Hardcourt Bike Polo
Three-two-one polo! : Edmonton league joins the fast-growing ranks of bike polo enthusiasts
September 10, 2009, Issue #725
by: Scott Harris
To the uninitiated passerby, it likely seems like something of an insane pursuit. Six cyclists race around the concrete confines of an outdoor hockey rink, one hand on the handlebars of the bike, the other swinging a homemade mallet constructed from a ski pole and a short length of plastic pipe at a tattered orange street hockey ball. Most of the bikes are fixed-gears—many without brakes—their wheels covered with colourfully decorated chloroplast to protect the spokes from wayward mallets.
After some jostling in the corner the ball pops loose of a crowd of players, and one of them directs it with her mallet as she circles around and heads toward the opposite net. A defender leans forward and locks the rear wheel of his bike after a short high-speed pursuit down the length of the rink to make a controlled skid into the path of the attacker, who is crouched low over the handlebars as she pushes the ball towards the goal. Wheels collide, sending riders and bikes alike careening to the ground. Cheers and jeers erupt from both teams, and from the spectators on the other side of the boards, as they pick themselves up, collect their mallets and exchange a smile and a quick “You OK?” before hopping back onto their bikes to make a mad dash to the red line.
Welcome to hardcourt bike polo, the rough, very DIY urban equivalent of the ancient game of kings, which in recent years has enjoyed an explosion of popularity in cities around the world, including Edmonton.
“The rules are very loose,” explains Chris Dunbar, a lanky Nova Scotia native and one of a group of four cycling enthusiasts who started organizing games of bike polo in the city back in June. “Basically, you’ve got to put the ball in the net. Anytime you put a foot down you have to go tag out at centre before you can come back into the play. You can push the ball down the court, but anytime you score you have to score on the end of your mallet. Whoever gets to five first takes the cake.”
“Body to body, bike to bike, mallet to mallet is the contact,” adds Ted Cottingham, another of the pioneers of the game in Edmonton. “And you only do things you’d want done to you.”
But while collisions might at times seem almost as frequent as goals—and are occasionally spectacular—success in the game is more about bike control, ball-handling and teamwork. Injuries beyond minor bruises and scrapes are rare, according to Neil Macdonald, a Halifax expat also involved in getting the game off the ground here, especially for players who are new to the game.
“As we’re getting better it seems to be getting a little bit rougher and we’re seeing a little more contact with riders. It’s something that the more experienced riders like—they’ll go chase after the ball when another experienced rider has it. But if it’s someone new playing we tend not to gang up on them or be aggressive to them,” Macdonald says, reassuringly. “We let them get better and let them enjoy the game. We’re always open to new players, and if six new people show up we’d have a whole new-person game and just let them ride and not have that intimidation factor of someone that’s been playing for a bit.”
It’s that laid-back friendliness, combined with an ethic that often sees players offering to take a seat while they hand their mallet and bike over to a curious onlooker, which has led to a rapid increase in the number of players making it out to regular Thursday evening games or to the numerous last-minute contests that frequently crop up throughout the week. Starting with just four players in late June, the group has ballooned to over 40 members, with upwards of a dozen sometimes coming out on any given night. Two teams of players are even planning a trip to Vancouver in a couple weeks’ time to take part in the East Van Crown tournament.
“It’s certainly kind of its own culture right now,” says Joshua Kupsch, who rounds out the original four. “I think through the relations of the polo players in Edmonton with other aspects of cycling—through the couriers or through the fixed-gear riders, through the commuters, through the track riders and road racers—it’s beginning to grow and the word is kind of getting around. Right now the most important thing for the sport to grow in Edmonton is to improve the awareness of what it is, to kind of have it recognized as a sport that people play.”
While the hardcourt variety of the sport is only a few months old in Edmonton, playing polo on bikes has a history dating back more than a century. Irishman Richard J. Mecredy is credited with inventing the game of bike polo in 1891, in a six-to-a-side iteration played on grass using a larger ball and strictly eschewing contact between riders. Grass bike polo was even a demonstration sport at the 1908 London Olympics, and enjoyed widespread popularity until it waned following the Second World War. With the advent of the mountain bike the grass-based version has enjoyed something of a resurgence in popularity, with international competitions resurfacing in the ’90s and into the new century.
