Thursday, June 3, 2010

Bike Polo



In my personal life, cycling is a distance/speed sport. Packs of riders, neatly turned out in team jerseys, whiz silently along winding roads, across a landscape of wooded natural areas and open fields. Shortly after dawn on a weekend morning there can be 100 or more in a group, a homegrown peloton that meanders mile upon mile as it leaves civilization behind.

In the city, riders are just as serious about their cycling. But in some cities, the feel is entirely different.
Hardcourt bike polo is like pickup basketball on wheels. I found this video online from Washington DC, it is played in a pickup basketball court. Three-on-three teams go at it hard (five goals wins) before the losers retire to the sideline to schmooze and smoke with other players waiting their turn.

There are no smooth Pearl Izumis kits here. Many of the men and women under these lights on a warm spring evening could be mistaken for bike messengers or petty cab drivers. Tattoos and piercings abound. Trash talk is encouraged. Road rash is inevitable.


Bike polo is simply riding fixed-gear or low-gear bikes, one hand on the handlebars, the other holding a homemade mallet, players chase a street hockey ball around a rink about the size of a basketball court -- sprinting, stopping, starting and mixing it up in the corners, in a game that crosses polo and street hockey. The mallets are constructed from a short length of high-density gas pipe or industrial plumbing plastic bolted to an old ski pole. The low boards around the rink are also homemade. Each goal is defined by a pair of traffic cones. Most riders have installed spoke covers to deflect hard shots.

Almost everyone wears a helmet, and some wear knee and elbow pads, because collisions and falls are frequent, though the night ends with all collarbones intact. There are surprisingly few rules: no T-boning, give a competitor a fair line to the ball, no hard contact with new players. No quarter is given to women, who don't want it anyway.

The game emphasizes control, maneuverability and technique over speed.While the players hold their bikes still as they battle for the ball or block the goal, you can't put your foot down That results in a violation that results in the penalized player pedaling to midcourt and touch the side wall before they can resume playing.

The current incarnation is generally credited to a band of Seattle cyclists, many of them messengers, who started playing and compiling rules about 10 years ago.Now bike polo is played in cities across the United States, Canada and Europe. There are North American, European and world championship tournaments.

1 comment: