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How to use hand signals on a motorcycle

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There is no universal language for hand signals on a motorcycle and officially there is no need for them on any motorcycle with indicators and brake lights.

Authorities suggest you can also extend your arm left or right to indicate a turn and put up your hand to indicate you are stopping to accentuate your intentions so long as they are not used in place of indicators or brake lights. You must also not remove indicators and brake lights from your bike.

Hand signals

As for other hand signals, there seems to be a vast variety with no consistency or international standard.

For example, the common signal to alert riders of police ahead is the whirling finger held aloft to indicate the spinning lights on top of a police car.

However, in the US, that means “Gentlemen and ladies, start your engines” while the signal for cops ahead is to pat the top of your helmet.

I found this image from an American legal firm to help riders communicate with each other.

Hand signals warning

Notice that none of the signals involves taking your throttle hand off the handlebars, however the official right turn signal in Australia is the right hand extended.

Hand signals are a great idea, even in these days of Bluetooth because it doesn’t always work and some riders have incompatible systems. Or how about this hi-tech signalling system that projects text and images via a display on your wheels?

If you are riding in a group, agree on the hand signals you will use before you head off.

As for signalling to other road users, you need to keep the hand signals simple. And avoid rude gestures as they can quickly escalate a situation into road rage and riders shouldn’t entice anyone in a 4WD to anger as they are much bigger than you.

motorcycle wave hand signals

While riding forest tracks, if I meet a 4WD coming the other way, I usually hold up several fingers corresponding to how many riders are behind me and then point backwards with my thumb. They usually get the idea that there are more riders behind you and they need to slow down and be alert.

Unfortunately the traditional acknowledgement wave between riders seems to be diminishing these days. While riders of the same type or brand of bike still exchange greetings, it is less common between brands or categories.

In the US where they ride on the right-hand side of the road, they acknowledge with the left arm at 45 degrees to the ground and the forefinger extended. In countries where you ride on the left, you would have to take your hand off the throttle to extend such a greeting and waving with the left hand simply wouldn’t be seen by the passing rider.

I’ve given up on the hand wave to acknowledge other riders as it can confuse some people who you are alerting them to a police presence. Instead, I give riders a nod. It’s still courteous and you don’t have to take your hand off the throttle.

Here are some other signals you can use.

  • Point 45 degrees down: Indicating a hazard such as pothole or roadkill.
  • Slicing action across the throat: Kill your engine.
  • Point to mouth: Stop for something to eat.
  • Drinking action: Stop for a drink.
  • Point to crotch: Comfort stop.
  • Point to fuel tank: Fuel stop.

What hand signals do you use? Do you acknowledge every rider you pass? Leave your comments below.

  1. I think hand signals when turning or changing lanes also provide a more clear and confident signal to motorists of what you are about to do.

  2. Hand signals can be so confusing and can cause more of a distraction than the intended communication. I try to keep them to a minimum and move with the times using voice communication. Riders should be looking for hazards themselves and not require someone else to do their thinking. This will only make them lazy and more likely to be at risk. For large group rides, known destinations and effective corner marking, are a far more effective way of conducting the ride.

    I try to acknowledge every rider I pass usually with a waive of the left hand.

  3. Hazard on roadway picture would probably incur a fine in QLD for lifting foot off footpeg

  4. If ur using hand signals because ur turn signals arent working do u have to take the lights off ur bike or can u keep them on bike??

    1. Hi Thresa,
      Do NOT remove any indicators or lights from your bike as this will render it unroadworthy.
      If your indicators stop working while you are riding, you can use hand signals for turning.
      However, you cannot get on a bike that is unroadworthy.
      So, if pulled over by police tell them the fault has only just happened and you are on your way to a mechanic to get them fixed.

  5. I remember my father telling me about ‘Cops ahead’ signal when I was a youngster, many years ago. Would still be appropriate if better known. Not too many gestures used these days apart from the ‘nod’ and the ‘up yours’ forefinger at some menacing drivers.

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