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Thursday, June 11, 2009

Non Verbal Communication

One of the things that I like about being part of the 'cyclist family' is the advanced communication systems that we use. Conventional dialogue is not always possible when in single file and when cycling in breathtaking countryside, with natures own orchestra playing in complete surround sound, it often seems rude to talk at risk of disturbing it all.
When I first started cycling my communication techniques were crude.
I would wave enthusiastically at other cyclists like an errant windmill.
As if they would miss me, appearing over the horizon, like a luminous blamonge on wheels.

In return I would receive merely a nod, smile or slight finger movement. With such a modest exclamation I used to feel 'short changed'. I thought that these riders might be arrogant or over restrained, but now I realise the subtleties of this 'Non Verbal' communication.

Minimalism is definitely the current trend.
I have recently mastered my own techniques where I employ 'The Parallel Finger raise' and 'The controlled head tilt'.

'The Parallel Finger raise'
This should be used in all forms of acknowledgement or to show mutual appreciation.
It is usually performed with the right hand where the grip is loosened from the upright position and all fingers are raised simultaneously to an angle of 90 degrees.

'The Controlled head tilt'
This translates as 'Its a great day to be out cycling and your bike looks really cool'
Visual contact is usually made with an oncoming rider, where eyes are locked.
A short 45 degree clockwise rotation of the head then takes place.This should be met with a similar anticlockwise acknowledgement.

I love it all and often spend hours thinking of ways to extend my vocabulary.
When riding in larger groups other signals are used. For the non cyclist reading you will now appreciate how clever we all are.
Here are some of the basic moves:-

1.One hand ‘gently patting an invisible dog’: The whole group should slow down or ease back.
2.Hand straight up in air: Group is stopping for a junction, puncture or because there’s an obstruction.
3.Left or right hand extended: Change in direction ahead or indicating the direction of a turn.
4.Elbow flick: This is more often seen on the track, but it’s sometimes used on the road. It indicates that a rider on the front has finished his turn, is about to pull off and that he would like you to come through.
5.Waving/pointing behind: Indicates there’s an obstruction that the whole group needs to move in the direction indicated to avoid.
6.Pointing down at road: Obstruction on road to avoid, such as road kill, pothole or drain cover.

After all of these basic communication skills have been learnt there is always the option of developing more advanced techniques. These are often very difficult to perform, and are not always appreciated to everybodys satisfaction.
However they can be very useful in heavy urban traffic and are very effective. But please don't try them in front of children!!!


  1. Here in the American midwest I believe the cycling gestures between cyclists are the same as yours, except when approaching an oncoming cyclist, it is common to simply nod once, being careful not to lift your head up too high for fear of being labeled a newbie. However, since most of my riding is by myself, I catch myself flailing with joy when I see another rider.

  2. The forearm accross the eyes could be mistaken for a 70's Disco Dance Move but in Houston its a pathetic attempt to wipe away the rivers of sweat streaming from your head in the 100+ Degrees Heat.

    This is normally followed by the forearm from the other direction. A move made famous by "Adam Ant"

  3. You don't drink. You don't smoke. What do you do? (adam ant)


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