Knowing your motorcycle hand signals isn’t something to forget once your license is in your wallet. Hand signals out on the road can keep you safe and on the right side of your buddies.
What do you do when your blinkers are out? How do you communicate with large groups when you don’t have compatible Bluetooth helmets?
Motorcycle riders the world over get these problems and we all default to the same simple and effective tools – using our hands to get the point across.
If you feel like you’ve forgotten your motorcycle hand signals, didn’t really bother to learn them, or seen a new one whilst group riding and were too afraid to ask – you’re in the right place.
Using the Motorcycle Safety Foundation’s guide as a base, we’re going to go through:
- Motorcycle hand signals for safety
- How to tell your fellow riders what’s happening
- Organizing riders as a group leader
- Signals that make you a good biker
Plus we’ll look at the biker sign of respect and answer your questions about it.
- Basic Hand Signs for Busted Signals
- Riding with Your Biker Buddies
- Running Group Rides
- Being a Good Biker
- The Biker Sign of Respect
Basic Hand Signs for Busted Signals
You’d hope your signals never give out. From reversing into a branch and knocking out your turn signal to a random electrical fault killing your brake lights, anything can happen and you need to know how to signal to motorists while driving to safety.
To let other road users know you’re going to turn left, you need to:
- Have your left arm extended straight out, at shoulder height
- Keep your palm facing down to the road
- Hold your arm still in that position for a few seconds
Before you make the signal, get into the right gear so you won’t need your clutch for a few seconds. Have your hand back on your handlebar before you make a safe turn; timing is crucial.
Clearly, you’re not going to stick your right arm out to turn right! Instead, the hand signal for a right turn is to put your left arm out at shoulder height and raise your forearm up to a 90 degree angle and make a clenched fist.
Think of it like you’re pulling the body builder pose and are ready to kiss your biceps. Don’t kiss your bicep though – eyes on the road!
To tell the rest of the folks on the road you’re stopping, you need to:
- Extend your left arm out, in line with your shoulder
- Bend down at the elbow – the opposite of “right turn”
- Keep your palm open so your fingertips point to the road
Again, timing is important here – you still need to use your left hand on your clutch or rear brake. When your lights aren’t working and you need to use this signal, go a little slower so you can make signals in plenty of time.
Riding with Your Biker Buddies
When it’s you and a friend or two out on the open road, sometimes you need to get a message across. There aren’t lights to declare you need to take a leak, so there are some standard hand signals to get this – and other needs – across.
Let’s deal with that first – how do you tell the people you’re riding with that you need to pee? There’s a motorcycle hand signal for exactly this purpose:
- Put your left arm straight out, angled down to the road – your hand should be around waist height
- Clench your fist
- Move your arm up to shoulder and back down a couple of times
This pretty much means any type of comfort break so if your ass has gone numb or your arms are starting to seize up, this is how you tell your buddies when riding a motorcycle.
Cruising and adventuring can be thirsty business so a quick refreshment stop is always handy. This hand signal is pretty simple to give.
Bring your left fist to the left side of your helmet and put your thumb towards the side of your visor. What it’s kinda meant to look like is that you’re drinking from your fist through your thumb.
You need to get the positioning of your hand right on this one. Bring your clenched fist to where your mouth is and the people behind won’t see your thumb out. Put your fist and thumb to your ear and who knows what you’re trying to say. It’s meant to look like you’re drinking so go for around your jawline at the side.
If you’ve ever ran out of gas on a drive, you know how you don’t ever want to be that rider again.
Let your fellow motorcyclist know you need to top up your tank by pointing at it. It’s a pretty simple signal that tells everyone what’s going on.
Even if you’re on a bike with a different fuel tank placement, it’s good practice to point your fingers at the space between your body and handlebars so everyone who needs to know gets what’s going on.
Time to come off the main road? To signal to pull off you need to:
- Extend your left arm straight
- Point your finger
- Raise your arm up so your hand is a little higher that your head
- Motion your arm forwards and repeat it a couple of times
This is one of the lesser-known hand signals so if you’re riding with new people, be sure they know what it means ahead of time.
