Throwback Thursday: 5 Mountain Bike Race Formats That Never Caught On

Nov 26, 2020
by James Smurthwaite  
While downhill, cross country and, more recently, enduro have established themselves as the main disciplines of mountain bike racing, there have been plenty of other ways to see who can ride fastest under a variety of convoluted formats. Today, we also have formats such as dual speed and style, cross country eliminator and mountain bike orienteering but there have been plenty of other left-field formats that fell by the wayside in the past 30 years. Here are five of the best and an explanation of why they couldn't stand the test of time.

Red Bull Wide Open


What's the format?

In July 2014, Red Bull's Wide Open was supposed to combine the technicality and speed of downhill with the amplitude of freeride and the head-to-head racing of 4X. Six riders would line up in the gates and face a course that was claimed to contain, "60’ gaps, massive 20’ berms, wallrides, and technical rock waterfalls." A 500-metre course had to be specially built in Livigno, Italy and Red Bull had a strong list of confirmed athletes attending from a wide range of disciplines (a full list can be found, here). This was supposed to be an event that would "determine who is truly the top gravity racer in the world", but unfortunately it never got past the planning stage.

What Happened Next?

Work began on the huge course but unfortunately, the local authorities had other ideas. Reports on what actually happen seem to vary but it's clear that an aspect of the track building went against the specifications set out by the authorizations and the Livigno Forestry Service called for the race to be cancelled. A look at the 90% finished course can be found on Dirt Mag, here.

That was the end of the line for the Wide Open race but Red Bull got its chance to pit downhill racers and freeriders against each other on a huge course with the inception of Hardline later that year.



Dual Snow Speed


What's the format?

Have you seen those mountain bike record speed attempts where riders dress up like they're modelling for a 'specialist' catalog and throw themselves down a ski piste? This is similar to that but as a head-to-head race format. It was a feature of the Winter X Games in the late 90s alongside Biker X (basically 4X on snow) and Snow Downhill racing. The video above is the 1997 final between Jurgen Beneke and Joe Lawwill that includes some in-depth, aero-tuck analysis.

What Happened Next?

Mountain biking has never had a successful history with the X-Games and the same was true for its Winter counterpart. The Games now mainly cater for snowboarding, skiing and snowmobile while mountain biking went the way of shovel sledding, ice climbing and snow skating and got booted from the program.



Super D


What's the format?

Designed to capture the best bits of downhill and cross country, Super D served as an early form of enduro racing in North America. It was a one-stage, time trial format with courses between 6-12 minutes and designed to be ridden on trail bikes with some flat or uphill sections. The best way to think of it is as a less technical Garbanzo or a Megavalanche without the mass start or maybe simply, a one stage enduro race.

What Happened Next?

Enduro happened next. Although enduro had been raced in Europe for around 15 years, it took a while to make it over the Pond. When it did, racers realised they could get 5 or more Super D races in one go and the longer format quickly took over. For more info on the two formats, there's a breakdown with Joe Lawwill on Bike Mag, here.



Red Bull Road Rage


What's the format?

First thought up in 2001 by Giant's Jon Mesko, the Red Bull Road Rage pitted four racers on any bike against each other in a road downhill race. The race first happened in 2005 with Myles Rockwell taking the win ahead of Eric Carter and John Wicke. The event was scheduled again for 2006 but fire safety concerns caused it to be cancelled. Courses ranged from 1-5km in length with average gradients ranging from 6.5-11%.

What Happened Next?

In 2008, the series moved to Europe and changed from being invite-only to open to the public. Races were held up until 2013 with rounds in France, Germany, Switerland, Italy, Israel, Lativia, Poland and more. The series ended in 2014 and hasn't been run since.



Dual Downhill


What's the format?

Dual slalom meets downhill with World Cup racers charging down a ski piste and over jumps. What it lacked in rhythm sections and tight berms, it made up for in high speeds and big air. Dual downhill was a fixture at the first-ever X-Games in 1995, when it was still called the Extreme Games, where Robert "Fig" Naughton took gold.

