Road Biking Signs and Signals

Recently a motorcyclist in front of me on the road used a hand signal to indicate that he was about to turn right. I vaguely remember as a kid learning a few hand signals for when I was on my bicycle. I know I and most of my friends never used them. Thankfully we are all no worse for wear. 

He helped me realize that I should know these safety measures so I can implement them. More importantly, I need to teach them to my children.

You Should Always Ride With Traffic

When I was training for the marathon, I mostly ran on the road against traffic. Why? Running safely means not having cars at your back. You can see them and react if they don’t move over. 

The opposite is true when on a bike. You should always bike with the flow of traffic. In most states, that is the law. A bicycle is technically a vehicle and drivers in automobiles anticipate their movement to mimic other vehicles. When you behave predictably, meaning like another vehicle, you are safer.

The PennDOT website recommends that cyclists assert their right to the road by using lane control. Ride in the center of the lane so other drivers can see you easily, and they must fully change lanes to pass you. You should also behave predictably when asserting lane control. An example of predictable behavior is only moving to the left side of your lane when preparing to turn left. Motorists can more easily anticipate your moves when you behave in ways they would logically expect. That, in turn, keeps you safer. 

PA Vehicle Code For Bicycles

According to our home state, “pedalcycles” are vehicles and every rider “shall be granted all of the rights and responsibilities applicable to a driver of a vehicle, with certain exceptions…” 

  • Bikes may ride on the shoulder in the same direction as traffic.
  • Bikes may ride on the right half of the road on two-lane roads and in the right-most lane on multilane roads. 
  • Bikes may move from the right lane when passing, when preparing to turn left, when there is an obstruction in the lane.

Some traffic signals have embedded detectors that won’t respond to a bike waiting for a green light. You can treat them legally as a stop sign.

All you trail families in other states can look up your state’s bicycle laws by going to your Department of Transportation website.

You Should Obey Traffic Control Devices

Most states require cyclists to obey all traffic laws and signals. In addition, you will be much safer when you stop at stop signs and red lights and yield when you should. 

Common Bicycle-Motorvehicle Crashes

These three types of bike and motor vehicle crashes are common but preventable when sharing the road. 

Right-Hook Crashes happen when a driver does not sufficiently and safely pass a bike before turning right. The cyclist proceeding straight is struck.

Dooring is just what it sounds like. A driver or passenger in a parked vehicle opens their door into a cyclist’s path.

Overtaking Crashes happen when a driver is trying to pass a cyclist but strikes them from behind instead.

Hand Signals and Their Meaning

There are four basic hand signals for cyclists to tell drivers what they are about to do. The left hand held straight out signals a left turn. The left hand held up with the elbow bent to the right hand straight out signal a right turn. A cyclist signals they are stopping with the left hand held down with the palm facing the driver behind them. A similar signal with a waving hand means “slow down”.

Family Road Biking

Sometimes it is necessary for your whole family to ride on the road. There are a few places along some of our local trails where the trailheads don’t directly connect to one another. Should your whole family ride on the road?

Little Buddy getting in some bike practice time on a quiet street.

Personally, I would only take teens and adults for any extended road riding without a dedicated bike lane. Younger kids don’t have enough experience to anticipate how drivers will behave to troubleshoot potential problems. Safety from motor vehicles is one thing I love best about riding on the Rail Trails. If your family is going to be on the road, ride single file with an adult leading and in the rear.

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