What is Bike Polo?

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Erin Potter Tweet Us @BikeArlington@BikeArlington April 11, 2018
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Erin Potter is the Program Manager for BikeArlington. She appreciates Arlington’s low-stress street and trail network, which allows her to get places easily by bike.

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If you are looking for a new way to use your bike, meet new people, and enhance your bike skills, bike polo may be for you.

On April 14 and 15, Arlington is hosting the sixth annual Eastside Thaw, a friendly hardcourt bike polo tournament featuring players from around the country. Graham Downey, in his sixth year, and James Frick-Tordella, in his fifth year, walk us through what we need to know about the game and why we should play bike polo.

What is Bike Polo?

Bike polo is a coed, 3-on-3 sport. Each player is equipped with a bike, a helmet, protective pads, and a light-weight mallet. Like many “real” sports, the goal of bike polo is to put the ball, a standard street hockey ball, into the opponent’s net. There are two basic rules easy to understand:

    1. If you put your foot on the ground (this is called “dabbing”), you must leave play and tap the wall in the center of the court before being eligible to return.
    2. You can only score a goal by shooting with the round end of the mallet. Shots from the broad side of the mallet are called “shuffles.

Why Do People Play?

Answering the why is a little more complicated. Every player has their own reasons, but usually people who play polo love bikes and love the community of players.

People Love Bikes

Because, let’s be honest, it’s not exactly easy to ride a bike one-handed amidst five other people, without falling over, and while making a little ball go exactly where you want it to go. Doing all of this demands balance, strength, coordination, and bike handling. But the challenge is a big part of the fun, and learning to play polo is a great way to learn how to handle a bike with confidence. Experienced players make the sport into a beautiful dance of tight turns, sudden stops, rapid acceleration, wheelie and endo pivots, cross-court passes, and hard shots.

For an example of high level polo, check out this video from last year’s World Championship.

People Love Community

The community welcomes players of all identities and backgrounds. Players have forged many lifelong friendships and even some marriages on the polo court. When you travel you can nearly always count on finding a local club to play a few games of pick-up, show you around town, and even give you a place to stay. Weekly pickup nights are casual affairs, with beverages, snacks, and lots of laughs.
Photo: Graham at top left, James at top right with their team from the 2017 Eastside Regional Qualifier in Boston

Learn to Play

In DC, you can usually find casual pick-up bike polo match at Rush Rink near Eastern Market in Capitol Hill.Visit the Facebook page for details about the next match and send a message when you want to join. New players are always welcome. Graham and James will be sure to bring you a loaner bike and mallet.

Attend a Bike Polo Tournament

To get a first-hand look at a bike polo tournament, come to the sixth annual Eastside Thaw at the Quincy Street parking deck, right next to Washington-Lee High School and the Custis Trail, Saturday, April 14 and Sunday, April 15, from 10:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. The event is free and open for spectators.

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