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Whether you're riding a sportive, on a club run or just out with a bunch of friends, here's how to communicate in a group to keep everyone safe

When you're cycling in a group you can't always see the road ahead as clearly as you would when riding alone so clear communication is essential for keeping everyone safe and moving efficiently, and that means learning a few simple hand signals and calls.

Signals and calls might be confusing at first but they become second nature in no time. When it's you who's passing on the information, just make sure that you're as clear as possible. 

Bear in mind that many signals are not universal – they vary regionally and between individual groups – so make sure you pay particular attention on the first couple of rides with a new bunch of people.

If you're ever in any doubt about whether to call back as well as making a hand signal, do it anyway; you're better off giving riders behind an unnecessary shout than running the risk of an accident. 

Stopping

When the group needs to stop at a traffic light or when someone has a puncture, for example, raise your hand straight up. 

Some people use a closed fist behind the back to indicate stopping, but that's appropriate only for smaller groups because its visible just to riders immediately behind you.

Other people use an arm out to the side with a flat palm facing backwards.

Calling out "Stopping" is usually a good idea, especially if it's unexpected, because you might need both hands on the brakes.

[And yes, Liam in our pictures does need to stop quickly before he hits that wall].

Slowing

You might need to slow when approaching a tight bend, for instance, or if someone in the group is struggling with the pace. Put your arm out to the side and move it slowly up and down.

Calling out "Slowing" is often appropriate.

Obstruction in the road

If there's an obstruction that requires riders to alter their road position, such as a pedestrian or a parked car, point behind your back in the direction you need to move using the arm that's on the side of the hazard. In countries like the UK where we drive/ride on the left, you'll usually need to move out to the right, but you'll occasionally need to tell riders in a group to move further left.

Road surface hazard

Point out potential hazards on the road surface such as potholes and drain covers that need to be avoided. Your hand must be visible to riders behind, of course, so make sure you position your arm out to the side rather than in front of you. 

Shout out "Hole" – or whatever other type of hazard is coming up. 

Gravel

If there's a patch of gravel (or something similar) that could be loose and treacherous, put your arm out and wave your palm towards the road surface.

Give a "Gravel" shout to avoid any doubt.

Speed bumps, railway tracks and cattle grids

Warn riders behind of features that run across the road ahead by pointing down at the surface and waving your hand laterally. Some people do this with their arm out to the side, others with their arm behind their back.

Shout out the type of hazard you're about to encounter; riders behind definitely need to know there's a cattle grid coming up, for instance, especially in wet conditions.

Turning

When you're approaching a turn, stick your arm out at shoulder height to indicate the change in direction. 

A "Turning" shout is often useful, particularly in a large group.

Come through

When you've finished your time at the front of the group and want to drift off towards the back, let riders behind you know by flicking your elbow forwards before moving. Flick your left elbow if you want people to come through on the left, flick your right elbow if you want people to come through on the right (that said, we know that some people flick the elbow on the side they intend to drift towards – which is the exact opposite – so make sure you know the etiquette of your particular group).

Thumbs up

A quick thumbs up says "thanks" when a rider moves over to give you a bit more space, for example, or if another road user waits patiently for the group to pass where the road narrows.

And yes, there are plenty of less friendly hand gestures for other road users too. We don't need to go into those here!

Calls

Always consider calling back to other riders in the group to reinforce your hand signals. Sometimes it's not necessary, particularly in smaller groups, so use your judgement here.

There are a few other common calls that don't have accompanying hand movements:

Car up A car is approaching from behind.

Car down A car is approaching from ahead.

Car back Another way of saying that a car is approaching from behind.

Single out or single file Arrange yourselves one behind another.

On the left/right I'm going to pass you on the left/right. 

Clear left/right At a junction, the road to the left/right is free of traffic.

 

If you use any other hand signals (not that type!) or calls, let us know about them in the comments.

Mat has worked for loads of bike magazines over 20+ years, and been editor of 220 Triathlon and Cycling Plus. He's been road.cc technical editor for eight years, testing bikes, fettling the latest kit, and trying out the most up-to-the-minute clothing. We send him off around the world to get all the news from launches and shows too. He has won his category in Ironman UK 70.3 and finished on the podium in both marathons he has run. Mat is a Cambridge graduate who did a post-grad in magazine journalism, and he is a past winner of the Cycling Media Award for Specialist Online Writer.

