Bicycle Polo

With the weather improving and another polo tournament season on its way, I thought now would be a good time to introduce the game to those unfamiliar with it and try to recruit some new players. Here’s a little article on bike polo and its existence in Nanaimo.

Bicycle polo is a growing international sport similar to horse polo and hockey, except done while riding a bicycle. While the history of polo on bikes goes back 118 years, the idea of playing in cities, and on hard surfaces is barely ten years old.

There is some debate as to when urban bike polo was born , but most agree that the sport took off in Seattle around 1999 or 2000. Jay Grisham, a Seattle courier at the time, brought the sport off the grass and onto the pavement, and a tight-knit group of Seattle bike couriers began playing regularly. By 2002 bike polo had spread on the west coast, with teams in Seattle, Vancouver and Portland. By most accounts Philadelphia and New York began playing shortly afterwards. According to the official bike polo website, there are currently close to 300 known polo playing cities internationally, and within each city are often dozens of players. Nearly every major urban center in North America can boast of having a bike polo community, and now Nanaimo can say the same.

This game started being played on a regular basis in Nanaimo in September of 2009 and since then its been attracting new members regularly. The people who play bike polo vary widely; unbounded by age, gender, occupation, income, interests, competitiveness, and ability. We are a very inclusive, open-minded and fun-loving community group that encourages anyone to come watch and play our game.

The rules of bike polo are designed to be simple and unrestrictive. There are nets, just over bike’s length wide. The mallets are fashioned from golf club shafts or ski poles and plumbing/gas pipe. The bikes are usually old mountain bikes that have been chopped and modified to suit their owner’s playing style. Goals can only be scored by hitting the ball with the end of the mallet, as if you are using a hammer. Passes can be made either with the end of the mallet or the flat side. Contact is allowed, but only as far as body to body, bike to bike and mallet to mallet. Rules regarding the level of intensity permitted vary, but the most important is ‘don’t be a jerk.’ You can’t put your foot down when you’re playing, but you can balance on your mallet. Two teams of 3 players each duke it out until one team has scored 5 goals. From city to city the rules can vary, as the sport is small and decentralized.

You might be thinking this sounds like a risky, difficult or outlandish game to play, and at times it can be all of these. Just like any new skill, it takes practice to learn the basics and intricacies of the game, but with time you will become a better player if you stick with it. Being confident and comfortable on your bike is the first and most important step. Handling the mallet and ball will improve once riding and controlling your bike becomes second nature. If you already feel at ease riding your bike, then you are half way there. With any sport that involves being in close proximity to other players, safety and respect is of high priority, because nobody wants to get hurt or see someone else get hurt. Chances of injury are all but eliminated if proper precautions and rules (formal and informal) are observed. A scratch, scrape, bump or bruise will probably be the worst you can expect if you play within your means.

Contact us or talk to someone in the shop if you’d like to give it a try. We play multiple times a week. All you need is a bike (we can also loan you a bike). Mallets will be provided and helmets are recommended.

As you can see from the picture below, chillin on the sidelines is just as much part of the game as being on your bike.


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