Hardened New Yorkers cruise China Town blocks along Chrystie Street in SoHo. Torn cut-offs, tattoos, piercings, ear spools and wildly colored (and shorn) hair is the motif of the day. Jovial and cheerful, there are no game faces here. Each cyclist hops off a different breed of bike as they turn onto Broome Street.
Their choice of bikes reflect hours of game play - decisions made based upon the best advantage in handling, speed, and manuverability. Some are mountain bikes, some fixies, and some bmx's. Some have one-sided handlebars, some have brakes, some do not. Most are dark horse, franken-bikes or the bastard children of the bike from which they sprung anew. When asked if this was their Polo bike, some riders would answer "This is my bike, one bike, one life, ride!" Others would reply "Yea, this is my Polo specific bike," followed by a chuckle.
The infamous Chrystie/Broome Street courts are the proving grounds for three-person team skills. A match begins as six mallets fly from off-court to the center of the field of play. A "judge" walks out to gather the mallets assuring that, in fact, only six have made their way onto the field. Six players, three from each team ride onto the court, picking up their mallet and preparing for the rigors of a battle more traditionally equine powered. The teams trackstand by their respective goal posts and await the starting call. Once the judge or "official" yelps for the match to begin, there are few rules with which to abide.
To score, you must "strike the ball" through the goal posts with the front of the mallet, "shuffling" or nudging the ball through does not count. Throughout the game play your feet must not touch the ground. Considering the speed, physical interaction, and pinball nature of game play, this adds a significant layer of difficulty. A sprint to the corner of the court to steal the ball from your opponent could leave you boxed in, nose first. Now you have to depend upon balance and handling skills to get out of it. Wrestling for control of the ball can leave you pinned up against several other players. If you escape the entanglement without putting a foot down, you've got a major scoring advantage. If you put a foot down, simply get knocked off the bike, or flat out crash, you must leave game play, proceed to mid-court and "tap out" (strike a previously defined object with your mallet). Only then can you return to the match. Meanwhile, this leaves your team short handed and your goal less protected.
The Ruling on Contact:
Mallet to mallet contact is completely part of the game. Players routinely pull one another's mallet away from the ball to block a goal shot. Hooking another player's mallet to stop a pass to a teammate is also acceptable.
Physical contact is expected. There is no way around it in such a fast game that is confined to the space of a court that is smaller then a hockey rink. The ruling on contact is, contact is allowed but, expect the same level of contact in return for that which you dish out. The game is mostly self-policed. Players and peers will decide rulings based upon your actions on the court. If you slam someone or your mallet flies too high, too often... look out... There are no penalties in Bike Polo but there are consequences. Your "foul" may well ultimately sting you where it hurts.
Winning the Match:
Bike Polo is best played fast. The matches are quick, perfect for the ADD generation. The winning score is five goals and a time limit is set in case a team's defense is too skillful.
Can I play?:
The community is open and welcoming. Anyone can jump in and give it a shot. But, be careful. This game is not child's play. Bring your legs, your bike handling skills, and a tolerance for pain.