Monday, February 27, 2012

Bicycle Hand Signaling Tips, and more history than you wanted to know

Recently, we shared the following two videos from Road ID on our Facebook page:

Advice for Drivers: How to Drive With & Around Cyclists

(Click here if the above video is not appearing for you.)

Signaling while Cycling - Road ID Rules of the Road

(Click here if the above video is not appearing for you.)

Good advice all around, and it prompted this comment and question from Paul, one of our Facebook followers:

"When riding in traffic I always use hand signals, it helps people driving cars know what you intentions are and as far as I am concerned drivers need all the help they can get. Because I use hand signals, and because I am right handed I also switched my front brake lever to the right side of the handle bar. However, I get strange looks from other cyclists when I tell them I use hand signals and that I front brake with my right hand. Any opinions?"

First of all, a bit of history about hand signals. They were originally incorporated into many states' traffic laws before cars had built-in turn signals. These hand signals remained on the books for use in the event of malfunctioning turn signals. The law said to signal a left turn by sticking your left arm out of the left side of the car. Since, in a car, you're sitting on the left side of the vehicle (at least in the US), it didn't make sense to put out your right arm to signal a right turn, because it was unlikely that anyone behind you would be able to see it. So, the law says that to signal a right turn, extend your left arm out and point your hand in the air.

Since cyclists are subject to the same rules of the road as car drivers, many conscientious cyclists, to this day, will signal a right turn by raising their left hand in the air. This despite the fact that anyone behind a cyclist can see their right arm just as well as their left arm.

Recognizing this, many states, including Ohio, have amended their vehicle codes to allow for right-turn signaling by cyclists using the right arm.

So, what does all of this have to do with your brake levers? Some folks argue that you should still signal a right turn with your left hand, because most bikes have the rear brake lever on the right, so while signaling, your right hand is still available to operate the rear brake, if needed. However, the law states that you do NOT have to signal continuously throughout the turning process, specifically when the hands are needed for the safe operation of the bicycle, or when the bicycle is in a designated turning lane.

In European countries, bicycles are configured with the rear brake on the left hand and the front brake on the right hand. The reason may have more to do with tradition than safety, as the brakes on motorcycles (in Europe as well as the US) are set up this way. Some cyclocross racers also like to reverse their brake levers in this way, probably in order to be able to operate the rear brake during a running dismount, or maybe just because they want to be "euro." (Incidentally, when we get European customers for our rental bikes in Peninsula, we make a point to warn them that the brake levers are reversed from what they are most likely used to.)

One-handed braking is a dicey proposition in any situation. Most experts agree that while most of your braking power comes from your front brake, it's safest to apply both front and rear brakes as evenly as possible to avoid skidding. If you MUST brake with one hand, most cyclists prefer to apply only the rear brake, rather than only the front brake. If you're braking with only the rear, in the worst-case scenario, you'll lock up your rear wheel and go into an out-of-control skid. If you're braking with only the front, in the worst-case scenario, you'll lock up your front wheel and fly over the handlebars.

So, Paul, in response to your question, and to summarize it for everyone:

A) All cyclists should use hand signals; if your cycling friends give you strange looks about this, then they are misinformed, and you should direct them to this article.

B) You can set up your brakes and brake levers however you want; do whatever you feel is safest and most convenient for you. The law allows for safe signaling regardless of how your bike is set up. If your cycling friends give you strange looks for having your front brake lever in your right hand, tell them you're "kickin' it euro-style."

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