While versions of the hardcourt game were also played in the early part of last century, the direct roots of the contemporary three-on-three version now gaining popularity date back to the winter of 1999 – 2000, according to Kevin Walsh, a Toronto native who got hooked on the sport while pursuing a master’s degree in Madison, Wisconsin. Last year he created the international website bikepolo.ca—self-described as being “where people take bike polo way too seriously”—to give the burgeoning international community a way to better connect and organize tournaments.
“[Hardcourt bike polo] has probably been reinvented dozens of times, but the hardcourt bike polo style that we’re playing are the rules that came out of Seattle and then Portland,” he says. “The big thing is the perpendicular mallets where you have to score off the business end and a fairly small hockey ball. Those are the two big things that they brought into the bike polo history.”
As in Edmonton, bike polo has spread quickly from its beginnings in the Pacific Northwest through bike messenger and fixed-gear cycling communities around the world. Walsh says there are now about 140 clubs or cities registered on the site, most of them in the US and Europe, but also including locales as diverse as Santiago, Chile, Seoul, South Korea and Shanghai, China. Canada now has hardcourt leagues up and running in almost a dozen cities from Montréal to Victoria.
The number of clubs and players has driven an increase in the number of regional and national tournaments in recent years, and the Labour Day long weekend saw 48 teams, including teams from Paris, London, Geneva and Berlin, compete in the Hardcourt Bicycle Polo World Championships in Philadelphia. The team from Seattle, somewhat appropriately, came out on top.
The future growth in the sport, Walsh speculates, largely depends on whether cycling in general continues to grow in popularity, as it has in recent years.
“I think it depends on the health of cycling itself. There’s two big barriers to entry to polo. One is the willingness to fall off your bike, which not everybody has, and two is the willingness to break and fix your bike, to put together a new bike for polo and so on,” he says. “With both of those barriers to entry, the healthier biking is the lower those barriers are going to seem for people. So if biking keeps on growing the way it is right now, I don’t see any reason why bike polo will stop.” V
Golden Spring Fling Short Court
Bike polo tournament
April 11th – 12th, 2009
Golden, BC, Canada
Winners: “Battlescar Galactica” (Pass the Sausage) (East Van)
2nd place: “Old Sods” (Calgary)
3rd place: “Calgary B” (Calgary)
2 teams from Golden (We Peddle Shit, Golden Beas)
2 from East Van (Battlescar Galatctica (Pass the Sausage), Robbie Boards and the distinguished Gentlemen (By comparison) )
6 from Calgary (Calgary A, Calgary B, Calgary C, Old Sods, GrassTerds, TST)
North Side Polo Invitational
Bike Polo Tournament
July 4th, 2009 weekend
The 2009 NSPI is set for the weekend of the fourth of July. I share the common opinion that Ottawa / Mallets Of Mayhem are a polo club that host events with too numerous of qualities to mention them all here. The point is this, if you want to play with the best of the best (they are the 2008 N. American Bike Polo Champions) the North Side is your best chance. And if you are hosting a polo event of your own, stay a couple weekends away from this one.
Ramsay Bowl II
Bike Polo Tournament
July 10th – 12th, 2009
They are already boasting about a $1500.00 cash prize for first place.
For more info Calgarybikepolo.com
The 2009 Ramsay Bowl II will be July 10 – 12 2009. This is the last weekend of the Calgary Stampede so there will be lots going on here, and lots of parties and free breakfasts to be had. Not to mention our court is on the top of the hill behind the Stampede grounds so we’ll have a big fireworks show and music going on all weekend compliments of the Stampede. I’ll send a flier soon.
First thing I thought after reading Justin’s email was what is the Calgary Stampede? Then I thought about how many tournaments 2009 is going to have.