What Happened Next?

As with Dual Snow Speed, Dual Downhill didn't stick around for long. In 1996, the event name Extreme Games officially changes to the X Games and, although it still takes place in Newport, R.I, kiteskiing, windsurfing and mountain biking are replaced by wakeboarding.


92 Comments

  • 214 2
 I was going to say Pinkbike Academy, but then I realised that all of the above have a common denominator; people actually race bikes in those...
  • 9 0
 Ooooohhhhh what whaaat? :o
  • 8 0
 amen
  • 6 0
 amazing thank you
  • 48 0
 Super D = Down Country Racing
  • 9 0
 Now that you've mentioned it...
  • 5 1
 Super D is not dead and will never die because of necessity. There are lots of great downhills with short climbing sections so if you want to race them it has to be a Super D.
  • 26 2
 @DoubleCrownAddict: I'll show you a super D
  • 4 1
 Barely. XCO courses are tougher than that, these days.
  • 50 5
 Couple of years, Dual Speed and style to be added to the shitlist.
  • 29 6
 Absolutely. What a terrible event.
  • 8 1
 @JonnyTheWeasel: i actually really like speed and style, why is it so hated?
  • 17 5
 @Jaib06: It's just really boring to watch and makes no sense.
  • 36 1
 The future of ebike racing.
  • 36 2
 Just bring back 4X
  • 2 1
 4X Pro Tour exists,without the UCI or Red Bull,as everyone dreamed.
Does anyone gives a sh!t about it? No.
  • 5 0
 @nozes: in europe only
  • 25 0
 Oh man I would not want to go up against someone called John Wicke in a road race
  • 11 0
 as long as his dog is fine, you're good.. don't worry..
  • 26 4
 I think the only reason Super D didnt take off, is that it was called Super D.
still, Enduro is a pretty stupid name too.

Climbing under your own steam, at your own pace, with sections, that predominantly descend as fast as your little legs will pedal.

i would have gone with "Mountain biking"
  • 24 1
 We need more mass start dh/ enduro events. So much fun to watch.
  • 14 1
 The Foxhunt in N. Ireland Rostrevor was absolutely epic. 450+ riders being chased down by Red Bull Athletes.

