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Bicycle polo is the cycling version of the ancient game of polo which is played on ponies. It is believed to have been invented by British soldiers serving in colonial India who wanted to improve their polo skills. Bicycle polo has even featured as a demonstration sport in the Olympics in London in 1908. It is played to this day in many countries around the world, such as Argentina, India, Britain and the United States, and there is also an International Bicycle Polo Championships held every year with the USA and Canada both having won twice.
Although a US Bicycle Polo standard field is similar to a football field, i.e. 100 yards by 60 yards, bicycle polo can be played anywhere that you have room. “Hard court” bicycle polo has grown in popularity in recent years, and can be played on tennis courts, urban street hockey rinks, or anywhere with sufficient room. When you are choosing where to play, bear in mind that grass is softer than concrete, and playing bicycle polo often involves a fall or two!
The equipment is also very simple: all you need is a bicycle, a polo stick or “mallet”, a helmet (that meets the correct safety standards) and a ball. The object of the game is simply to score more goals than the opposition. There are 4 players in each team and the game is usually split up into 4 quarters, known as “chukkars” of 10 minutes each with 2 minutes between each chukkar and a 10 minute break at half time. If you would like to know more, or get involved in a game of bicycle polo, check out your local bicycle clubs, colleges, schools, recreation centers, or look for a local pick-up game.
Bicycle polo bikes do not need to be expensive or fancy. You have to carry a mallet during the whole game, so you need a bike that is going to easily controlled with one hand. This is partly why most bicycle polo bikes are fixed gear. A fixed gear bike is easier to control, especially at low speeds, which is important when you have tight maneuvering to do during a game. The frame itself should ideally be steel, as steel has good riding characteristics for bicycle polo as it absorbs impact well, and is robust and hard wearing. Handlebars come in a variety of shapes and sizes, but should be simple and relatively narrow so that they can be easily controlled with one hand, allowing you to make tight turns and turning circles in a game situation where other bikes are all around you. The positioning of the handlebars is also important. The bars should be low enough to allow you to position yourself to allow a swing of the mallet while still remaining upright on the bicycle.
And the mallet itself need not be a specialist piece of equipment. Players have been known to play with hockey sticks and croquet mallets, but a fairly standard design is emerging in urban bicycle polo matches. A ski pole inserted into a short industrial strength piece of piping seems to be a popular and durable choice.
Pick up matches for bike polo are becoming more common. The demand for bicycle polo seems to be riding the wave of the increase in popularity of fixed and single speed riding. And the occurrence of bicycle polo tournaments is also on the rise, with inter-city tournaments pitting teams from all over the country against one another, and providing a great opportunity to see how the game is played in other towns, and to pick new tricks and skills. The average bicycle polo game maybe a little more difficult to find than, say a football game, but with the internet at your disposal, the information is out there. And when you get to a game, you will invariably find a warm welcome, and a fun and unique social and sporting occasion. Try it!
Bike Polo Association