Bike to Bike Communication

image from letsgorideabike blog

Growing up in Maine I remember being taught hand signals for riding a bicycle. My first memory of this was at some sort of bicycle to school day where Brad, the local bike shop owner oiled and tweaked our bikes and we were all shown how to navigate stop-signs and the like. I remember distinctly being confused as an 8 year old boy that both the left and right hand signal were performed with the left hand. (the alternate method of signaling outstretched right hand wasn't introduced until a few years later and I've heard it was Jeff Miller, Maine bike advocate that instigated this option. As a young kid, the revision was relieving :-)

We've probably all seen the several kinds of signalers out there. Those who don't, those who do sort of timidly, and then the overzealous. I have always considered hand signals mostly a way for cyclists to communicate with motorists and protect themselves, but until this weekend I hadn't really thought about cyclist to cyclist communication.While riding back to Nagoya after Nuts!Fes, we fell into a column of about 15 cyclists biking close together along the paths and roads in Nagoya, and biking fourth in the column I found myself faced with a pretty constant stream of hand signals from the rider ahead of me. I recognized the right and left arms outstretched, and quickly learned the others. As I figured them out it became pretty clear these were well known by the other riders and I wondered if they were Japanese standard signals.

right turn: right arm extended
left turn: left arm extended
stopping: hand open, palm out flat on lower back
slowing down: right hand down by saddle
keep left (oncoming traffic): right hand down by saddle waving left. I didn't see keep right (in Japan you ride on the left) but I imagine the same but maybe inverted
obstacle coming up (pot hole, post, ledge): right hand down, pointer finger pointing down
and my favorite and most complex
left-turn followed by a U-turn (instead of using the car turning lane at an intersection to turn right, turning left, pulling a Uey and waiting at the light): right hand turn signal, pointer finger out, an upward S flick with the pointer finger

Everyone in the line did the signals and we rode very smoothly. The communication was excellent and allowed us to keep together tight and only the head rider had to navigate, with no yelling or explaining turns and so forth.
I tried to find out if these signals were at all standard to Japan, but I could only find the 3 signals you're probably familiar with. Right, left and stop.
These cyclists from Nagoya had the bike to bike communication down to an art, and it impressed me and made me feel like, despite the language barrier, I was able to communicate quickly and effectively with the members of the group.
Ride with friends this week!



  1. It may be a Nagoya specialty, like travelling on Escalators is different in Tokyo (stand left, walk on the right) region to the Kansai region (stand right, walk left) I think it's that way around, but to be honest I forget.

    Certainly out on the wilds of the Killi peninsula around Ise/Toba I didn't notice much signalling. I didnj't see many riders following the rules in that picture either: bikes tend to flow all over the place.

    In Europe we all learn to signal by pointing the way you're turning, but we have a few signals amongst the group I ride with that are a bit different, mainly one for 'look that way' (point at eyes then direction). I tend to be be a bit flamboyant while riding on the bakfiets, especially when riding in traffic.

  2. yeah. Japan biking is generally chaotic, but things work out (usually) Having experienced the chaos, I was surprised and excited to run into all of these interesting signals when biking with this Nagoya group. I think that they were probably exclusive to that group. (they ride together often) It was really fun to learn each new signal as it came along.
    (yeah, Tokyo is stand on the left, walk on the right. In Kansai I've seen both. :-)