The secret language of hand signals
In a sport where there's a lot of uniformity, signaling road hazards gives plenty of room for individuality.
There’s a lot of uniformity in cycling — in some respects too much — but the more you ride the more you start to notice how riders show their individuality. Sometimes it’s in their kit or socks; other times it’s much more subtle. Many cyclists develop their own distinct way to signal road hazards, and often that method will vary depending on the hazard’s size and nature.
When I signal a pothole, it’s usually with my index finger and maybe a snap of the wrist. For gravel or sand, it’s fluttering fingers pointed down. I don’t really know why. I guess I’m saying the danger is spread out and has vague boundaries. At 20 mph or more I’m trying to communicate as much as I can as quickly as I can to the rider just off my rear wheel. And ideally I would have gotten a signal of some sort from the rider ahead of me.
The standard is a simple, finger point directly at the hole and then hands back on the bars.
But on a ride with a stretch of gravel about 1 km long, and a lot of deep holes, Chad seemed to almost describe the circumference of a particularly big one. Usually, they’re not that big.
Some signals seem customized to fit the cyclist’s personality, intentionally or not. I think of David as someone who is organized and precise and he opts for a little style and emphasis in the basic finger point.
Sometimes, it’s enough of a hazard that you want to make sure everyone is aware, not just the rider immediately behind you. The extended high point is one you can see at the back of the group and often includes a shout of “Hole!”
If it’s a particularly bad stretch of road, the hole is hard to avoid, or it’s a pedestrian, you’ll see the “move over” signal.
And sometimes you just don’t see it until it’s too late. Maybe the rider in front of you missed it, or maybe it’s a sprint zone and nobody’s taking their hands off the bars. You see it too late but you signal anyway.
Maybe the wheel behind you will see it in time, or the one behind them. It’s worth a try. When we’re at speed we’ve got each other’s lives in our hands, sometimes literally.