Recently, I got into an argument about whether anyone actually wants to watch or race dual slalom or not. I argued that old school dual slalom - flat turns and a few berms - is one of the best events for spectators and racers alike. My opponent argued that the numbers simply aren't there—sometimes when we run dual slalom stories you can hear the crickets in the comments.
Things got mean, I said some things, he said some things, that I'm simply an American, nostalgic for the days of a national slalom series, and the sport has moved on. There's no arguing that I'm an American, but I will argue that dual slalom, and especially flat grass turn DS, is still awesome, can still be relevant and that I'm hardly the only one that thinks so.
15 years ago, dual slalom was the rage. If there was a DH race in North America, there was likely a DS race as well. The tracks for DS were grassroots - a couple of small berms, some rollers and doubles, flat grass turns with flags, a pneumatic BMX style start gate, and a finish line. It was probably a 30-second run top to bottom, at most. Tracks were easy and cheap to build (making one on most any moderate slope in an afternoon with some friends and hand tools was possible) and almost anyone could race them. It was a "run what you brung" and you'd never be surprised to see a dark horse on a dirt jump bike best a pro on a specially built slalom rig.
Pros and amateurs would race the same track, many times on the same day, and part of the allure was the fun spirit of the event. Things were relatively low risk and someone racing DH wouldn't hesitate to compete as the likelihood of a weekend ending crash was somewhat low.
Times changed and 4x started to push out DS at a lot of events, especially the higher-level races. Sure, it provided good head to head racing, exciting moments for televised coverage which was a driving factor, but it was, in my opinion, too much. Racers were forced to choose between DH or 4x many times because they were afraid of getting hurt and the courses were unrideable by many below an expert level. The courses were also too expensive and time-consuming to build. Not the worst thing if you're looking for a televised spectacle but, in terms of relatability and accessibility, 4x has never been attainable.
Similar on paper, but in reality, worlds apart. 4x involves elaborate courses, more specialized bikes, and higher risk than DS.
Now, both DS and 4x still exist, but I'd argue that neither are what the pioneers imagined. Each is in competition with the other and both are more focused on being an event with television coverage than an event that people actually want to race. 4x courses are few and far between, and DS courses nowadays are overbuilt, focused on being yet another event at an already busy Crankworx, etc... Now, there's no denying that a perfectly sculpted DS course is a work of art, and it can provide good spectating, it's just not good old-fashioned, unpredictable dual slalom.
In its more grassroots form, dual slalom is a great form of competition. It's a pure, head-to-head, skilled drag race. It's great because no matter how bad the course is, the racing is going to be good...all of the riders are riding on the edge. Flat turns make things unpredictable and the consequences of going over the limit are usually washing out a front wheel. There are storybook upsets where the best rider can lose to an underdog and the race isn't over 'til it's over. It's any person's sport and it's absolutely still relevant.
I will argue that if we went more back to the roots of dual slalom where courses were simplified - tracks that could be built in a day and raced more by the masses, more people would want to not only race but also watch dual slalom, making it not just relevant but rad.
It's clear how I feel about this, but what's your take? Take the poll and discuss in the comments below.