The Language of Bike

You are down at the beach, walking into a strong sea breeze. Your dog is running ahead, and you decide that it is time to turn around. You whistle for your dog’s attention, though she doesn’t hear you. You whistle again, and despite the size of her ears, she still doesn’t hear you. Your calls and whistles drift off behind you, caught in the salty sea air whizzing past your own ears. So you start jumping up and down, flailing your arms around in the air desperately trying to get their attention. What a fool you look. But we all do it. And eventually she will turn and see you and somehow understand that you are signaling for her to come. And that in fact you are not doing some sort of traditional native rain dance…. Amazing! She get’s it. She’s a hum-og. She gets our signals.

molly puppy
Molly the “hum-og” (HUM-an d-OG) 

But what if she didn’t….?

We live in a world with lots of signs and signals. Warning us to stop here, give way there, buy this, don’t eat that. Though it isn’t unnatural to pick up on signs, colour for example is something that is used throughout the animal kingdom as warnings. Red meaning danger or dangerous. And we have incorporated them into modern life… We know that the colour red means stop, green means go, and orange… well everyone knows that orange means to go faster…

Though what happens when we can’t change colour like a chameleon to communicate our intentions of speed? What happens when we can’t lay out a sign to tell someone we are going to stop up ahead and turn left? What happens when the wind is just too strong and our voice can not be heard?

When riding a bike it is not always practical to yell out, nor polite. Nor is it polite to jump up and down flailing your arms around… Though we do have arms. Two in fact. The perfect tools for communication on a bike!

Whether you are riding with a group of cyclists or just your partner in grind, it is important to give some communication about what you can see, and what they potentially might not be able to see. These basic hand communications are fairly universal in groups that are rolling around no matter the nationality or experience of riders.

Left and right

How many times have you mixed up your left’s and your right’s? You goose, though it is easily done. You would have to be a whole new special breed of goose to point in the direction that you didn’t actually want to go in though. So this hand signal is pretty easy. When coming up to an intersection you can hold either your left or right arm out, to let other cyclists or cars behind and around you know where you are going. 

Left or right??
Left or right??

Note: at an intersection where there are a lot of cars, it’s not a bad idea to also check the blinkers of cars to see what direction they are going. Also a little bit of friendly eye contact with the drivers so that you know they have seen you, can also be a good idea.

If you are rolling through an intersection, be sure to also vocalise whether the intersection is clear or not by saying “clear”. Be careful not to say “car” as that can be mistaken for “clear”. And that could be tragic.


Unfortunately we can’t ride forever, and it is inevitable that we will need to stop at some stage. Reasons for stopping might be that you have approached an intersection, or a very delicious coffee shop- both very good reasons for wanting (needing) to stop. There are a couple of different signals for stopping… the picture below demonstrates the open palm (kind of like an Indian greeting, “hau”), and the closed fist both at right angles to the body.

Stopping (for coffee!!!!)
Stopping (for coffee!!!!)

There are some things that are dangerous or problematic with stopping. Sometimes it happens really quickly, the traffic lights might change to orange, a car pulls out on you, or maybe that mobile coffee van you have been drafting off has FINALLY pulled over! If there is an opportunity to communicate to the cyclists around you that you are slowing down, please do it. Otherwise your friends will hit you from behind.

You can also vocalise stopping by saying… “stopping”…. I think you have got this one in the bag… You can even say “slowing” and everyone will understand what you mean…


Signalling that you are going to be slowing down is similar to stopping except it is mirrored. Instead of having your hand towards the sky, you are now pointing towards the ground.

Slowing down


Pointing is one of the first visual signals we learn as a child. And my hum-og (Molly) also knows what this means, though I assume she thinks it always means “look here’s the food!!!”

The things that we want to point out include holes or faults in the road. Imperfections. Things that you ride over that don’t feel good (heavy impact/shock to your body) or could potentially throw you off your bike. And we don’t want either, especially the latter. I also like to point out parked cars with people in them, to let other riders know about possible doors being opened…

Pointing out holes and other imperfections in the road surface

There are a couple of different hand signals for pointing out different things like water or gravel on the road usually has a bit of a shake in the wrist to signify that there is loose material on the surface. You can vocalise what you see by saying “hole” or “glass”… It is always good to point out glass as it can cause punctures.

Moving over

When there are cars parked on the road and you need to move around them, make sure that you provide plenty of warning for those riders behind you. Give them the signal of moving your hand behind your back, as pictured below. Make sure that you give enough time, otherwise riders may ride up the back of the parked car or object that is in your way. You might hear other riders saying “car up” or “walker up” if there is a pedestrian in the way, or “bike up” if you are over taking another cyclist.


Talking to a few friends, it is always funny to hear that some of them continue to communicate the same way when their two wheels have been switched for two legs… Pointing out hazards and calling out “car up”…. after a couple of long days on their bikes…

Happy and safe riding girls xx 


One Comment Add yours

  1. Kaz says:

    Great read. Love the pick of the Hum-og..very cute.


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