Dual Slalom Mountain Biking Basics: Tracks, Races & History

Mountain biking has many forms apart from long-distance adventure riding. One discipline completely on the other end of the spectrum is the short-form, fast-paced dual slalom discipline. It’s not very mainstream and only done on very specific courses. So, what exactly is dual slalom MTB?

In dual slalom mountain biking two riders go head to head on parallel tracks. The manmade courses are short, and only downhill. In two race runs, each rider has to ride both sides of the track and the fastest combined time wins.

We will look at the origins of dual slalom mountain biking, the average course distance, track design, and the usual dual slalom MTB race format.

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Dual Slalom MTB is unlike any other racing format. Small bikes, separate courses and smooth tracks.
Photo Credit: Graeme Murray / Red Bull Content Pool

What Is Dual Slalom Mountain Biking?

Dual slalom mountain biking is an established form of short race competition where two riders compete simultaneously on two identical or very similar downhill courses while being timed. After each run, they swap course lanes and do a second run. The aim is for the riders to complete the courses as quickly as possible.

Dual Slalom mountain biking truly puts the dual in a duel.

While not as well-known, it’s one of the older forms of downhill mountain bike racing since it doesn’t require much space, a steep gradient or specialized equipment. Dual slalom mountain biking is done over short distances, with rides usually not taking longer than 30 seconds.

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The best combined time over two runs wins the duel. // Photo by: Graeme Murray / Red Bull Content Pool

Once the riders have completed their run, they will each take on the other lane of the course, again at the same time and again being timed. The rider with the fastest combined time from both courses will be the winner of that round.

While both lanes of the race course run parallel to each other and may be the same distance, one side of the track usually rides faster than the other. This can be due to the speed carried through turns, track conditions or different obstacles. To eliminate that variable, two-run formats are a staple of dual slalom.

In a tournament, riders will compete through several rounds, with the winners advancing to the next round and the losers being eliminated until only two riders remain for the final. So only the rider winning every round they’re in can be the champion.

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Big berms, smooth shapes and tricky slalom turns. Dual slalom courses test the riders’ skills unlike any other form of MTB racing. // Graeme Murray / Red Bull Content Pool

Tracks for Dual Slalom Mountain Biking

Dual Slalom tracks are usually tight, and short but technical and downhill in nature. The average run won’t last longer than 30 seconds. They’re manmade and usually have a smooth dirt surface without roots and rocks. The tracks are designed to test cornering skills primarily, and jumping secondarily.

The courses are what make this discipline unique and distinctly different from four-cross, where four riders at a time ride a wider course and passing is possible. Pumptrack on the other hand has symmetrical, but not parallel tracks, mostly with a concrete or asphalt surface.

This is why every bike rider can ride dual slalom on a wide variety of bikes, as long as they have off-road bike tires.

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Flat corners are a staple of Dual Slalom // Graeme Murray / Red Bull Content Pool

The tracks are often built on hills or patches of land with a gradient. Mostly as part of larger downhill bike parks or purpose-built for race events.

They are built out of dirt and soil, sometimes clay like pump tracks. The dirt is shaped into berms, jumps (particularly tabletop jumps and doubles) and rollers to provide sufficient technical difficulty for the riders.

Dual slalom tracks tests the skill of riders as well as their speed.

The History Of Dual Slalom Mountain Biking

The origins of dual slalom mountain biking go back to the beginning of mountain biking when dedicated MTBs like you see today didn’t really exist. Since the courses don’t take much space or effort to build, they popped out everywhere. This was a way to get into off-road cycling without big mountains or expensive bikes.

A logical follow-on was riders racing each other. With the advent of technical courses, dual racing was born, making it easier to view the riders’ skills as they competed against each other one-on-one in elimination rounds.

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Some empty patch of grassy field and poles for track limits is all you need. // Boris Beyer / Red Bull Content Pool

The first dual slalom mountain biking event was held in 1987 at Mammoth Mountain, California. At this inaugural event, they pitted the slowest riders against the fastest in the first rounds to quickly eliminate the slower riders and provide good odds to advance the faster ones.

This bracket-style race format is still used today where the start order is decided by the qualifying time in training.

Is Dual Slalom Mountain Biking A Race-Only Discipline?

Dual slalom mountain biking is designed as a race format. It is the entire setup, and the point is for two riders to compete alongside each other simultaneously but on separate lanes. Due to the track length and the parallel lanes, it always provides excitingly close head-to-head racing.

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Images unusual for MTB racing: Two competitors in the same shot. // Boris Beyer / Red Bull Content Pool

However, dual slalom mountain biking can also exist outside of racing. Even riding solo.

That being said, the tracks can be ridden by yourself outside of a race. Even without an opponent to measure against, they provide an excellent training ground, just like pumptracks. Many professional racers use courses like these to refine their cornering skills since they isolate certain maneuvers by design.


Dual slalom mountain biking is a fast technical form of downhill racing with two racers facing off simultaneously on matching and parallelling downhill courses. By nature, dual slalom mountain biking is a race as each rider needs to race to complete the course in the shortest possible time.

On completion of the first run, riders will swap lines and race again with the fastest combined run time, deciding the winner. The rider will compete in rounds, with the faster rider progressing to further runs.

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