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Rider Etiquette: The Hand Signals

Posted In: Tips

Pop Quiz: What does it mean when you see a rider coming toward you, tapping the top of their helmet? Don't know the answer? Well you probably should because it can potentially save you money and headache.

Read on to find out what it means.

Hand signals are an integral part of riding, especially when it comes to group rides, but can also be very important when out on your own.

"Why are they important?" you may be asking. After all, today's bikes are equipped with everything you could possibly want: navigation, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, automatic shifting capabilities, bluetooth tech, a built in Traeger barbecue...the list goes on. So why should you take the time to learn such an archaic skillset like hand signaling?

It's true, motorcycles have come a long way in terms of technology, especially the Honda Gold Wing. However, if you've ridden long enough you know that things still go wrong. What if a blinker stops working mid-ride? Or what if your headset fails?

We recommend you invest in a communication system such as J&M'sSena's or Cardo's to help you talk easily with your riding buddies. But sometimes headsets stop working.

If you're a part of a group ride, there's no guarantee that all participants will have a headset or CB and, even if they do, that they will all be compatible. In other words, learning and implementing hand signals is a nice failsafe for when things inevitably go wrong. It's always good to be prepared, right?

With that in mind, here are the 16 hand signals every motorcycle rider should know.

Whether you're group riding or going solo, turn signaling lets the traffic around you know your intentions and tells fellow riders in your group to prepare for a turn. "Isn't that what turn signals on the bike are for?" you might ask. And the answer would be yes. However, some would argue that it's better to err on the side of safety and implement both, particularly during group rides. Plus, if you've ridden long enough you know that lights on bikes eventually fail you.

1. Right Turn - Bend your left arm at the elbow to form a 90 degree angle with your clenched fist held high like you're about to politely knock on someone's front door

2. Left Turn - Left arm straight out with your palm facing down

3. Stop - Bend your left arm at a right angle, with fingers facing downward. The leader of a group ride should be the one initiating this signal with others down the line echoing the signal for riders further back who might not be able to see the leader. This signal is particularly beneficial when engine braking because, in this scenario, the brake light will not light up.

4. Speed Up - This particular signal is most beneficial for inexperienced groups. To tell fellow riders in your group to speed up, stick your arm out, palm up, and slowly move your hand up and down.

5. Slow DownTo tell them to slow down, stick your arm out, palm down, and slowly movie your hand up and down, like a bird taking flight.

6. You Lead - This is when the leader tells a rider behind them to take the lead. To do this, the leader will simply point at the person's bike who they want to take the lead and then point out ahead of the group.

7. Follow Me - This is usually to indicate that someone else is now taking the lead. It's particularly useful when a group is temporarily separated due to a stop light. It's similar to the right turn signal, but instead of a closed fist you leave your hand open like you're about to give someone a high-five or saying "present" when your junior high math teacher took attendance. PTSD flashbacks anyone?

8. Road Hazard - If there is a road hazard, such as a pothole, roadkill, or some other dangerous debris is on the left side, point toward it with your left index finger. If it's on the right, point to it with your right foot as best you can. Obviously you don't want to take your hand off the throttle. If you come to a particularly dangerous and crumbling road, stick all your limbs out like a starfish! Just kidding.

9. Single File -
Raise your hand as if to signal you are the leader, but only point the number of fingers that correspond to the number of columns you want. So for a single file hold up your index finger.

10. Double File - Raise your hand just like you would for single file riding, but for double file hold up your index and middle fingers. Like a peace sign.

11. I'm Tired, I Need A Break (Rest/Comfort Stop) - Extend your left arm straight out, make a fist and motion up and down like you're shaking a can of spray paint or a ketchup bottle.

12. I'm Hangry (Food/Refreshment Stop) - Give a thumbs up with your left hand and point it toward your mouth/helmet a few times. Some riders will alternatively point toward their stomach or give themselves a belly rub.

13. Fuel Stop - Point to your gas tank with your left hand. Don't be the rider who runs out of gas during a group ride unless you like being endlessly heckled and are fond of nicknames.

14. Pull Off - This signal is used if the group needs to pull over right away (or as soon as possible). It's given for any other reason than a Rest, Food or Fuel stop. It might have to do with a bike malfunction, a deflating tire, or perhaps the rider is feeling overly anxious. Extend your left arm out and point your index finger to the side, then motion your arm up and toward the right shoulder, bending at your elbow. Repeat this motion a few times.

15. You Left Your Blinker On - At some point we all forget to turn off our turn signals. If you want to be a well-liked, well-respected group rider and earn brownie points, when this happens to someone in the group stick out your left arm then open and close your hand a few times.

16. Cops Ahead - When you see a fellow rider coming at you in the opposite direction and they are tapping the top of their helmet with their open palm face down, they are letting you know that law enforcement is ahead. Alternatively, if the group leader sees law enforcement in the distance they can give this signal so that the group is aware.

With modern day motorcycles and headsets with cutting edge tech, it's likely you will rarely need to use hand signals on the road. Still, it's a good idea to learn them. Getting acquainted with and memorizing these signals will only help you become more prepared for whatever scenario arises on the road ahead whether you ride alone or with others.

The more we ride, the more we learn. We discover new routes that become our favorites, learn new tips and tricks that enhance the experience, come across motorcycle accessories we couldn't live without and cultivate lifelong friendships that teach us more about ourselves and the sport.

Ride safe.

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Good Article/Video
Mostly review but I even learned a couple new hand signals. The more bikers that know these, the better. Thanks!
Reply to Comment

Big John


99% correct
#16 is well know as "Cop ahead" But truth is it started off as "Heads up!" ......... Warn others of ANYTHING you should slow down & look out for. #16 is correct for "Crash ahead" "Land slide" Dog in the road etc.
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Re-invent a hand signal
I enjoy the articles and the comments. For decades the #16 meant "check lights". I think this has been repurposed to mean "police".
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- No Alias -


Most imprortant
Missed the lost important. Saying hi to oncoming bikes. :)
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Great information in this article. Mostly review as I ride in mostly larger groups and most of us have communication devices of some sort. But we have riders that do not, so before we leave we make sure everyone knows the signals and even folks with communication, pass the signals down the line.
Reply to Comment

- No Alias -


Good article!
Always good to know these hand signals because they do come in handy for sure!
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