35 comments

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ped [315 posts] 1 month ago
1 like

Nice work Mat!

FWIW, "Car Up" seems to be used as "Car up ahead" with many groups I now ride with which has taken some getting used to, having been taught to remember it as  'car up your arse' or 'down your throat' myself. 

The "come through" flick of the elbow is perhaps contentious too. I was taught at track sessions to use a flick of the elbow to indicate the direction I was going to move, and wonder if its ubiquitous mentioning as a signal to come through in TV race commentary has altered its understood meaning.

And I'd add "line out" as an alternative to "single out" too.

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hawkinspeter [3935 posts] 1 month ago
2 likes

Thanks for this article.

I don't ride in a club, so if I'm out on the road and end up cycling with someone who is used to riding in a club, I can not look like such a jerk for not signalling hazards if I'm taking a turn in front.

 

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crazy-legs [1126 posts] 1 month ago
2 likes

I do a fair bit of ride leading, including some "chaperone" type work on bigger events and we always use and teach Car Up (car coming towards us from the front) and Car Back (car coming towards us from behind). It's clearer in both the sound it makes as you say it and the actual meaning.

We also make clear that calling out every bloody car you see is incredibly annoying - keep the calls to the ones where the group actually has to do something to facilitate a pass or overtake.

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LarryDavidJr [396 posts] 1 month ago
0 likes
ped wrote:

The "come through" flick of the elbow is perhaps contentious too. I was taught at track sessions to use a flick of the elbow to indicate the direction I was going to move, and wonder if its ubiquitous mentioning as a signal to come through in TV race commentary has altered its understood meaning.

I was also taught this at track. Every place I've ridden track I've only seen it done this way. The 'wiggle' for 'pass me this side' seems to be used when in a freewheel bunch race. I suspect that it's because on a track you are only going to want the rider behind to come through on the inside anyway, and you will likely be using the full width of the track to bring you back to the end of the line quicker, thus this warns anyone who might be moving up on your right you are about to go quite wide, rather than 'flicking through' a rider on your left.

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LarryDavidJr [396 posts] 1 month ago
1 like

Oh and it's also always been "car up" and "car back" for me too

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angriest [26 posts] 1 month ago
0 likes

Easy!/Slowing! - when not actually stopping
Clear (left/right/both) - when crossing/turning, to let riders behind know the way its clear

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Liam Cahill [188 posts] 1 month ago
1 like

The big question is... can you work out what I was actually saying in the last gif? Points and a pair of road.cc socks to the first correct answer!

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javi_polo [24 posts] 1 month ago
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Liam Cahill wrote:

The big question is... can you work out what I was actually saying in the last gif? Points and a pair of road.cc socks to the first correct answer!

"Pit stop?"

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LarryDavidJr [396 posts] 1 month ago
0 likes
Liam Cahill wrote:

The big question is... can you work out what I was actually saying in the last gif? Points and a pair of road.cc socks to the first correct answer!

Pee stop!

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Rider X [21 posts] 1 month ago
0 likes
Liam Cahill wrote:

The big question is... can you work out what I was actually saying in the last gif? Points and a pair of road.cc socks to the first correct answer!

 

Piss Stop!

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Liam Cahill [188 posts] 1 month ago
0 likes
Rider X wrote:

Liam Cahill wrote:

The big question is... can you work out what I was actually saying in the last gif? Points and a pair of road.cc socks to the first correct answer!

 

Piss Stop!

javi_polo and LarryDavidJr were close but Rider X takes the prize!

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skibum [1 post] 1 month ago
0 likes

Stateside the norm for cars in the roadway seems to be Car UP for in front and Car BACK for behind.  I get the 'up the bum' having lived in London in the 70's (in Edinburgh today for the Fringe) but I fear trying to explain that in the colonies could get me tossed out of the clubs for not being PC   1  

Again it points out how important it is to know what the group or region is expecting for signals.

 Great site btw.

s.

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Richard D [149 posts] 1 month ago
1 like

I’ve always used "car up" (it’s coming from behind) and "car down" (when it’s coming from in front.

Up and down are the two directions from the railway era (possibly canals too?). They make perfect sense to me (and can be remembered by the somewhat crude method enunciated in the first reply).

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. . [198 posts] 1 month ago
1 like

To avoid any confusion, I just shout "car".   It's obvious from the context which direction it is.  If I'm at the back of the pack (as usual), the car is behind.

