Bike polo… all you wanted to know, but were too afraid to ask + video
Not enough thrills and spills on your bike already? Try polo
The London Hardcourt Bicycle Polo Association is holding its London Open 2010 on Saturday 21st August, following on from their success with organising the European Championships last year and hot on the heels of the World Champs in Berlin from 13-15 August. Check out the video from the Barcelona polo scene to get a flavour of what the action will be like and of what you might be seeing more of around the country as bike polo continues to grow in popularity.
Back in the 1950s, bicycle polo was practised by cycling club members as part of the seasonal run of events. There were winter reliability trials, early season time trials, weekend tours, Good Friday track racing and there was polo.
It more or less died out, of course, along with many aspects of cycling during the Sixties and Seventies while most people at the time were busy striving for more shinier cars and sunny holidays in Spain. But in the last few years bike polo has been on the way back reinvented for the 21st century by US bike messengers with new rules and a new playing surface. These days it's played on tarmac not grass, often inner city basketball courts or the like, but it's still a game that demands high levels of bike handling skill with players drawn from the ranks of messengerdom and the growing numbers of urban fixed and singlespeed riders. For a quick history lesson encompassing bike polo then and now, check out the Brooks bike polo video we recently featured.
Since its comeback bike polo has grown and spread rapidly and it is played in cities throughout the world with national, European and World championships and so far they've managed to elude the clammy embrace of the UCI.
To find out more we asked a man in the know; Buffalo Bill Chidley, editor of the webzine Moving Target and general fount of knowledge when it comes to urban cycling.
Bill is a member (and serving Chair) of the London Hardcourt Bicycle Polo Association, which is organizing the forthcoming London Open 21st August. Last year they organised the 1st European Hardcourt Bicycle Polo Championships. Bill told us about his introduction to polo, "I started playing hardcourt two years ago, having previously played one game of grass-court some time ago on the track centre at Herne Hill Velodrome. I found the game addictive and quickly converted my Bridgestone RB1 beater into a polo bike. This means fitting 48-hole rims, a super-low gearing of 30-16 and other monstrosities, such as a rear-mounted front brake."
Bill is unusual amongst regular London players in that he still plays with a fixed-wheel, "Following the example of the North American polo scene, most of the better London polo players are now running free-wheels."
Bill is on a roll now, "My home court is a patch of tarmac surrounded by brick walls on all sides in Hackney, known to us as Downham. There are steps down one side, so players can sit, relax, drink beer & heckle (heckling is a very important part of bike polo) their fellows on the court. The staple of bike polo is the 'throw-in' game. Players wishing to play throw their mallets into the centre of the court and then the mallets are shuffled into two teams of 3. Play commences on a shout of 3-2-1-polo and play continues until one side has scored 5 goals."
Bill's own team, 3 Beards, unfortunately failed to qualify automatically at the recent UK Championships in Manchester so they now have to qualify the hard way through the London Bike Polo League.
There's a thriving polo scene in Bristol too. In fact the UK is one of the powerhouses of this emerging sport, the other big European polo playing country being… go on… who do you think… it had to be, Germany of course.
No doubt, you'll tell us there are thriving hotspots of polo all over; if you are a player or a fan please let us know what you think about the game or indeed if you're looking for like-minded types to chuck a mallet about with - you only need six for a game and as the bike polo scene has already shown from little acorns…