Friday, April 8, 2011

Bike Polo

I tried out bike polo for the first time the other day and I can safely say that I will be doing it again.  For those unfamiliar with the sport, and I assume that's most people, let me give you a little run through.

It all started in 1891 in Ireland.  Then they played on big grass fields.  Fast forward 130 years (because Ireland in 1891 was probably boring), and it's a bit different.  While there are variations, the style that has enjoyed a boom in popularity in the last few years is played on hardcourts, usually asphalt.  Games are played in a relaxed, DIY spirit (forgive me for coining the term "DIY spirit" but I'm sure you're following what I mean).

You can play on any old bike but most serious players have a bike that they've adapted especially for the sport. Most of the bikes were single speeds (derailleurs are likely to be damaged).  Many had a sort of disc wheel on the front (and sometimes back).  We're not talking a Zipp disc wheel here, more like a piece of plastic cut to size and zip-tied on (as I said, DIY spirit).  This is to protect the wheel from wayward mallets (I think).

Some guys cut one side of their handlebar down.  If they're right-handed, they'll cut down the right side so that they can swing their mallet more freely.  And some have both front and rear brakes hooked up to just one lever to allow for maximum stopping power.

Then there's the mallet.  As is stated on the bike polo Australia website, there are two key elements to the mallet; the shaft and the head (I'm not sure if this is supposed to be funny.  I guess I could be convinced that it's funny.  On the other hand, I can also see there may be an argument that it's not funny...whatever).  The shaft is made from a cut down ski pole.  This is bolted onto a short length of pipe.  So there you have it:
            shaft + head = mallet

Rules (straight from the bike polo website):
  • Teams of 3 (sometimes 2). 
  • Games limited to 15 minutes (Sometimes 10 or 12, less in shorter round robin games or during busy times, generally unlimited in Tournament Finals). 
  • First to 5 goals wins. 
  • To start a game, each team sits behind their goals and charge for the ball at the centre of the court after a countdown of 3, 2, 1, Go/Polo/Kill etc. 
  • Hit the ball anyway you want, but a goal can only be scored off the end of the mallet. 
  • If you put your foot on the ground, you must tap in at the wall or a designated post before you can re-enter play. 
  • After scoring, a team must return to their half and wait there for an opposition player or ball to pass half way before challenging.

    Another rule I was notified of but which I don't see above was "don't be a dickhead".  I think I may have contravened this rule at one point when I approached an opposition player on his blind side and scared the shit out of him.  I got a talking to for that.  In my defence, I was still trying to figure out how to play the game and part of that is learning how to be effective without being dangerous.  If you are overly wary you will never get any of the ball.  On the other hand, if you are over-zealous, you are sure to rub people up the wrong way (or, be a dickhead).  So there's a bit of a balance there which I think I have now figured out.

    I had a great time playing but I must also admit that I was nervous.  Before each game I was a bit shaky.  I guess this was a result of being plunged into something completely new that I wasn't very good at and seemed a little bit dangerous.  Also, the other players all seemed pretty good (there were a couple of Australian champions there) and there's something a little unnerving about being humiliated.

    Fortunately, as the afternoon progressed, the humiliation subsided (slightly).  While I was still being thoroughly thrashed, I managed to do some good things as well.  I scored a few goals (including one own goal) and I got in the way of the opposition a bit (and sometimes my own teammates, too).  I only fell off once and that was when I was by myself and rode over the ball.

    To be good at bike polo, you have to have good bike handling skills combined with good mallet and ball skills.  The guys who were good were able to duck and weave on the bike while controlling the ball.  It was impressive and for me a bit frustrating as each attempt to thwart their passing always ended up being futile.

    I was one of the first to arrive and I helped the locals set-up the court.  We walked down a nearby side street and opened someone's gate.  Inside were piles of wood, which we lugged back to the basketball court.  These were laid out so as to form a border around the court.  This meant the ball generally stayed in play.

    The folks in Melbourne are a pretty welcoming bunch and newbies are encouraged to come down and give it a try.  If I've got the vibe of the sport right, then I'm pretty sure the same could be said for any other city in other other country.  Just google bike polo and your city and you should find times and locations.

    Below is a video from some folk in London and a few photos from the day I played shot by my buddy Chaz Batrouney.  Enjoy.

    polo manual from blunt films on Vimeo.

    Fighting for the ball

    Hitting the deck

    On the attack

    Hitting the deck...again

    Shot at goal

    A spectator!

    All sorts of bikes

    1 comment:

    1. Awesome photos Laurence!
      See you tomorrow at Polo mate :D
      robM (red wheel cover)