Though I still have a dilemma when the vehicle isn't a car. 

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TheBillder [19 posts] 4 weeks ago
1 like

"Nose" and "Tail" in our group rides. Works well because you can't half-hear either word and then misunderstand. And it doesn't matter much what the hazard is as long as we all know to be aware.

The main other call is "Horses" because that needs the most action.

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Oldfatgit [3 posts] 4 weeks ago
0 likes

These are shouts, as it gets pretty dark around here ...

Nose - car / vehicle / something coming from the front
Tail - car / vehicle / something coming from the rear
Clear left / right - at junctions so no-one has to stop unless required
All through - after junctions, so lead knows the group is clear of the junction
Clear out - when moving as a group to the centerline to turn right
Left / middle / right - can be followed or preceded by drain, bump, hole
Surface - for when the surface is an issue
Single-up - for when it's too narrow or too dangerous to ride in pairs
Pace - for when you need the lead to slow
Stopping / slowing
Mechanical - breakdown or other forced stop

Shouts are passed in both directions, depending on where they started.

Handsignals are used, pretty much the same as above, and passed down the line.

Lead looks after the front, rear looks after the back, so in theory, lead never has to look behind.

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mdavidford [97 posts] 4 weeks ago
1 like

That 'thumbs up' signal looks impressively (though presumably unintentionally) sarcastic.

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The _Kaner [1200 posts] 4 weeks ago
2 likes

It's always been (as long as I've been cycling....4 decades)

'Car Up' - car coming up the group from the rear

'Car Down' - Car coming down the group from the front

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Judge dreadful [382 posts] 4 weeks ago
2 likes

One thing that really winds me up when I’m leading a group ride, is the fact so few people understand “car up, and car down” calls. I try to make it simple, car up ( as in up yer bum ) car down ( as in down your throat). I hate it when they get mixed up especially if they’re behind me and shout “car up” when they’re  talking about a car that’s approaching from in front of me. Firstly, I know, I can see it, secondly, it’s “car down”.  If I’m having to glance round, for no good reason, it’s not helping. Most of the other stuff is good to have, but not so critical, other than calling “clear” approaching a junction, when it isn’t, that’s a nightmare too. I tend to call “watch your gaps” when approaching junctions, to try and dissuade pile ups due to people getting too close to each other, and then an unexpected incursion by a motorist at the junction ( no indicators / wrong indicators / sudden change of mind ) for example, leading to a smashed up rear mech, because someone was wheel sucking, when they should have backed off ( for example ).

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Dicey [2 posts] 4 weeks ago
3 likes
The _Kaner wrote:

It's always been (as long as I've been cycling....4 decades)

'Car Up' - car coming up the group from the rear

'Car Down' - Car coming down the group from the front

Ive recently joined an Old club and found this very common (and non sensical) terminology being used whereas Ive always used. 

'Car Up' meaning a car up in front. In English we associate the word 'Up' with Front, as in Upfront, Up ahead, etc

'Car Back' - car coming from behind - absolutely no room for confusion here, car back cant mean anything other than what it says.

Using 'car up' referring to 'car up a part of your anatomy' sounds amusing, and might be traditional, but doesnt make sense in m my opinion.

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Mungecrundle [1543 posts] 4 weeks ago
4 likes

"Car down" might make some sense to those in the know but it is an example of elitism and daft in common parlance. It cannot safely be used for anything else. Call out "cycle down" or "pedestrian down" meaning to warn of those specific hazards ahead and most normal people are going to think that someone has crashed or that someone is lying in the road.

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FluffyKittenofT... [2699 posts] 4 weeks ago
0 likes
Mungecrundle wrote:

"Car down" might make some sense to those in the know but it is an example of elitism and daft in common parlance. It cannot safely be used for anything else. Call out "cycle down" or "pedestrian down" meaning to warn of those specific hazards ahead and most normal people are going to think that someone has crashed or that someone is lying in the road.

 

Yeah, what's wrong with 'car ahead' and 'car behind'?

 

I have wondered whether somewhere in the US there's a cop with the surname 'Down'.  Officer Down must cause a major alert every time he identifies himself on the radio.

