The Double Drop racing team is always up for a laugh and a couple of weeks ago, Katie and I decided to try our hands at dual slalom racing at Southampton Bike Park. An inner-city bike park set up and maintained by a group of local riders it’s become a mecca for local kids and adults alike. At first glance the dirt tracks and jumps look quite limited but you soon realise that up to 8 lines weave their way through the park. Completely free and volunteer run, it’s a perfect example of grass roots biking.
Set up by Denham from local bike shop, DC Cycles and a team of volunteers, the dual slalom series has become increasingly popular. For £1 entry you can try your luck in mixed sex categories, defined by age – Juniors (up to 16), Adults (up to 35) and Legends (35 plus) – as more women race they’ll happily add women’s categories!
Katie and I rocked up at 1pm ready for an afternoon of practice before the racing started at 5.30pm. Our friend, Klare and her cousin Ashley are part of the team who run it and they were there to make us feel welcome. Passing my dog Ned to ace dog-whisperer Ashley for the afternoon, Katie and I headed to the top of the runs to have a play.
Katie had been before and suggested we start on the jump line that runs around the edge of the park. This was my first ride on my new bike so I took it easy following Katie’s lead as we ran down the track. The first few table-tops are only a metre or two long and they gradually get longer and bigger – solid take offs give you confidence to press in and try to fly. I started cautiously but soon found I loved the feel of my new bike and the jumps. Although I love dual slalom tracks I’m still not an instinctive jumper and have to remind myself to pump in to the berms and take offs. Katie on the other hand looks born to fly!
One of my favourite things about community bike projects like Southampton Bike Park is the mix of people and bikes it attracts. Riders ranged from 3-year olds to 4 members of the Legends category astride the largest mix of bmx’s, supermarket bikes, jump bikes, hardtails, enduro bikes and even a downhill bike, that I’ve seen in years! Beyond genuine curiosity and a love of riding no one cared how good you were, what sex you were, what age you were or what you were riding – everyone was welcome and happy to be there.
Our friend Renee and her twelve-year-old son, Nathan, soon arrived sporting their ‘MacDonalds’ coloured DC Cycles race jerseys. Both strong riders with a background in BMX racing, Nathan was one of the most stylish riders I’d ever seen. As there were three of us, rumours circled that a ladies’ category would be run, but in the end Katie, Renee and I mixed in with the guys in our age categories. Katie was up first in the Adults and raced against the guy who eventually won, while Renee and I faired better in the Legends – with only 4 of us racing we all raced against each other in qualifying races to find the eventual fastest two. Katie was even heard to say that she ‘wished she was a Legend’ as it looked so much fun – first time ever that being older is better ?!
For those who haven’t come across dual slalom before it’s a pair of tracks including berms and jumps that weave alongside each other down a hill. These ones take approximately 20 seconds for average riders so are intense and fast. You set off simultaneously and pump and push your way to see who wins.
Quick off the mark in practice I often held my own against Renee and Katie until half-way down the track where they managed to pull away. Chatting to the girls I realised that they were pumping the bikes more than me and getting speed that way, where I had to rely on the dicey game of trying to grab a cheeky pedal stroke. Once or twice I managed to hold my own against Katie and come out first but my greatest achievement was finally clearing the double at the end of the track!
For those riders fancying their chances there was a separate category where you paid £10 entry and had the chance to win prize money up to £100 for first place! The riders in this category were both stylish and super-fast and competition was tight. Despite this, the whole event had an air of relaxed inclusivity that is hard to find in combination with such a great track.
Well-known local rider, Ben Deakin, was there but we still don’t know if he’s simply an Adult or truly a Legend as he was only racing in the pay-back category ?! With a burger van there to keep everyone fed and watered racing and podiums were over by 8-ish, leaving the whip-off competition to round off the evening.
Honestly, I can’t recommend dual slalom and Southampton Bike Park enough – fun, fantastic for your skills and just a great day out – go and give it a try! Thank you to everyone who made us feel so welcome and for adopting Ned as the Dual Slalom Mascot for the day!
Round 3 of the DC Cycles Dual Slalom competition is on 28th August and they are holding their popular ‘Summer Jam’ after that (date tbc).