Bike, mallets and a ball: Bike Polo is good time
September 2nd, 2010
by: Susan Jurgelski
Six mallet-wielding cyclists square off three-on-three, ready to go wheel-to-wheel on a sun-baked city tennis court.
There’s an anticipatory tension as thick as the sultry, summer evening humidity and the hypnotic hum of cicadas.
These bicyclists are geared up.
When a red rubber ball drops into play, members of the Lancaster City Bike Polo club explode into a weaving, jousting, mallet-swinging, spokes-whirring, pavement-scraping frenzy.
Their singular goal: To slam the ball — without their feet touching the ground — between the two orange cones on either end of the court using the “business end” of the mallet. If feet do hit the ground while riding, the toe-tappers must tap mallets “in and out” on a post.
This local club of free-wheelers, which has existed informally and quietly for about two years, is on the heels of the resurgence of an age-old sport dating back to the 18th century. While polo has traditionally been played on grass, bike polo on asphalt is gaining appeal, international momentum and attention.
“Bike polo has been around forever,” said 28-year-old stay-at-home dad Kyle Ciccocioppo, a hard-core, hard-court polo player and founder of the local club. “It’s really big, but sort of underground too, since many people still associate polo with horses.”
The urban two-wheeled version is a cross between hard-edged street hockey and a less glamorous and more gritty version of the game of kings. Players ride mounts that are lean metal, not muscled and equine, and whack a ball that’s generally rubber, not hard plastic or wood, with a mallet that can be made of a ski pole and industrial metal and rubber piping. Rules are few and mostly self-policed. Each club may have its own “house rules.”
Even without royalty, the game continues to attract plenty of loyalty.
Doug Dalmypire, a New York City player and former bike messenger, writes a blog at www.hardcourtbikepolo.com. He was interviewed by the New York Times and he posts press about the sport on his site.
But recently, he said, there’s been just too much publicity to track.
“I started to play in 2005, and just to guesstimate by my own research … (then) there were not more than 10 cities playing, but there are now some 120 cities (participating) in North America. It’s popping up in so many cities that never had bike polo before.”
Pun intended, it’s on a roll.
Here is the Mandarin Swift LSP Bike Polo World Championships saddle by Brooks
I’ll post the URL if you feel like spending two hundred fifty on a saddle.
Yeah I’m not gonna link that because it’s funny that in the description Brooks misspells “World”.
Frame: Chromium Plated Steel
The Swift London Seattle Philadelphia Bike Polo Wordl Championships is a limited edition of 250 saddles, featuring mandarin orange leather top and the impressed logo of a bike polo player on top of the world.
*Cost excludes shipping
The reason I think this is funny is because Montana, who made all the decisions about the Philly installment of this trio of tournaments, misspelled “Championships” except Montana’s mess up was ON THE TROPHY! not just some website.
Too late now but if he could get Brooks England, who is really far from Philly, to make a limited edition saddle with an impressed logo matching the tournament poster art…
…why is it that his local trophy builder did not get the same art?
One question I wish Mr. Manson would have asked is: Where’s the money Lebowski?
“first annual hardcourt bicycle polo federation world championships” yeah first and only. The Fed is a thing of the past.
But at least polo is still played in Philly. Rizzo Rink has pick-up bike polo every* Wednesday at 7pm.
A few weeks ago Lindsay from a Philly paper was emailing me and wanting to talk about bike polo. The story went to print today and can be found online at www.philly.com. I’m going to repost the text here but you should follow the link to check out the 14 photos. Some good mentions of The Pit. (I’m pretty sure The should be capitalized). I think it’s a misprint about tournaments entry fees costing $200 but she was talking to Montana too. I am happy about how she correctly calls this “the first bike polo world competition independent of the popular international Cycle Messenger World Championships” instead of incorrectly stating that this is simply the first ever. I’m glad to see a reporter do some research.
The Philadelphia Inquirer
Posted on Wed, Sept. 16th, 2009
By Lindsay J. Warner
Bike polo: No princes or ponies
Forget the upper-crust trappings. This is a rough-and-tumble game played on bikes with makeshift gear and regulations.
Dubbed “The Game of Kings” in sixth-century Persia, polo still conjures visions of manicured lawns, tight white breeches, and rows of gleaming horses.
Not so at a grubby little roller-hockey rink at Front Street and Washington Avenue.
“3-2-1-GO!” a voice bellows from the sidelines, and six polo players fly toward center court, racing to gain possession of the ball. Two players reach the center at the same time, scrabbling for control. A third player joins the fray, steals the ball, is catapulted through the air, and lands on the ground, mallet still in hand.
But in this game, nobody goes to catch the horse. The fallen player dusts himself off, collects his “steed” – a retrofitted, beat-up Schwinn – and pedals back into the game. This is hardcourt bike polo, and there’s no time for licking wounds.
Or for extraneous rules. Although the game is a combination of equestrian polo and grass polo – a dignified, centuries-old bicycle game that even had a cameo appearance in the 1908 London Olympics – hardcourt functions on the less-is-more philosophy. The game’s official origins can be traced back to about 1999 in Seattle, but details still are being ironed out.
“The game mutates with every new city it hits,” said Peter Dalkner, 32, a mechanic at Trophy Bikes on Walnut Street. “Everyone brings a slightly different set of rules about game length, court surfaces, and regulations to the game, and they all meet somewhere in the middle. Usually.”
Consequently, tournaments can be difficult to organize.
The game reached a milestone over Labor Day weekend, when Philadelphia hosted the Hardcourt Bike Polo World Championship at two recreation centers in Fishtown, a tournament that attracted nearly 50 teams from the United States, Canada and Europe. The tournament was the first bike polo world competition independent of the popular international Cycle Messenger World Championships, held around the world once a year. Back when the two events were merged, messengers would come to race, then stay for the polo.
“We didn’t really take ourselves seriously – the goalposts were two beer cans, and it was basically just a lot of bike couriers messing around having fun,” said polo player Montana Norvell, 30, who organized the Philadelphia tournament. Norvell is a former bike messenger who was part of the first wave of players to bring the game from Seattle in 2000.
The game itself is simple: three vs. three, score between the two cones, first team to score a predetermined number of goals wins. If you put a foot down, called “dabbing,” you have to exit play and ride to center court, where you’re required to ring a cowbell before re-entering.
The equipment is fairly simple as well, with a low-budget, do-it-yourself mindset. Mallets are made from heavy-duty PVC or polyethylene pipe screwed to a sawed-off ski pole. As very few players seem to know or care about the precise length of the mallet, they vary. Widely.
Bikes also are a hodgepodge, although most sport a rainbow of colors and brands that reflect the retrofitting necessary to create a competitive polo bike. That almost certainly means having a set of wheel covers – to prevent a ball, stick, or body part from wedging between the spokes.
While the funky – and accessible – fixer-upper culture of bike polo has aided the sport’s growth, it’s also caused a cultural rift between those who are serious players and those who just want to look cool doing it.
Until 2005, Taney Park on 25th between Pine and Locust Streets was a prime location, as anyone could show up with a handmade stick and a bike to play. Pickup games attracted many players and just as many curious spectators.
But then, Norvell said, the “courier kids” showed up, a group more concerned with emulating the urban-cool lifestyle and fashion of bike messengers than with playing serious polo. “And on any given night, upwards of 60 kids would show up to heckle new players or just cause trouble.”
The serious players moved to the court under I-95 just south of Rizzo Ice Rink at Front and Washington. Games got faster, the court was smoother and completely enclosed, and the dedicated players had a higher-level game. But this location – considered the best surface for bike polo in the city – also means less access for new players.
“It’s great that the level of play has improved,” Norvell said, “but that makes it like swimming with sharks for new players who want to give it a try. So we’re stuck in a tough spot for recruiting new players.”
As a result, Philadelphia has earned a dicey reputation as a hardcourt city. East Coast players are more likely to gravitate toward the Lower East Side in New York, where a famous court called the Pit attracts traveling players to Chinatown. Ringed with bricks and recessed into the pavement, the Pit is renowned for its gladiatorial atmosphere, as spectators peer down at the games below.
Supplemented by out-of-towners, at least 20 to 30 locals play polo there each Sunday from noon until dark, said Doug Dalrymple, who is 44, according to his MySpace page, although he declined to confirm an actual number.
Dalrymple says players are conscious of cleaning up trash, and often help mulch the grounds in the spring. He describes the atmosphere as welcoming. Several women have joined the playing ranks, as well as one man in his mid-60s who works as a violin repairman on Long Island.
In the larger bike polo community, players still are debating whether or how to standardize rules and tournament play.
At the moment, qualifying games for tournaments are nonexistent – consequently, last week’s world championships were played as an open-entry game. Rules also are in constant flux, as teams play on whatever surface is available – from basketball courts to tennis courts to hockey rinks to open lots with makeshift boards to stop the ball from rolling out of bounds.
Without a rule book, hosting tournaments is challenging, and it’s difficult to attract sponsors (how do they know who the best player is?), which some players see as a viable – and necessary – option for the sport.
Although tournament entry fees generally range between $100 and $200, bikes require constant maintenance, and players who travel around the country spend approximately $1,000 a weekend for plane tickets, hotel rooms, and bike transport.
In the meantime, the laissez-faire attitude of the sport is a prime attraction.
“Everyone who plays has a good time, and you don’t need any rules or regulations to figure that out,” Dalrymple said. “You get out there on your bike, hit the ball around, get to be young, wild, and free because you don’t have any referees blowing the whistle – it’s just good old-fashioned fun and anyone is welcome to play.”
One thing is consistent: Regardless of rules and regulations, the pavement still stings.
“There he goes again,” one spectator commented as a player went sailing over his handlebars for a second time. “Man, that kid just can’t stay on a bike to save his life.”