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Judge dreadful [382 posts] 4 weeks ago
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You need  to be giving as much information as possible, with as few words and syllables as possible. “Car up” says, there’s a car, it’s behind us, and moving towards us, in 2 words, and 2 syllables. It’s quicker ( which is key ) than “car behind” ( 2 words, 3 syllables) and that’s what you need, when you’re dealing with 2 tonnes of metal, approaching at speed. Same deal with “car down” rather than “car in front”. The original convention of “car up / Car down” was developed with hills at the forefront of the idea. As that’s when relative speed differentials  ( bikes relative to motorists) is at its greatest. “Car up” = car coming up the hill from behind, “car down” car coming down the hill from in front. There’s an argument about relative positioning ( if you’re heading down hill, and the car is coming up from in front of you, should that not be “car up”?) but you have to choose a convention and stick to it, and the accepted convention is to ignore relative positioning, and that “car up” is approaching from behind, “car down” is car approaching from in front. It’s now found it’s way into the flatter bits of a ride, where the speed differentials shouldn’t be as great, therefore not so much of a problem, but ( I certainly find) that when leading a large group ( 10 or more riders ) the variance in ability and fitness, now makes these calls necessary.

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FluffyKittenofT... [2699 posts] 4 weeks ago
3 likes
Judge dreadful wrote:

You need  to be giving as much information as possible, with as few words and syllables as possible. “Car up” says, there’s a car, it’s behind us, and moving towards us, in 2 words, and 2 syllables. It’s quicker ( which is key ) than “car behind” ( 2 words, 3 syllables) and that’s what you need, when you’re dealing with 2 tonnes of metal, approaching at speed. Same deal with “car down” rather than “car in front”. The original convention of “car up / Car down” was developed with hills at the forefront of the idea. As that’s when relative speed differentials  ( bikes relative to motorists) is at its greatest. “Car up” = car coming up the hill from behind, “car down” car coming down the hill from in front. There’s an argument about relative positioning ( if you’re heading down hill, and the car is coming up from in front of you, should that not be “car up”?) but you have to choose a convention and stick to it, and the accepted convention is to ignore relative positioning, and that “car up” is approaching from behind, “car down” is car approaching from in front. It’s now found it’s way into the flatter bits of a ride, where the speed differentials shouldn’t be as great, therefore not so much of a problem, but ( I certainly find) that when leading a large group ( 10 or more riders ) the variance in ability and fitness, now makes these calls necessary.

 

But that seems to presume that 'up' is universally and instantly understandable as a synonym for 'behind'.  It clearly isn't.  Nobody, in the real world, uses 'up' to mean 'behind' and 'down' to mean 'ahead'.  That's a very specialised non-standard meaning.

 

  Therefore any saving in time in saying the word is likely to be counterbalanced by an increase in the mental-processing time required to remember what the word is supposed to mean (especially for anyone new to the terminology).

 

Edit - if one extra syllable is such an issue, what's wrong with 'car front' and 'car back' or 'car rear', eh?  Loses a syllable but still a lot closer to normal language than 'up' and 'down'.

 

(I really am arguing for the sake of it, I realise)

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Pilot Pete [190 posts] 3 weeks ago
4 likes
FluffyKittenofTindalos wrote:
Judge dreadful wrote:

You need  to be giving as much information as possible, with as few words and syllables as possible. “Car up” says, there’s a car, it’s behind us, and moving towards us, in 2 words, and 2 syllables. It’s quicker ( which is key ) than “car behind” ( 2 words, 3 syllables) and that’s what you need, when you’re dealing with 2 tonnes of metal, approaching at speed. Same deal with “car down” rather than “car in front”. The original convention of “car up / Car down” was developed with hills at the forefront of the idea. As that’s when relative speed differentials  ( bikes relative to motorists) is at its greatest. “Car up” = car coming up the hill from behind, “car down” car coming down the hill from in front. There’s an argument about relative positioning ( if you’re heading down hill, and the car is coming up from in front of you, should that not be “car up”?) but you have to choose a convention and stick to it, and the accepted convention is to ignore relative positioning, and that “car up” is approaching from behind, “car down” is car approaching from in front. It’s now found it’s way into the flatter bits of a ride, where the speed differentials shouldn’t be as great, therefore not so much of a problem, but ( I certainly find) that when leading a large group ( 10 or more riders ) the variance in ability and fitness, now makes these calls necessary.

