Archive for March, 2010
Ann Arbor bike polo – it’s not for the pony set
March 22, 2010
By: Richard Retyi
See full article, photos and video at annarbor.com
I’ve always been mistrustful of bike people. Thousand dollar rides. Tight shirts and ugly logos. Thinking they’re cars when they lollygag on tight streets in front of the 168 roaring horses of my Volvo. The word Shimano.
Despite my prejudices, I’ve sponsored bike people in AIDS rides where my only tangible thank-you was a photograph of my rider triumphantly hoisting a bike over his head at the finish line – usually accompanying a request for additional funding for the next seven-day, 545-mile, look-how-much-fun-I’m-having trek.
I’m friends with a few bike people. Not good friends (GOD NO!) but friendly enough that we’ve accepted each other’s friend requests on Facebook and have an unstated agreement not to tag each other in unflattering pictures. One bike person friend is Nick Tenbrink. Nick generally posts about work, food and, yes, bikes. Last year and through this winter, I noticed that his Sunday posts were always about something called bike polo.
He explained it to me once. Nick and a handful of like-minded poloists meet at Palmer Field each Sunday to play bike polo. If the weather doesn’t cooperate, they move things to the bottom level of the Fletcher parking garage near the Power Center. This allows them to play all year long. They were bounced from Wheeler and Elbel after run-ins with basketball players and roller hockey enthusiasts but have found a home in the heart of campus.
Bike polo is like regular rich people pony polo except that players ride bicycles instead of steeds and participants are less likely to be named Davenport, Reginald or Captain Chester Demetrius Applebottom. Most bike polo players use fixed-gear bicycles to free up their hands and allow tracking – standing or balancing in one place. Bike polo mallets are constructed from ski poles attached to high-density polyurethane heads made from plastic pipes used in gas stations.
Some polo players wear helmets. Some bandanas. A few rely only on their lustrous hair to protect their melons, though there aren’t a lot of falls.
Two Sundays ago, I rode my bike to Palmer Field looking for some polo. Though I have a nice bike, I am not a bike person. Bike people usually own multiple bikes, keep a rack on their cars year-round and wear miner headlamp lights on their noggins because they ride at night like crazy people. I ride my bike to work sometimes or maybe White Castle.
On Sunday, I cruised Palmer Field and then the parking garages near the Power Center but couldn’t locate Nick and his friends. I had almost given up when a suspicious looking bike person rode past me, into the parking garage and headed into the bowels of the structure. I tailed him, careful not to get too close and spook him, and, rounding a corner, came upon the poloists. It was like a hipster version of Fight Club. One guy was sitting in an office chair smoking a pipe.
The group split into two teams defending a pair of goals made up of beaten orange pylons set up at either end of the garage. The participants lined up across from each other, with open garage space and unforgiving pillars between them, and raced towards a small orange ball placed at center.
“Marco,” one team yelled, followed by “Polo.” They were underway.
The bikes buzzed around the tight spaces of the garage, but rarely reached dangerous speeds where I had to shield my eyes from any Tron-level run-ins. There was a lot of clashing of poles and corralling the little plastic ball. Not a ton of passing. Goaltenders balanced on their mallets, blocking as much space as possible while hoping they didn’t get hit in the face with the ball. Players whose feet touched the floor had to ride to a pylon played near the midpoint and tag-up before returning to the game. There was a lot of jousting and pedaling and after each goal, the scoring team rang their bells like little kids.
It looked like a lot of fun. There were few collisions, and none serious, but I sensed that the players on this day were all fairly experienced. After each game, the players rested and sides were re-drawn, the matches continuing. Nobody ran into a pillar, no one fell on their head and no one asked me to sponsor a charity ride in the Spring. Thanks, poloists!
A stop-motion-esque video compiled from about 1000 still frames that were shot on a Nikon D80 using a Lensbaby tilt-shift lens.
Colors edited in Adobe Camera Raw & Bridge. Compiled using Windows Movie Maker.