I found a little news story from Philly at whyy.org.
Hardcourt bicycle polo new sport in Philly
Friday, September 4th, 2009
By: Peter Crimmins
If you check it out for yourself you’ll be able to listen to the text below and see three photos. I found it interesting.
If you see people riding their bikes in circles in a vacant parking lot swinging homemade croquet mallets, it is not a franternity hazing ritual. You could be seeing hardcourt bicycle polo, an urban version of what horses do on grass. While still little-known, it’s growing in popularity and this weekend Philadelphia is hosting a tournament that will crown the world champion.
Hardcourt polo players use any concrete space they can get… a cracked tennis courts or an unused outdoor hockey rink like this one under Interstate 95 near Washington Avenue.
Montgomery: I’ve played soccer, baseball, hockey, football, just about anything and I was terrible at all of them. But for some reason I’m kind of good at this.
29 year-old Alex Montgomery has rigged up an old steel-frame mountain bike with a very low gear that makes it easy to sprint from one end of the court to another. He makes his own mallets using a ski pole for a shaft and a hunk of PVC pipe for a head. The regular Wednesday pick-up game is played 3 against 3.
Montgomery: Frankly it’s hard to gather enough people in Philadelphia. It’s a smaller city, and most people only have one bike and they don’t want to ruin it.
Bikes take a beating. So can the players. Injuries from swinging mallets, thrown elbows, and slippery concrete can leave people bruised – even bloodied. Peter Dalker has played in bike polo tournaments in cities across the country and says Boston tends to be the roughest.
Dalker: They play like it’s a severe kind of hockey. Slashing mallets and hacking at body parts.
It’s played more gently in Seattle, and it’s different in Chicago, which is different from London, which is different from New York. Cities tend to cultivate their own rules. Some places have offsides rules, some don’t. Some have rules about striking with the face of the mallet, or the use of goalies. Temple University sports economics professor Mike Leeds says America’s most popular sport – football – started the same way.
Leeds: One game between Harvard and McGill in football back in the late 19th century. Harvard played by one set of rules, McGill played by another set of rules. So they came to an agreement that they would play the first half of the game by one set of rules and the second half by another set of rules.
The organizer of the world championship tournament is Fishtown resident Montana Norvell. He wants to establish a common set of rules to standardize bike polo into a more legitimate game, which in turn could attract money. He’s walking a thin line between financial backers who want a return on investment and players who want to have fun with their friends.
Norvell: By the standards of most sports it’s very free and open – it really should remain that way. My concern is that as we put on bigger tournaments, we need more and more money to do that, and we’ll make concessions about how they play.
Norvell says some manufacturers have given support to the tournament, but it’s a bad year to ask anyone for money. These are humble beginnings for bicycle polo, not unlike the early days of professional skateboarding or the X-Games. Sports economist Victor Mathesson of Holy Cross University says even obscure, rough-and-tumble sports can hold marketing allure.
Mathesson: It’s not necessarily the number of fans, it’s the type of fans. If you can get into the very attractive 19 – 24 demographic that major league baseball is increasingly unable to attract, then even small crowds might be doing exactly what you want.
At this stage in the game, bike polo is trying to establish credibility. There is no prize money – players are fighting each other mostly for bragging rights. But organizer Norvell says that in order for the title of World Champion to mean anything, the world has to be here.
Norvell: I got a lot of teams from Europe coming. I think we’re at eight. Out of 48 it is still underrepresented, that number is going to grow. Hopefully people don’t feel they just won a tournament – hopefully they can brag they really did win a world championship.
Norvell is caught in a Catch-22: he needs money to bring world-class competitors together, but he needs world-class competitors to attract money. Like everything about bike polo, he’s making it up as he goes along.
With all this talk about money I wonder how much money was raised at the Bicycle Polo World Championships Fundraiser @ Trophy Bikes. I’d also like to know where one would even buy hay bales in Philadelphia? I’ll save my criticisms for later.
2009 Hardcourt Bike Polo World Championships
Hardcourt bike polo tournament
September 5th – 6th, 2009
2009 World Champions: “Smile” Leon, Dustin, Seabass (Seattle)
2nd Place: “Balls Deep” Rory, Chris, Pieter (East Van)
3rd Place: “Faceless Emotion” Paul, Zach, Doug (NYC)
4th: Wisconsin A (Jon A, Matt H, BriBri)
5th/6th: Ottawa (Coach / Ange / Alexix) and RVA (JT Nick Ian)
7th/8th: Madbikepolo (Jonny Ben Kev) / NYC/Philly (Chris R, Alex, Capriotti)
One court was a hockey rink, and two were made of bales of hay covered in trash bags with coro-plast spray glued on to act as boards. The entry fee was $120 US per team. 48 teams.
Alleycat & Polo Tournament
October 25 – 26, 2008
For more info pghalleycat.com
Winners: The Ball Grabbers
The rest is a mystery.