I am changing lanes too. I think that is almost better than the right turn signal since there is no mistaking the, "I AM NOW LOOKING IN THIS DIRECTION AND MY BLINKER IS ON" haha :D But then again, you never know...

Ben

Maybe what needs to be clarified is what these hand signals are used for. Hand signals in group rides are much different than letting other motorists know what you're doing... In a group ride, hand signals are used to tell the group what's going on, not anyone outside the group ride. I took this article as being targeted for group riding with the motorcycle specific hand signals like popo, slowdown, and hazards; not general DMV motorist handbook stuff which most motorist don't know anything about anyway.

--- AFM #998 If there's anything more important than my ego around, I want it caught and shot now...

A bit off topic, but signaling cops in Europe is completely different than in the States. Even car signal cops - flashing their high beams onto oncoming traffic. Bikers usually use the finger in the air, but i did see it done couple different ways.

This is off topic, but what jacket is that you're wearing? I'm sure its old, but I kinda want it! haha

As an older guy newly back out riding, I'm surprised how friendly people in my area are to bikers. I'm pretty much a loner, but almost every bike I see will stick out a hand and wave Hi. I was just wondering if there's more signals I should watch for. I see a lot of old peace kinda signs, but maybe they're just trying to be cool.........

Being a new rider, this information is VERY helpful. And being from California, I'll definitely practice that last signal.

This is good. My kids are looking to start riding motorcycles and this article will be must reading for them, especially since they both have speed/acceleration problems; ie, they go faster than the posted speed limits. :-)

I have never owned a bike with blinkers in the past. Until now, this is my first bike with them. I instantky broke off the right rear, the first week I had my Suzuki. I must learn to swing my leg out a little higher.
I learned on a Sportster(1957) many years ago, and hand signals were a test requirement. This is also the first bike I have owned without a "kicker". I think hand signals should be taught, and in the test, still today. You never know when they may save you from a ticket or accident. I find both work.

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