Bike Polo Feature Story

By STEPHEN REGENOLD

A ball bounces, tires skid, and a polo match is set in motion. It is 4pm, a Wednesday in late March at McRae Park in Minneapolis. Sven Mattson, 30, is pedaling with his head down, tires tearing asphalt on a hockey rink that’s just shed its ice.

“Go, go, go!” Mattson shouts, his face obscured in the metal cage of a lacrosse helmet. Six riders crank to midcourt, mallets extended in a mad dash for an orange ball.

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Protecting the goal in a hardcourt polo match

Bike polo is a burgeoning trend in the urban cycling scene. Mallets, modified bikes, street-hockey balls, and goal nets create a formula for a high-action sport where bike riding and ball handling take equal stock.

The sport, a feat of physical coordination, requires aptitude in steering, braking, passing, pedaling, blocking, and balancing as a little ball flings around a court. You can’t put your feet down. Hockey-inspired shoves and body checks are allowed in some play.

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Wheel cover on polo bike

“It took me a while to trust that I wouldn’t get seriously injured,” said Bjorn Christianson, 35, a web developer in Minneapolis. Christianson has played polo since 2007. He now runs Mplsbikepolo.com, a website with news and a schedule for a local league.

Last month, I joined Christianson and a group of polo players for a night of pickup play. We were culled via Twitter — “McRae Park is a go! 4pm until dark’clock.” — and @mplsbikepolo, an account followed by some 600 people looking to stay updated on ad hoc games.

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Homemade polo mallet

Hardcourt bike polo — not to be confused with its cousin sport, traditional bicycle polo, which is played on grass — has the vibe of a gritty new urban fad. But the sport’s history stretches back decades, according to Doug Dalrymple, a champion bike-polo player from Brooklyn, N.Y., who runs Hardcourtbikepolo.com. “It’s long been a poor man’s version of horse polo,” he said.

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