Whatever turns your crank

It’s not difficult to spot a bike polo player. Just look for the red knees.

By The Ottawa Citizen September 2, 2007

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.