www.youtube.com/watch?v=leSMTg-l4ns
  • 15 0
 I like the idea of the Dual Downhill, but it needs to be on World Cup tracks! 2 start gates with a short sprint into the main course & then litter the course with alternate lines to aid overtaking opportunities (they managed different sections in the recent World Cup races at the same venues after all) or tape tracks a little wider. Imagine the battles and the inside-French-line-shithousery!
  • 5 0
 There was a 4 man Downhill sponsored by Redbull at Night held at Innerleithen in the 00's That was crazy to watch!
  • 1 0
 Red Bull are you listening, THIS!!
  • 1 0
 That sounds amazing. It also sounds like a recipe for absolute carnage.
  • 15 2
 Can we add Eliminator to this list?
  • 17 2
 Only if you've tidied your room. What did your mom say?
  • 9 2
 @Neale78: mum said to ask you
  • 3 1
 @Neale78: Dang that's funny stuff lol
  • 1 0
 I wouldn't say Eliminator never caught on but more the bikes evolved enough to make it redundant.
  • 9 0
 No shit MTB never sparked at X games when the dual snow speed thing was the effort.
  • 6 0
 You mean you don't want to watch people go fast down a straight hill where the most extreme part is trying to avoid a crash in the ruts AFTER the finish line?
  • 5 0
 I would like to see some kind cross over between DS and trials. So racing each other over a technical trail where putting a foot down costs you seconds (pedal grabs are ok). It wouldn't be on a true trials course as it would be way too dangerous but well, something middle ground where the likes of Akrigg would shine. Not necessarily a descending trail as I like technical climbing too. So probably just a loop. If it takes off, it would breed an amazing new generation of technical riders.
  • 1 0
 Have you every come across references to "Scott trials"? It is a very similar format to what you describe. They have them for moto, and back in the 90s they had a few for MTB as well. I agree the format has come really cool elements and would allow a whole other group of versatile riders to shine.
  • 5 0
 'Some real super D action' doesnt make me think of mountain biking but something else.... And road rage just looks like a race down to Morzine for a Mutzig on an average late afternoon.
  • 3 0
 A coincidence surely, but I happened to read your username as @BombDatAss
  • 4 1
 I thought road rage was kind of neat when it started. I came from riding road bikes first and I thought it was neat seeing the top mtb pros of the time lining up with some pro roadies. My favorite part of the first one was Brian Lopes in full aero kit with fairings bolted to his mtb getting demolished by Myles Rockwell on a bone stock Giant road bike.
  • 2 0
 with bald tires...
  • 2 0
 watching the '95 DH vid made me wonder : is there a jump evolution documentary out there ? answering questions like : who jumped first ?( Klunkers ?) who made the best jump and where is it ? a search for the best jump , things like that ?? i'd watch that !!!
  • 2 0
 Brakeless downhill...I seem to recall at Bromont, pre-hydraulic rim brakes, liquified rim brake pads during races...the odd rim ground down to failure thickness. Halfway down the course, running mainly brakeless. Good times in the early 90's.
  • 9 8
 how was it possible to race these small wheels ... looks like they had some sort of 26ish bmx bikes to race on back in the days... I wonder if they even had fun riding such small wheels... can someone help me? are there even bikes with 26" wheels nowadays?
  • 2 14
flag Neale78 (Nov 26, 2020 at 2:17) (Below Threshold)
 "Even" ain't no country I've ever heard of. They speak English in Even?
  • 9 1
 No, don't worry, that's just a story people tell. 26" wheels aren't real.
  • 6 3
 The only myth is '26 is dead', which is particularly vexing after all this time. What do you think are on DJ, Slopestyle, trials and some freeride setups? They're still the most versatile wheel size, and probably always will be.
  • 3 0
 @Neale78: True. I have never ridden anything on my 29er or 650 b that I couldn't ride on my 26" bike. I do have to admit that the newer geometry makes a bigger difference than the wheel sizes.
  • 2 0
 Just finished rebuilding my 2010 Cannondale Rize with 26”; it was real fun to ride it then, and it still is !
Like riding my 26 dirtjump bike, my 27 Enduro bike and the 29 XC racer.
  • 5 0
 Wait what they had head cams with live footage in 1995 ?!?!?!??!
  • 2 0
 Yeah it was a massive camera bolted to the side of your helmet
  • 2 0
 @WayneParsons: The Collective (2004 IIRC) was filmed on 16mm, even the helmet cam footage. It wasn't just big, it was also noisy. If you watch the extras on the dvd, you see Romaniuk wear it ("Woah, it's like a hardcore song"). That said, 16mm wasn't the main standard, even back in 1995. Didn't they use video8 or so back then? These cassettes were smaller than a standard music cassette and the cameras could fit in your hand. Not as small as a modern action cam indeed, but far from massive.
  • 3 0
 The first race I did about 10 Years ago was a Snow Dual Slalom and I always find that race format funny because you can go all in with minimal Risk imo
  • 5 0
 I still ride my 2001 Straight8!!!
  • 1 0
 The first winter x games mtb racing was in big bear. We had. Dual slalom, and speed biking. I still cannot find footage. I thought it was fun, 280 sheet metal screws for slalom in tires. 180 spikes for speed. My bikes broke, but it still was awesome to compete in
  • 1 0
 QTMBC organised their own version of a Super D back in ??2014?? using the gondola & bikepark in Queenstown, NZ.

