Polo is the sport of the aristocrats, but this new spin on it has a growing number of fans, teams, and players. Bike polo is an urban twist on the traditional game without the lavish costs.
Originally created by bike messengers on their downtime in the early 2000s in Seattle, Wash., bike polo has grown into a global sport played in more than 30 countries and 300 cities.
Ottawa Bike Polo, home of the Mallets of Mayhem, is the first and only hard-court bike polo club in Ottawa. 10 years ago, a trio of local bike messengers brought the sport to Ottawa and has established it as a stronghold in the North American circuit. The group gets together at Ev Tremblay Park in Little Italy a couple times a week, and hosts its world championships on a yearly basis.
Bike polo takes traditional urban hard courts like tennis courts and accommodates the surface area to their needs. The sport is dominated by veterans at its highest level, and many players take several years to hone their craft. A hard-court governing body oversees the development and growth of the game on the national scale.
“Every year there is a discussion to change the games with regards to its rules,” said Alexis Mills, a pioneer of the sport in North America and member of the Ottawa Bike Polo club.
Polo is a co-ed sport in which women are encouraged to play because of specific women-only tournaments that take place annually in North America and Europe.
“It was challenging at first but like everything else, if you put in the work it can be an extremely rewarding experience,” said Brianna Harris, a second-year criminology U of O student and bike polo newbie.
“We assemble into two teams of three, hop on our bikes and wait at the opposite ends of the court. Once the ref yells ‘polo,’ we all race to the center for possession of the ball,” said Mills.
Played three-on-three, tournament play is timed in intervals of 10 minutes. At the pickup level, it is played two teams with three players each. They control the game ball with a mallet while riding a bike. The object of the game is to win by scoring five goals.
Mills said it started off as two traffic pylons six feet across, but these have evolved to a net that resembles a hockey nets. The ball is a standard road hockey ball.
“It’s not explicitly a contact sport, but there is a lot of contact, jostling for position,” he said.
Agility, dexterity, and speed are valued in the sport while brute strength takes a bit of a backseat.
New players are always welcome and the next season is predicted to begin in late March. No fees are involved and any type of bike is acceptable for play.