photo courtesy of Alexandra Busko-Piñero
You might not have heard of bike polo, but it has enjoyed rapid growth in the past decade. It's inclusive, has simple rules (at least for a pick-up game), and requires a limited investment. It’s very exciting to watch but takes some serious skills to handle the bike and play the game at the same time.
What exactly is bike polo? I’m glad you asked.
1. Bike polo is an actual sport
No, seriously. It’s been around in some form since 1891, when an Irish fellow named Richard J. Mecredy invented “horseless polo.” The sport's resurgence took hold in America and around the world when Seattle residents began playing Hardcourt Bike Polo (bike polo played on an asphalt court as opposed to a grass field) in 1999.
2. It’s played around the globe
There are 473 clubs in 56 countries spread across every continent.
3. Bike polo was featured in the Olympics
"Cycle polo” was featured as a demonstration sport in the 1908 Olympics—Ireland beat Germany for the gold. Unfortunately, the popularity of bike polo declined during World Wars I and II and didn’t gain steam again until the 1980’s.
4. There’s an actual Hardcourt Bike Polo World Championships
Started in 2009 in Philadelphia, a Hardcourt Bike Polo World Championship has been held every year since. Teams qualify by winning regional and national tournaments. Last year The Beavers (San Francisco) beat Call Me Daddy (Paris, France) 5-1 for the championship.
5. Bike Polo has only a few simple rules
- Games are played with three players on a team, with no specific positions.
- To score a goal, you must hit the ball with one of the ends of your mallet, not the side (known as a shuffle).
- If you touch your foot to the ground ("foot-down"), you must touch your mallet near the center of the court ("tap in") to be allowed back in play.
- “Like contact" (bike-to-bike, mallet-to-mallet, body-to-body) is allowed.
That’s kind of it to get going, although a slightly larger list of rules can be found here. The official rules for the North American HardCourt Bike Polo Association can be found here,—it’s a heavy read if you’re not in the know. Go watch a game and you’ll get it.
6. Gear is built specifically for hardcourt bike polo
Gone are the days of getting a $20 mountain bike and a wooden mallet off Craigslist and calling it a day. Bike polo equipment is now a burgeoning industry with new technology emerging yearly. Many independent bike manufacturers fabricate small-run frames (such as Rustbelt Welding), companies supplying mallets and protective gear (Fixcraft), and even specific footwear for the sport (the DZR Marco). With that said, it’s still very much a DIY-type endeavor, with players innovating and using the equipment they have and making it work. There’s still plenty of room for growth and innovation.
7. Bike polo is all-inclusive
Every type of person is welcome to play bike polo. Young or old, man or woman, gay or straight, and everything in between, bike polo is a very progressive sport. Some teams are co-ed, but you don't have to look far to find all-male or all-female squads. A few female-only tournaments are held—e.g., Ladies Army and Hell’s Belles, to name two.
You probably have a bike polo club in your city and don’t know it. You can get more information, including lists of clubs and tournaments, at the League Of Bike Polo. Check out a game some time. You won’t be disappointed.