Running Group Rides
Heading out on a large group ride is a great way to spend a weekend, but it can get confusing when people don’t know what’s going on. Whether you’re leading a group or following along, knowing what each gesture means is going to keep you on track.
To bring the group to a slower cruising speed, extend your left arm out from the shoulder with the left palm facing the ground. Move your arm down to around waist height and back up to your shoulder a couple of times.
This one can also be used as “come”, asking for a rider behind you to get closer, but it’s more commonly used to ask the person behind you to take the lead of the group.
To get someone to take over leading the group:
- Extend your left arm down and out to waist height with a closed fist
- Point your index finger to the road
- Swing your forearm forward in a sweeping motion as if you’re pointing out in front of you
When you’ve been given the lead of the group, you want to let all the motorcyclists on the ride know that you’re at the helm.
The “follow me” signal means you lift your left arm high and forwards, palm flat, and point out front.
Merging onto freeways or highways and entering built up areas might require your group to get into single file. Give the signal by raising your left arm to shoulder height and do a 90 degree angle at the elbow. Raise one finger to show that everyone needs to get into single file.
To get your group into double file, you do the exact same action as for single file – left arm out at your shoulder, 90 degrees at the elbow – and this time, you raise two fingers.
Being a Good Biker
As well as running a large group or telling one or two others your needs, you can just be a decent road user. Sometimes there are road issues others need to know and there are motorcycle hand signals for them.
Potholes, roadkill, a broken-down car – all things you want to let people behind you know about.
To point out a hazard, extend your foot away from your bike on whichever side the hazard is on. Don’t go overboard with it, people don’t need to know about every bit of trash or crack in the road!
Your Blinker’s On
How annoying is it when someone leaves their blinker on and you’ve got no idea how to behave around them? Be a good road user and let other motorcyclists know so.
When you’re in front of the blinker offender, put your left arm out to the side, around waist height, and open and close your fingers to a point. This should see them turn off their blinkers soon enough.
No one wants a ride to be interrupted by the cops; getting pulled over is a pain. You can tell anyone behind you or those coming towards you to be careful of the road rules with one simple signal.
Using your left hand, tap the top of your helmet a couple of times.
The Biker Sign of Respect
Have you heard of the biker sign of respect? There’s some mythology tied up in it but it’s nothing to be intimidated by.
What’s the biker sign of respect?
To give the biker sign of respect to another rider, put your left arm out and down and point two fingers to the ground. It looks something like an inverted “peace” hand gesture.
Where did the biker sign of respect come from?
Legend has it that the two inventors of Harley Davidson were driving past each other and gave this signal – it caught on with the motorcycling community every since.
Other stories say it all began with World War 2 veterans giving the sign – lots of them came home and started riding former military bikes. It came to mean “keep two wheels on the ground”, or stay safe.
When can I give the sign of respect?
You can do the motorcycle hand signal for respect whenever you want, but we’d say don’t overdo it. On your commute, in traffic, stopped at lights – all times that you probably want to focus on other things.
Out on the road, passing another biker is the time to give the wave that every biker should know.
Why do bikers use hand signals?
Motorcycle hand signals have a range of uses, such as when your lights aren’t working and you need to stop or turn left safely, or when you’re out on a ride with a group of motorcyclists and need to communicate without using comms systems.
What are the alternatives to motorcycle hand signals?
Some motorcycle hand signals can be replaced by using your lights – or getting them fixed. You can also invest in a Bluetooth helmet or a Bluetooth headset but be sure that either everyone has the same brand of Bluetooth or that everyone’s set can connect across brands.
What does it mean when a motorcyclist taps their helmet?
When a motorcyclist taps their head, it means there are police up ahead. It used to mean you were giving a general heads up but it’s morphed to be specifically about police.
What is the Harley wave?
The Harley wave is another name for the biker sign of respect we described up top – left hand low with two fingers down. It’s not only for Harley riders so you can use it no matter which bike you own.
Should a sports bike wave at a cruiser?
You can wave at whoever you want when out on your motorcycle. If other riders want to get snobby about the bike you ride, that’s on them.