We all know how versatile cycling is as an activity – whether you are mountain biking, BMXing, road racing or commuting to work. But did you know they is a growing band of cyclists getting on their bikes and playing pedal-powered polo?
We spoke to Tim Keith – local ‘Bike Polo’ fanatic for the lowdown on this unique sport in the capital.
“Bike polo is a sport that has been around a lot longer than people usually realise, with the first form of the sport beginning in Ireland in 1891. Cycle Polo, the original form of the sport was an Olympic demonstration sport in 1908 at the London Olympics. Some form of bike polo has been around ever since, with the Hardcourt Bike Polo we play in Canberra coming from the early 21st century Seattle, where bike messengers played it in between jobs. The sport has evolved and grown since then, and Hardcourt Bike Polo is now played in over 300 cities in over 30 countries around the world. For an awesome introductory video check out ‘What is Bike Polo?’ (http://vimeo.com/95351272)
“I first heard of bike polo in a post I saw on facebook and, being into all kinds of bikes and cycling, was keen to give it a try. I’ve been playing for about 1 year now and absolutely love it. Many cities around the country play polo, I started in Launceston, and since moving to Canberra have been trying to help grow the small polo scene here! While I started playing polo because I’m a massive fan of all things bikes and cycling, not everyone in the polo scene is the same, there’s other people who are massively into bikes, and people who don’t ride outside of polo. Bike Polo is an easy fun way to keep fit, and a great way to hang out with and meet new awesome people! For me, the best bits about bike polo are the inclusive culture of the sport, its not been around for very long and doesn’t attract huge numbers, so you get a random bunch of people coming together to hang out and play, and also being very into bikes I love the various bikes, and the way people set them up, as well as having a regular weekend sport based on bikes.
“Bike polo is usually played in a 3 vs 3 format, with games lasting 12 minutes, or first to 5 goals, whichever comes first, though locally we rarely keep track of score and just have a bit of a hit around. The basic rules are fairly simple, there is a small (tennis ball sized) plastic ball, you ride around and try and hit it through the goals. In general play you can hit the ball however you like with the mallet, but to score a goal you have to hit it with one of the ends of the mallet, not the side (this is called a shuffle). If you put your foot on the ground (called dabbing) you need to ride to the sides of the court near the middle and tap the mallet against the fence before you can re-join play. That’s all you really need to know to get started, but there are some more rules if you’re really keen (found at http://www.bikepolo.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/Australasian-Rules-2013.pdf).
“The games are usually played on multipurpose courts, like bitumen or concrete tennis/basketball courts, so there isn’t a lot of speed involved, which keeps damage to a minimum, there are often minor crashes and tumbles, but usually at very low speeds, and are fairly avoidable, so there are very few injuries obtained playing polo.
“To play bike polo you really only need a mallet, a bike and a helmet. We have enough spare mallets for a full game of 3v3, so that only leaves the bike. There aren’t any real requirements for bikes at local level, with a couple of safety requirements being introduced at tournament level play. Recommendations for polo bikes are a fairly strong brake, on the non-preferred side, as your preferred hand holds the mallet, a low gear ration, for quick acceleration on the small court and flat bars, as its hard to control the bike with only one hand on drop bars or bulls horn bars, but anything will work! If you don’t have a bike that you’d want to play polo on, or don’t have a bike at all, Canberra bike polo is lucky enough to have a massive bike nut with a couple of bikes specifically set up for polo and another couple that can be used for polo, so we can bring along a spare!
“In the ACT we usually play on Sundays with either 1pm or 2pm starts, at the Ainslie Primary School on the corner of Limestone Avenue and Donaldson Street. Our main form of communication is through the facebook group, Canberra Bike Polo (https://www.facebook.com/groups/canberrabikepolo/). If you think it sounds interesting and want to check it out it would be awesome to see you along on a Sunday, or if you’re unavailable then feel free to post on the Facebook group, we’d be keen to play another day of the week as well if it can get more people into Bike Polo!”