From my count there are 30 bike polo tournaments that have been scheduled in 2008. And 2009 is already looking like as many, or more will take place around the world. On this site I have a Tournaments page listing all the polo events that I am aware of (since the beginning of this site). This week I have added at least three new dates, and I’m sure that before the end of the year there will be more tournaments staking a claim to weekends in 2009. So, if there is a bike polo tournament you are planing to host, please send me an email and I’ll add it to the list. I also like to list the details afterwards. Results, number of teams, sponsors, that sort of stuff. Looking back on this years tournaments brings back some good memories.
Victoria’s Secret Santa Xmas Tourney
2nd Annual Bike Polo Tournament
November 29th, 2008
Details from Nick Via League of bike polo forum
Victoria’s second annual winter tournament once again coincides with the annual Recyclistas Birthday Bash
The Polo Tournament will be a one day event, on the Saturday afternoon from 11-6, at a new location – the Vic High tennis courts located on Fernwood St, south of square at Gladstone (address: 1260 Grant Street, Victoria).
Please email firstname.lastname@example.org to register your team, arrange billeting, or if you would like help organizing a team. Inter-city and co-ed teams are encouraged.
Entry fee this year is a gift for the Secret Santa gift exchange. (Gifts must be under 5$, and found, made or recycled gifts are encouraged – please be creative). Players are also encouraged to bring a non-perishable for the Food Bank.
As always, we will have baked goods for sale by donation, and players sporting themed-costumes will be rewarded.
Following the tournament, there will be a bike race leaving from the Polo courts, ending at a birthday celebration for Recyclistas with live music and performances (including Victoria’s Velo Vixens)
Hope to see you soon with Victoria’s finest.
The East Van Crown
3rd Annual Bike Polo Tournament
September 18th – 20th, 2009
Vancouver, B.C., Canada
Save the date.
(same dates as CMWC Tokyo)
Whatever turns your crank
It’s not difficult to spot a bike polo player. Just look for the red knees.
It’s not difficult to spot a bike polo player. Just look for the red knees.
The North Side Bike Polo Invite, part of the 4th annual Capital Punishment bicycle-courier festival, wraps up today at Ev Tremblay Park on Beech Street. It’s being hosted by The Mallets of Mahem, the 30-member Ottawa bike polo club.
The best way to describe the sport?
“It’s like hockey on bikes,” said Doug Dalrymple, who came up from New York with 16 other players to compete in the tournament.
Teams of three compete on a basketball court, navigating their bikes with one hand, swinging home-made mallets at a small orange ball with the other. Two pairs of pylons, one at each end of the court, serve as goals. The first team to score five wins.
There are no official rules, though etiquette is appreciated. If your foot touches the ground, referred to as dabbing, you should tap your mallet on the pylon attached to the chain-link fence before returning to play. Body checking is allowed, but deliberately crashing into an opponent is frowned upon. Throwing your mallet at a player is also a no-no.
Brian Whitmore, an organizer of the event, has been playing bike polo for about three years. To be good at it, he says, you must be agile on a bike and quick with a stick. And if you’re afraid of injury, you might want to try water polo instead.
“I’ve broken my right hand three times,” said Mr. Whitmore.
The competitors don’t wear helmets or knee pads, or any other type of safety equipment. A female member of The Mallets of Mahem dislocated her shoulder earlier this year. Someone else pulled an arm muscle. But for the most part, the players say, you just get a few scrapes and bruises.
Teams from the U.S. and Canada are competing in Ottawa this weekend. The prizes aren’t large, mainly bicycle equipment, but many of the best North American players are here. Hot spots for the sport include New York, Philadelphia, Seattle and Vancouver.
Most competitors in the tournament are bicycle messengers, such as Martha Esme, from Ottawa. She started playing last year.
“It looked novel,” she said.
A.K. Walls, who plays with Ms. Esme on the Wheelzebub team, says having superior bike-handling skills is the key to being good at the game. That’s why couriers make up the bulk of the players.
“It’s second nature for us to be on a bike,” he said.
Bike Polo Tournament
October 31st – November 2nd, 2008
For more info see contact on flier