How do Self-Canceling Turn Signals work?

If I had a cent/penny for every time I forgot to turn off my turn signal or indicator if you are in the UK, this article wouldn’t exist, as I’d be on my yacht! I never knew I needed or wanted self-canceling indicators until I used them. As you will see below, plenty of complex solutions are available for replacing your forgetful thumb!

Funny enough, plenty of riders have self-canceling on their bikes but don’t even know they are installed, as they are so mentally programmed to manually control their indicator or blinkers as some people call them.

How do they work…

When you activate either your left or right indicator, this triggers a timer that will self-cancel the indicator after a pre-set interval (8-10 seconds). In addition, some systems combine the timer with distance feedback (200-500 meters) from the front wheel, canceling the indicator based on whichever pre-set measurement comes first.

Are systems different between manufacturers?

Yes, with cheaper systems using a switch/sensor-based near the handlebar steering yoke, that triggers once the handlebars return to their natural position, canceling the indicator. Not the most reliable system due to the dynamics of steering a bike, and lack of actual steering input, especially in long sweeping bends (roundabout entry), when you tend to just shift your weight to turn. Cheaper systems are marketed as a “cool” feature on some smaller bikes and scooters, keeping the bean counters happy, as very little hardware is needed.

Fortunately, most of the better manufacturers use a combination of an electronic timer and wheel speed/distance sensor which is much more reliable. The only difference between the manufacturers using the timer and wheel sensor system are the parameters for the time and distance.

The good news…

Normally these parameters can also be set within a certain range by the dealers if the customer is not happy with the default setup.

If we look at the BMW system called “Comfort Turn” used on the SR 1000R, these are the parameters:
Speed below 30 km/h: after 50 m distance covered. Speed between 30 km/h and 100 km/h: after a speed-dependent distance covered or in case of acceleration. Speed over 100 km/h: after flashing five times.

Harley Davidson has used self-canceling turn signals on some of its models for over a decade. They use a timer in combination with a tilt or bank angle sensor. When the bike becomes upright after turning, the sensor triggers.

That said…

We are now starting to see self-canceling indicator systems that are also incorporating the lean angle sensor on the bike. If you activate the indicator at speeds under X MPH it will self-cancel based on the lean angle after completing the turn. If you activate the indicator over X MPH then it will self-cancel after pre-set distance, very trick!

How safe are self-canceling indicators?

Like many aspects of riding, this is a matter of opinion. The most negative feedback I have heard and read online from riders is more about the timing of the indicator being canceled. Either staying on too long or not turning off soon enough.

I had a good look around Google, and to be honest, the only articles I could find that specifically mentioned safety and the negative impact of using self-canceling indicators, were from manufacturers selling their own alternative indicator or feedback systems.