Six of getting the gondola up and riding a preset mix of blue & black trails back down again, as many laps as possible. Solo or teams. The descent included a short pinch climb, so most competitors rode long travel trail/enduro bikes

My mate & I did the 6hr, alternating laps. Had a great time, but could barely move the following day, ha-ha!
  • 1 0
 There was the Downhill Mania format at Snow Summit with 4 riders on course at a time. That was fun to do. There were some local races that came up with shortened versions of the same thing, which made it more spectator friendly.

Also, the Reebok Eliminator with 2 racers going head to head down a 50+mph racetrack. That was televised in the early-mid 90’s and had a pretty good cash purse if I remember right.
  • 2 0
 Is the "wide open" track actually what you can see from the Gondola in Livigno? I was always wondering what kind of a track had been built there and is now overgrowing.
  • 4 0
 Never underestimate man's ability to find stupid ways to compete
  • 2 0
 Guiness records book proves you right about a billion times.
  • 1 0
 I cant quite remember what format it was (2x/6x...) but there used to be the Slam races in Central Park, Plymouth. That was pretty chaotic over a very short and not too technical track! Not seen anything like it since.
  • 2 0
 Anybody remember Red Bull Rockdrop? The gold mine race in New Zealand I think it was?

I still watch the teaser trailer for that from time to time it takes me back
  • 1 0
 Anyone remember the Australian Plant X winter games DH/4X style mtb race from the early 2000s? gnarly stuff.

www.flickr.com/photos/planetxau/767753054/in/photostream
  • 1 0
 I love head to head racing like 4X, but that dual snow speed is probably the most boring race format I ever saw. the other stuff doesn't look too bad, even tho I also don't remember road rage as too interesting when watching
  • 4 0
 Reminds me of the days when mountain biking was weird. Stay weird people
  • 1 0
 The announcers on the Dual Downhill video! Sound like they saw maybe the practice run, were handed a paper with a few stats, and that was all they’d ever seen of MTB before.
  • 2 0
 The Wide Open format looks amazing. It would be an awesome spectator sport. Road Rage looks properly terrifying.
  • 3 0
 You forgot e-bike racing.
  • 4 0
 Yeah the FIM e bike race on the motocross track was awesome
  • 1 0
 Great article, brings back some memories. I think of all these the Road Rage read bike event was the most interesting. It died in the US but they did some over in Europe.
  • 1 0
 Ok the Redbull Road Rage event looks really fun. Turn it into a sort of urban DH/4x/slalom jibbing race and you could have a winner, with a lot of liability insurance.
  • 2 0
 There were also uphill races in the early 90s, often bottom to top at a ski area.
  • 2 0
 Lets just resurrect Klunker racing. No suspension, one gear, any course, fastest time of multiple tries wins.
  • 1 0
 Red Bull sponsored a dh race down in an active gold mine in New Zealand - www.pinkbike.com/news/red-bull-rock-drop-2010.html?trk=rss
  • 1 0
 What about the Ezakimak? Riding the most famous downhill track at the time, the "Kamikaze" backwards, uphill! LOL! Apparently it still goes on...
  • 1 0
 I just love the old skool riding videos - I just about remember mountain biking being like that ha
  • 1 0
 Dual Downhill looked like Speed and Style but without the Style,..... or the Speed. Terrible!
  • 1 2
 Super D looks a lot like what we call marathon racing these days. Except that nowadays we don't think we need bikes with 150 mm of travel for that but do it on XC or downcountry bikes instead.
  • 2 0
 Bring back slapstick mogul bike racing.
  • 2 0
 I have goosebumps!
  • 8 1
 Maybe close the window?
  • 1 0
 @twopoint6khz: Good call
  • 1 0
 What about the Kamikaze Downhill? The "old" version is still existing ?
  • 2 0
 We have Micro D
  • 2 0
 You might
  • 1 0
 The Hill Climb - See Tim Gould Durango 1990.
  • 1 0
 lawwills bike was soo stiff. i thought they did suspension things?

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