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Coaching E-Zine - Snaking a Traffic Management Technique by Ian Bailey

:  Ian Bailey
Date:  03rd September 2014

Snaking - A Traffic Management Technique

As a leader and guide on mountain bikes, one of the most daunting tasks I face is stopping my groups from getting killed whilst riding road sections to and from the trails.  When operating as a leader I very much see it as my duty to keep the group safe but also educate them on the best ways to act on the road.

There are various techniques I use, in this article I’m going to explore ‘snaking’.

What the hell is that? 

Good question!  Snaking is a way of getting the group to ride like a ‘snake’ in close proximity single file with no gaps allowed so they are a single entity and therefore more visible and a more tangible object to overtake.  It requires two leaders (or yourself and the most sensible group member).  I tend to brief the other leader to ride at the front at a steady pace that everyone can easily maintain and then tell the rest of the group to stay in single file between us. 

The front leader then maintains the pace and warns of any oncoming traffic as well as using appropriate hand signals to indicate left turns or road surface dangers etc (make sure they know what direction they’re going).

The rear leader is able to shout instructions, warn of overtaking traffic and position themselves to protect the group.  I ride on the shoulder of the rearmost member of the group, two abreast so any traffic approaching from behind has to slow and is then able to see the size of the group.  Once they have slowed to a sensible speed I pull in to make it easy for them to get past.  I never stay two abreast for long.  In my opinion this is a sure-fire way to annoy drivers and force them to overtake in more marginal spots which puts the group in much greater risk.

This tends to work very effectively, even on my local County Down roads where people often like to drive extremely fast despite the numerous sharp bends, blind crests and narrow lanes with big hedges either side.  The snaking keeps the group from spreading and becoming several objects to get past.

But what about turning off the road?

Turning left is easy.  The leader at the front sticks their arm out to signal, the rear leader comes forward to the stop or give way line, progressing down the right side of the snake.  This is done on approach to the junction.  Riders turn left when safe to do so and is joined again at the back by the rear leader once everyone gone through successfully.

Turning right and crossing the highway is more dangerous and requires careful handling.  This is where the rear leader needs a bit of fitness!  As you approach the turn off, the rear leader sprints to the front, checks the road is clear and then positions themselves across the opposite lane effectively blocking the way for traffic. The leader should look for a gap in the traffic which will allow the whole group to move out. Obviously a bit of judgement is required here as it can be dangerous to stand in the middle of the road and also we don’t actually have the authority to direct traffic. However, in my experience drivers tend to be very co-operative in this instance.  Once in position, you can wave the group across the road still being lead by the front leader and once everyone is safely over you can resume your original position at the back of the group and recover from your sprint effort!

Just a couple of other things to bear in mind.

Sometimes it’s easier and safer for the group to dismount bikes and cross the road on foot, particularly on busy roads or if they are a bit wobbly on the bikes.

Sometimes the snake has to break to cross roads in smaller groups.  Use your experience and discretion and send the front leader with the largest group.

Be very clear with directions like where you want the group to be positioned and the speed for them to move at and don’t be afraid to be a disciplinarian.  The road isn’t the ideal place for laissez-faire leadership.

For traffic lights, pelican crossings and zebra crossings the rear leader again comes to the front to control the riders in case it’s necessary to stop.

And finally…

Once you’ve got the arduous task of getting to the trails over with it’s time to go shred!  Just don’t forget that with tired minds and bodies to deal with you’ll need to be extra vigilant and skilled to keep the snaking effective on the way home.

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