Shot/Edited by Gustav Hoiland
I haven’t tried these out yet but my Oury’s are busted and I need something new. I have the CNC made MKE bar end plugs already but these grips come polo-ready with plastic bar end plugs for anyone who need them. Like I’ve said before, if you play bike polo with unplugged bars you are a big jerk. Go to MKE and get a pair.
More info: Benscycle.net
I’m writing my recap of the Bench Minor 24 hours after the final game and right now I hear loud thunder and heavy rain outside my window. But the last four days were a different story, We played pick-up Thurs and Friday then round-robin and finals games on Saturday and Sunday in some of the nicest weather of the year.
There were so many firsts at this event for me. Probably the biggest was the longer games. and not ending the games at a set score. Almost every tournament goes something like this- 5 points or 10 minutes whatever come first. So if it’s 5-4 after 6 min. thats game over. Not here, the games were played to 50 min the score kept going up and up (I don’t remember any games going to 30+ points but a few teams did score in the 20′s). the games were split into Halves with a short break, changing ends and a second joust to begin the second half.
And all games were played and played on time. Plus the final game was held in plenty of good light. The schedule ran super smooth. How often does that happen?
The second thing that was a first was deeper teams. I’ve played in 3 vs 3 and 2 vs 2 tournaments but this is the first time I’ve had 10 teammates. It was still 3 vs 3 on-court but playing with different teammates from shift to shift in game after game added an element to this that was like square dancing or something. Having a partner out on the court was short lived. And speaking of finding a dance partner, even though there were hockey inspired rules regarding fighting, there were no bench clearing fights. I didn’t think there was very much rough stuff in general.
A needed factor in big tournaments is penalties. This tournament delivered. There were real and enforceable penalties. Teams who were called had to compete a player down for one or two minutes depending. In other words, go 2 vs 3 for the length of the penalty or until scored on. This is an extremely effective way of keeping over aggressive play to a minimum. You may want to get back at the other team but you sure don’t want to take a penalty and go a player down for a minute because of it. I think this addition to the rules should be added to more tournaments.
Another rule that was a first for me in tournament play was the ball joint only to half court rule. There was not a center line painted onto the court but the tap out points were a good indicator. I think that if dragging the ball is allowed it should only be allowed in your own half of the court. This tournament was like that and kept the offensive play interesting when players had the ball in their offensive half. It’s another rule I’d like to see in more/all tournaments.
Also teams had matching jerseys and players had numbers, really good for the spectators and great for the legitimacy of the sport. I think this was also a first in terms of tournament wide use.
The goals were not cones. I like the cones but net are the future if this is to be taken seriously.
We had a ref on-court. A very good thing. But he was on a BMX bike and it looked a little bit unneeded for it to be that way. I’ve seen refs on-court before, I like the idea of a ref on-court, I’ve been a ref on-court. A bike is not needed. It’s great to try new things. So many new things were tried here and did really well. This one is something we could do without. 7 people and 6 bikes is on one side of the line and 7 people and 7 bikes is on the other side of the line when it comes to how much can fit onto the court.
Prizes? what prizes. This tournament had no prizes. The winners got to take the hand made trophy, that’s it. And no, you cant drink out of it. With so many events out there I bet all the regular sponsors are a bit tired of being asked for prizes. or maybe not. Anyway, this one was not about winning gear, it was about playing a game. A game that is more than a game, it’s a real sport.
Thanks to Adam, Zach, Paul, Birdseyeusuk, Benny, everyone who helped, all the GM’s, all the players, and everyone who stopped to watch. I thought it was a huge success that went off without a hitch. Can’t wait till the next Bench Minor next season.
1st place Green (Alexis)
2nd place Black (Jav)
3rd place-tied Gold and Grey (Lefty Joe and Ben Hunter)
Thursday, March 11th
16 West 23rd street, 3rd floor
Amadeo Lasansky is a good friend in New York who is also a great photographer. If you have read my About page you have seen at least one example of his work. This month he is having an exhibition of his new series of photographs, entitled flags.
More info: amadeo75.com