How Do You Communicate When Cycling: Apps, hand signals, and intercoms


As a rider who typically cycles alone, I often forget how difficult it can be to communicate with other cyclists. My partner and I recently went for a bikepacking trip and it reminded me how hard pointing out potholes, shouting directions, or even having a chat can be while riding a bike. After we got back I took a look at all the options that are recommended by cyclists to help with communication and thought I would try and make it easier for all of you. So, how do you communicate while cycling?

The most popular method of communicating with other cyclists is simply by talking or shouting at them, however, other options can be much better, such as cycling apps, hand signals, or cycling intercoms. If you do not have access to these, try cycling side by side on quiet roads as this will make talking easier.

So, we’ve established that the most popular way of communicating on a bike is old-fashioned shouting, but what other options are out there? I take a look at the different cycling apps and intercoms, as well as tips to make talking on a bike easier in the rest of the article.

How do you communicate while biking?

How do people communicate while cycling?

As I started my research I realized there were lots of different options out there for communicating with other cyclists while out on a ride, but with so many options I wondered how many of them are actually being used.

I asked a large group of regular cyclists, made up of both road cyclists and bikepackers whether or not they used any tools for this on their trips.

As you can see, shouting is by far the most common way that cyclists talk to each other, but does this mean that this is the best option?

General Tips

We’ve established that talking or shouting to one another as you cycle is the most common way of communicating with other cyclists, so I asked those cyclists what measures they take to make things easier.

Cycle side by side

Cycling side by side instead of in single file can significantly improve communication between cyclists. Not only does cycling side by side reduce the distance you need to talk over, but cycling next to each also allows you both to turn your heads to each other as you speak, something you can’t do while cycling single file.

Cycle closer together

It might sound obvious, but cycling closer together is another good way to more effectively talk to other cyclists. Cycling closer together, be that behind another cyclist or alongside them can make your voice clearer and easier to understand.

Cycle on less busy roads

Choosing a route that allows you to ride on quieter roads will make talking as your cycle an easier task. Background noise from cars or other motor vehicles can really interfere when trying to talk as you cycle, especially on roads where cars are driving quickly. As well as this, roads with fewer cars allow you to cycle close together and side by side.

Reduce wind noise

By cycling with the wind at your back rather than directly into it, not only is cycling itself easier, but you can also reduce how much wind noise you will have as you ride. Wind noise can interfere as you talk to other riders and make it harder to hear what they are saying, so by reducing this you can make your chatting easier.

Cycle at a slower pace

Cycling at a slower pace will help you reduce the wind noise as we have previously discussed, but by cycling at a slower speed, you are also likely to be less out of breath. Talking when out of breath is harder than when you are not, and so by going at a slower pace you will have more lung capacity for talking more clearly and loudly.

Gestures and hand signals

Due to the challenges of directly talking to other cyclists, some groups will decide to use hand signals or gestures when riding. When using these it is best to agree on any phrases or signals in advance with your riding group so that you all know what each other means with your hand signals.

MeaningAction
Signaling for a turnSignal to the right or left with a fully extended arm
StopHand down, palm facing rear
Pointing out Obstacle e.g. Pot hole or glassFinger points, down, at a line that leads into the hole
Slow DownPlace your hand out to the side, palm facing down, and slowly move your hand up and down.
Overtaking or moving around an obstacleIf overtaking a car on your left, use your left arm to point right behind your back (see GCN video for more details)

It is also important when riding in a group that all riders know that if the rider in front uses a signal, then you too should copy that. This allows the signal or message to be passed down to the whole group without any issues.

You can see a few of the more generally accepted hand signals in the table above. Also, try taking a look at this video from GCN where they show you some of these hand signals in action, as well as take a more detailed look into the topic.

Apps

If you are cycling with a group of friends then you can try using your phone to either directly call a cycling partner or start a group call using an app such as WhatsApp.

This is a workable option as it allows you to talk directly with the cyclists you are riding with, without requiring you to spend extra money on devices such as cycling intercoms.

The main issue with using a phone to communicate while cycling is that you have to either have good signal in the area that you are cycling in (which is not always the case on smaller country roads). It also means you are prone to background wind noise.

If you plan to do this, the best way is to combine your phone with a pair of wireless headphones (more expensive headphones may even be able to remove background wind noise) which can help to improve the clarity.

Some apps are specifically designed to help communicate as you cycle, you can see the most popular options in the table below.

AppSummary
Senna RideConnected AppTurns any smartphone into a Bluetooth intercom using cellular data to connect devices
WhatsAppGeneral mobile messaging app that allows a group or individual calls as well as location tracking
IntercomAn app that allows you to place group calls with other devices over Bluetooth and Wifi.
HelmChatAn app initially designed for motorbike riders that allow groups of up to 75 riders to talk via Bluetooth or cellular data. Active noise canceling.

Cycling Intercoms

If you want the best option for communicating with your riding partner, then a cycling intercom might be the choice for you.

Cycling intercoms are devices that sit inside your helmet or against your ear, giving you a direct line to the other devices linked to it. These allow options such as push-to-talk conversations or multigroup conversations.

What are the advantages of a cycling intercom?What are the disadvantages of a cycling intercom?
Reduces the chance of losing your riding partner, if you are cycling ahead your partner can tell you to slow downRange limited in built-up areas
Allows you to talk about interesting things you are passingThe battery can run out
Able to quickly warn other cyclists about upcoming obstaclesWearing an intercom can impair your hearing for other dangers

What are the different types of cycling intercoms?

Bluetooth intercom’s

Bluetooth intercoms such as this one found on amazon, are the most modern version of bike intercoms, and often the most popular. This is because they are paired to a phone, allowing you to listen to music or hear directions simultaneously as you talk to the other cyclists you are with.

Working through your phone also means that many people find them easier to use than radio intercoms (they are more similar to other devices you might have used before like wireless headphones). You also don’t have to worry about any technical problems such as selecting the correct radio channel.

On top of this, the headset itself can either be fitted directly to your helmet or ear meaning that they come in a wireless version (something not available on radio intercoms).

The main issue with Bluetooth intercoms is that they require a line of sight for the best signal and have a much more limited range than radio intercoms. On top of this, some users complain that they can be uncomfortable on your ear or imbalance your helmet.

Radio intercom’s

Radio intercoms are the more traditional intercom, and are now somewhat outdated. However, there are some key advantages, mostly that they work over a much longer range and are much cheaper.

However, I think the negatives of these types of devices outweigh the positives. First of all, you need to carry a completely separate radio system to use them, they do not have wireless options and often the sound is a lower clarity.

On top of this, you are unable to listen to music through the device as you use it (unlike Bluetooth options), and the radio frequency you are using is not necessarily secure, anyone can listen to your conversation if they have a device on the same frequency.

Overall

As you can see, there are many different options available to help communicate on a bike. At the end of the day, the majority of cyclists still just try talking to one another normally, and this will hopefully work for you too, but if not, maybe consider an intercom, especially if you are doing a long-distance ride with only one other rider.

If you are planning a trip like this with a partner, take a look at my article here where I look into the best 2-person bikepacking tents.

Mark Holmes

30-year-old doctor with an interest in cycling, bikepacking, and statistics.

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