Beautiful weather, amazing scenery and great roads mean that California is one of the greatest places on earth to be an automotive enthusiast, and Mulholland Drive encapsulates this perfectly. Its smooth tarmac, challenging turns and incredible views over Los Angeles attracts drivers and riders from all over the state.
But over the last few weeks, we’ve seen an incredible amount of accidents on this iconic road. From spinning MX-5s to rolling Lexus RC-Fs, it’s been a busy month for the Highway Patrol. But it’s not just the guys on four wheels who have been getting into accidents. Bikers have long been getting caught out by Mulholland’s demanding twists and turns.
After watching numerous videos of bikers falling off, it led us to question why. I mean, the road doesn’t seem to be that fast, the tarmac looks grippy, and because the challenging ‘snake’ section where all the action takes place isn’t that long, it looks fairly easy to learn. So what is it exactly that is causing so many accidents among bikers?
Sports bike riders (myself included) are quite an excitable bunch. For example, if the weather is good, and you’ve just discovered a new, incredible road, you want to go hard from the off. You tell yourself that superbikes are meant to be ridden quickly, that they’re not designed for a leisurely jaunt in the country. So you up your pace, and push your limits a little further. But on unfamiliar roads, this is often a recipe for disaster.
On first assessment, this seems to be one of the major problems on Mulholland. Riders with limited knowledge of the road are pushing themselves to go faster and faster, which consequently gets them into trouble. For example, in the video above, the rider of this Ducati Monster is on the wrong line and carries far too much speed into the corner. Realising that he’s not going to make the turn, he picks the bike up, stands on the rear brake and promptly throws himself into the guardrail. Then again at least he wasn’t thrown over the guardrail like this guy below.
Had the rider on the Ducati just reduced his speed slightly, and looked through the bend, he would have easily made the corner. And because ‘the snake’ is a relatively short road, he could have turned around and practiced the corner repeatedly. Ultimately, working your way up to quick pace is the only way to ride safely.
Most of the crashes on Mulholland take place at Edwards Corner, the undesignated finish line of the snake. Due to the high number of local bystanders and visiting cameramen, riders tend to push their luck through the final turn. Ironically, the corner looks to be fairly straightforward, and is perfect for getting your knee, and occasionally your elbow down. It is a constant radius uphill bend that has just the right amount of positive camber to produce good levels of grip.
Unfortunately, all these elements encourage riders to push harder and harder. And one of the places that catches the inexperienced out is the exit of the corner. On the exit, the camber levels off, but riders are often still carrying high lean angles. The more experienced pick their bikes up aggressively which allows them to get hard on the power safely.
The inexperienced riders on the other hand fail to pick the bike up and get on the throttle way too early, which leads to a rear-end slide. As the rear tyre re-grips, riders are highsided over the top of the bike. A highside is a motorcyclist’s worst nightmare, as the rider experiences an impact from height; not pretty. There are numerous videos of this happening on YouTube, but you only need to watch one to release that wearing full protection is an absolute must.
If you’re going to crash a motorcycle, a lowside is much nicer experience than a highside. This is where the front (or occasionally rear) tyre loses traction and washes out, dropping you from a low height. Unlike the highside, you don’t have as far to fall, so injuries are usually less severe.
Lowsides on Mulholland are far more common than highsides. This is because Edwards Corner demands quite a lot from the front tyre. The top riders can experience more then 50 degrees of lean at times. Once again accidents appear to occur on the exit where the camber drops away. The guy in the video above also demonstrates that helmet mohawks make you look even more of an idiot when you crash. Avoid.
The old adage of “look where you want to go” has never been more appropriate. It’s absolutely crucial on tight and twisty roads like Mulholland, as it helps you avoid being caught out by the target fixation phenomenon; this is where you look at the object you want to avoid, only to steer right into it.
For example, the poor guy in the video above is doing everything right. He’s wearing the right gear, his bike looks well maintained, and his body positioning is good. But at the 13 second mark he has a bit of a wobble, which makes him the sit the bike up. At this point he’s moved his point of focus from the exit of the corner, to the wall he’s about to hit. He closes the throttle and runs wide onto the dirt, where he experiences quite a violent tumble. Luckily, his gear does a great job and he walks away seemingly uninjured.
This next example (above) is probably the worst crash we’ve seen in a long time, and shows just how dangerous target fixation can be. The rider isn’t travelling very fast and isn’t carrying much lean, so really, there is no need for an accident to occur. But at the three second mark the rider spots a cyclist on the outside of the corner. Instead of simply turning in harder to avoid the cyclist, he fixates on his unintentional target and rides straight into him. The biker had a whole 2.5 seconds to avoid the cyclist, but instead panicked and caused a truly horrific accident.
This video shows how you can go from having the best day ever, to having arguably your worst in a matter of seconds. This biker seems to be having a fairly sensible blast in the Californian sun, when out of nowhere he spots the LAPD.
Instead of accepting his fate, most likely a speeding ticket, he makes things a whole lot worse for himself by grabbing the front brake and having an embarrassing crash in front of the police. So instead of a simple fine, he also has dented pride and a wrecked bike. Oh dear.
This is contentious, but some riders almost deserve to have an accident. This guy in particular gets our vote. Wearing flip flops, shorts and an open-face helmet already makes him look like a complete douchebag. Riding a Honda Elite like it’s a MotoGP bike adds to the embarassment when he quickly stuffs it into the barrier.
All jokes aside, wearing full gear is an absolute must. At 30mph it only takes three seconds to wear through flesh to bone. If you are thinking of going out for a quick blast, do yourself a favour and ensure that you invest in some high quality leathers.
After all these videos you might think that this twisty piece of Californian asphalt is best to be avoided. But to think that would be to completely miss the point. It is possible to ride Mulholland quickly and safely. Riders like Adey Bennett (Adeysworld) show what is possible when you’ve mastered the ‘the snake’; he’s often seen getting his elbow down Marc Marquez style and his instructional videos can be very informative.
However, our advice would be to come at the snake, or any fast road for that matter, with a lot of respect. Even Valentino Rossi crashes, so why are you any different? Work your way up to a comfortable speed, experiment with your body positioning and if possible, get tuition. And most importantly, it is absolutely essential that you wear the correct gear. You should always buy the best that you can afford.
So with those tips, book your plane ticket to LA, and go out and get riding.