 

But that seems to presume that 'up' is universally and instantly understandable as a synonym for 'behind'.  It clearly isn't.  Nobody, in the real world, uses 'up' to mean 'behind' and 'down' to mean 'ahead'.  That's a very specialised non-standard meaning.

 

  Therefore any saving in time in saying the word is likely to be counterbalanced by an increase in the mental-processing time required to remember what the word is supposed to mean (especially for anyone new to the terminology).

 

Edit - if one extra syllable is such an issue, what's wrong with 'car front' and 'car back' or 'car rear', eh?  Loses a syllable but still a lot closer to normal language than 'up' and 'down'.

 

(I really am arguing for the sake of it, I realise)

You may be, but you make exactly the point I would make. Merely by this conversation taking place is evidence that ‘car up’ and ‘car down’, whilst clear to some is completely confusing to others and therefore a crap way of conveying information clearly.

Up and down in this context make little sense to most and if they have to think through the ridiculous explanation about when a car is going up or down a hill (and even that could be interpreted the opposite way round) then this method is clearly seriously flawed in what it is attempting to convey. If even one rider in the group interprets it incorrectly then the call has failed.

My club used it for a long time and many people who joined started getting it wrong. I then just changed and started calling the obvious ‘car front’ and ‘car back’ which work as designed for EVERYONE without exception. Why anyone would try to claim that up and down are better (just because they have used them for ever and understand them) is beyond me.

Another that irked me was calling ‘clear left/ right’ at a junction. The reason it irked me? Because if it wasn’t clear the same individuals would shout ‘car left/ right’. How easily could those be misheard for each other?!

I once again decided I was not going to use those calls and simply call ‘clear’ if it is and ‘NO!’ If it’s not and I am stopping, especially at short notice (you know when you think it is clear then at the last minute a car comes into sight, usually around a blind bend or going pretty quick?) The ‘NO!’ call is also really good if you have to change an already shouted ‘clear’. When shouted with a bit more volume and urgency it is obvious and reaction inducing for those behind to stop. They don’t need to do any thinking. 

Another variation that I’ve heard locally is ‘below’ for surface defects, especially when you can’t take a hand off the bars to point it out, often with ‘left/ middle/ right’ appended, especially if travelling in a double line. Again I like it as it is very clear and unambiguous.

PP

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crazy-legs [1126 posts] 3 weeks ago
0 likes
Mungecrundle wrote:

"Car down" might make some sense to those in the know but it is an example of elitism and daft in common parlance. It cannot safely be used for anything else. Call out "cycle down" or "pedestrian down" meaning to warn of those specific hazards ahead and most normal people are going to think that someone has crashed or that someone is lying in the road.

Yep, another very good reason for avoiding use of the word "down". Unless you are actually shouting "Rider down!" ie there's been a crash.

Up is universally accepted as being up ahead, upfront, up above, up north.

You get similar issues with calls when you're derny racing on the track and trying to communicate with the pacer on the derny above the engine roar, the noise of the crowd, the windrush and so on. You need clear unambiguous calls so you can't use Go and Slow because they sound too similar. Hup and Woah are usually used instead.

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glenjamin [3 posts] 3 weeks ago
0 likes

The simplest way to avoid up/down/back confusion is to ask at the start of the ride, rather than waiting until it becomes a problem

 

a couple more i’ve Heard which haven’t been mentioned so far:

- half off: reduce the speed a notch so someone at the back can hold the wheel more easily

- all on: everyone is in the wheels after a junction, and whoever is on the front can resume their effort

 

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JohnnyRemo [314 posts] 3 weeks ago
0 likes

Always been "(On the) Nose" and "(On the) Tail" with little ambiguity. Obstacles are "(On the) Left/Right" or occasionally "Middle" - (though I have heard "Underneath" with a resigned sigh) And (unless you are on the track saying you are swinging up) the flicky elbow thing just gets you laughed at...

 

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Pushing50 [200 posts] 3 weeks ago
1 like

Mat, what is the shout or signal for "shit we are riding directly into a brick wall"? 

No mention of it in the article, even though the photographic evidence appears to show that is exactly what is about to happen.

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Mat Brett [679 posts] 3 weeks ago
1 like
Pushing50 wrote:

Mat, what is the shout or signal for "shit we are riding directly into a brick wall"? 

No mention of it in the article, even though the photographic evidence appears to show that is exactly what is about to happen.

Apart from at the end of the 'Stopping' section.

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