On any given Sunday, The Snake is overrun by drivers and motorcyclists. They’ve been hitting this spot 30 miles northwest of Hollywood for decades, but it became a hot destination in the 1960s when Steve McQueen started blasting through Mulholland on his Triumph. The road’s popularity grew over the years, and even an aggressive crackdown on speeding and a temporary shuttering of the road in the 1990s did little to slow the The Snake’s popularity. These days it isn’t uncommon to see celebrities like Jay Leno motoring through in six-figure cars. But it’s the motorcyclists you’ll see most often.
The 180-degree hairpin is the unofficial finish line of The Snake. You’ll find a contingent of spectators there each weekend, most of them with cameras. That encourages showboating and unchecked ego. And that means countless crashes. Last year, the California Highway Patrol responded to 43 crashes in the 300-square-mile area that includes The Snake, but that number doesn’t even begin to tell the story. For that, you need to check out YouTube.
A search of “motorcycle crash” with “Edwards Corner” or “The Snake” brings up thousands of hits. Most of them involve rookies with more ego than skill, who quickly find themselves in over their heads.
“Riders treat The Snake like a skate park for motorcycles,” says Ken Snyder, a frequent rider who shoots video at Edwards Corner on Sundays during the summer. “Most who crash are inexperienced and pushing themselves. Even though they have seen countless crashes, it seems everyone learns the hard way.”
Snyder has been filming at Edwards Corner for more than four years, posting videos that highlight brilliant riders and hamfisted n00bs. His videos, under the handleRNickeyMouse on YouTube, have garnered tens of millions of views, but the ones that attract the most eyeballs are the most chilling, including a terrifying crash involving a Suzuki rider and two cyclists last year.
“There are trickier sections,” says Adey Bennett, a regular known among riders as The King of the Hill. “But [Edwards Corner] is where people push it — in front of the bystanders. They pussy-foot it through the rest of The Snake and then showboat through that last corner.”
Bennett says Edwards Corner is not a tough one. It’s an uphill bend with a constant radius and positive camber, meaning the road’s angle is steady and the surface is tilted inward. The riders who go down tend to hit the corner way too fast, realize they’re in over their heads, fixate on the guard rail, and slam right into it. Just as often, though, riders get too greedy with the throttle on the way out, causing the rear end to slide. Beginners and squids tend to jump off the throttle or lay on the brakes, causing the bike to go wide and forge a trail into the hillside. The skilled riders come down from speed before the turn, lean in, and roll on the gas after the apex — keeping their eyes on the exit the entire time.
“The reason why most people crash on this turn is because they don’t know how to assess the type of corner they’re riding on,” says Bennett. “It’s such a simple turn when you see it done well, but people make it so complicated.”Snyder’s videos show exactly how, in excruciating detail. A playlist of 79 clips shows every type of rider imaginable making every type of mistake imaginable. Lowsides on Harleys, highsides on Ducatis, and the occasional car crash. But through it all, there’s an air of camaraderie, with riders helping each other pull bikes from ditches as others slow incoming traffic and even sweep up dirt and debris to prevent another crash.
Most of these crashes are never officially recorded. For every motorcycle crash in the CHP’s log, another half dozen never come to their attention — until they see them on YouTube.
“We estimate that at least 60 to 70 percent of [motorcycle crashes] are unreported,” says Officer Leland Tang of the CHP’s public information office. “We look at the videos ourselves, and there were two months where I saw bunch of crashes on YouTube and looked at our collision stats and didn’t see any reported.”
It’s not as if the troopers and the local sheriff’s deputies don’t know Edwards is a hot corner, or The Snake a popular destination. They’re often out there, patrolling the road, waiting for riders to cross the center line or go off road. But the sheer size of the area they patrol means they have to limit the amount of time they spend on any one section of road.
As special as The Snake is to riders, crashes happen along all of Mulholland. And despite the road’s propensity for eating machines, people continue to come back.
“A fast one-way lap from the bottom up takes about two minutes and 15 seconds,” says Bennett. “That’s fast. And it’s very, very entertaining.”