Why I Signal Right Turns With My Left Arm

It can be easy to forget or simply not use hand signals when cycling. Streetcar tracks, potholes, bike lanes in door zones and other obstacles can have you focusing on keeping both hands on your handlebars. Yet, when it comes to communicating with other road users there is no better way than with hand signals.

Recently, I’ve noticed a lot of debate about how to signal a right turn. In North America, both extending your left arm then angling your forearm up and simply extending your right arm to point in the direction you’re about to go are acceptable. I’ve used both styles, but my default is to use my left arm. Here’s why:

Predictability: Every other hand signal uses your left arm. So, if drivers are looking for these signals (and I certainly hope they are) it makes sense that they will be watching for the movements of your left arm.

Balance: With both hands on the handlebars I use my front brake more than my rear brake to slow my speed and control my balance when slowing, however, with just one hand on the bars I prefer to use my rear brake for speed control. Now, this is less efficient than using the front brake but as I’m already slowing down to turn I don’t feel the need for super efficient braking. Also, should I hit an unexpected bump (and Toronto streets are littered with them) steadying myself and gripping my front brake could send me ass over teakettle.

Bell Ringing: My bell is mounted on the right side of my bars. Should a car door or pedestrian suddenly appear in my path while signaling my thumb is always at the ready. I could yell, but it seems these days that before a scream leaves my lips my thumb has already set my bell singing.

Girl Executing Right Turn

Many will point out that drivers simply do not know what this hand signal means. I can’t declare whether this is true or not but this does work to the final advantage of using your left arm to signal right turns. I’ve found that many drivers are reluctant to pass and slow down behind me when I use my left arm to signal a right turn. It could be that they are confused, it could be that they are startled to see my arm move in such a curious way but no matter what the reason I find that I’m rarely buzzed by cars in the right lane when I signal with my left arm.

And finally, many cyclists seem to think that pointing in the air to signal a turn looks silly and can be confused for a polite wave. Now, I’ve had cyclists riding towards me wave back at me while I was only signaling a turn. But I don’t feel that this is a disadvantage and I actually like to think this just means I’m a friendly, King of Kensington-type who people want to acknowledge.

What do you do?

MTO site with hand signal information: Cycling Skills
Photo 1 via Seattle DOT
Photo 2 by Mikael Colville-Andersen