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Lend me a hand

Posted on July 24, 2010 by Andrew in Other. 12 comments

When I first started riding, I naively assumed it’d just be me, the bike, and the road to consider. But soon after I dared to move out of the industrial estates and onto the open road I realised that there was this whole biking culture that I’d unwittingly bought into. The first sign was the non-verbal language going on between riders. Now and then I’d see a fellow rider wave his left hand at me. Was I going too fast? Was there something wrong with my bike? To be honest it freaked me out a little.

Then I’d see the hand signals when there were cops around. Suddenly it was clear; they were signaling me to slow down. I began doing it myself and I’d get a satisfying nod of appreciation back from other riders. At that point I went from being a lone motorcyclists to a member of a big group who were looking out for each other, and that was a cool feeling.

Fast forward to me a few weeks ago riding into a police speed trap along a stretch of road packed with other bikers. I was confident that my two-wheeled comrades would have signaled any danger well in advance. But they didn’t. Then I see the flashing lights and I have the horrible realisation that I was going faster than I should have been. Much faster.

So in the hope that next time it might be you coming in the other direction, here’s the sum total of my motorcycling hand signal knowledge. Study them. Use them. Add your own in the comments section. Bikers of the world unite.

  1. Left hand held palm-down in front of chest making a patting motion – “slow down”.
  2. Left hand pointing upwards next to helmet and spun in circles – “police ahead”.
  3. Left hand held down and out from the bike with palm pushing forward – “please overtake me”.
  4. Middle finger of left hand raised with other fingers folded down – “police helicopters about”. I think.

  • Tom in Sweetwater

    Around here, patting the top of the helmet is the sign for police.

  • Can we organize those hand signals for us motorcyclists? Just like semi-truckers? There are some signals for group riding, but really for othesr you are not riding with…

    For me, the middle finger means " I am an inconsiderate immature douchebag, please disregard me".

  • Jeff

    Hey, I have a great idea too… we can search the internet to see if that already exists!

  • Pamberjack


    Hand signals vary greatly from country to country and city to city so a google search results in hand signals that aren’t used or understood by the riders in your area. Also, most of the results Google turns up are intended for use in groups of riders, not between strangers – they tend to be things like "Rest stop" and "You lead" which don’t really help you avoid things like police speed traps.

    What’s common in your area?

  • charles

    You could always just not ride too fast and make us all look bad with your poor behavior.

    Still, if you choose to speed, you got to be willing to take your lumps when you get caught.

  • Jeff

    Oh really? Differ by town/city/country? Umm… nah. They are pretty much all the same, which is why they work.

    This isn’t baseball, we aren’t trying to send secret signals, pretty much all hand gestures are intended to communicate specific information in a clear manner, which is easy to distinguish.

    If you need to make something up, be clear and specific. Such as "hey you, slow motorcyclist, move over, you’re holding up lane sharing traffic; move over, stay there". This could be accomplished with getting around said slow rider and firmly pointing to the other side of the lane, indicating where to go.

  • Scott

    Jeff, it is true that in Australia to warn other riders of police you use your left hand and circle in the air – as if saying ‘sirens ahead’.

  • Pamberjack

    Jeff, also see Tom’s initial comment above about patting the top of your helmet to indicate police. To me at least, this isn’t "clear" or "easy to distinguish" as a sign for police unless you are in the know – which is the reason for the article in the first place.

    I should also point out that it also isn’t commonly used on any of the roads I ride on, which kinda rules out the "they are the same everywhere" thought as well…

    Anyone got any more examples?

  • Ian

    As you say, hand signals aren’t the same everywhere. As a precaution, if an oncoming biker gives me ANY signal other than a ‘hello’ nod, (ie. any form of arm waving) then I’ll take it easy for the next couple of miles just in case.

  • Chris Mc

  • Nigel

    In my experience, if someone is vigorously pointing at your feet, you probably pulled out of the gas station with out lifting your kick stand

  • mrk_d

    Patting the helmet is definitely the sign for cops around here, too.