Did you know Portland has a thriving bike polo scene? Our latest video gives you a look at the equipment, the athletes, and the fast-paced game they play.
The group Portland Bike Polo has called Alberta Park in northeast Portland their home court since 1999. Last Sunday I rolled over to soak up some of the vibes and watch the action.
(Megan Branch shows how the game is played both at speed and while still.)
(Photos and video: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)
When I met Megan Branch, she said the sport is challenging, but also very addictive. “It’s intimidating at first because you think it’s going to be impossible; but if you can ride a bike, you can play polo. You get out there and you try and everybody sucks at first. All I did was ride around in circles and run into walls for about six months but eventually figured it out.” (Branch is humble. As you’ll see in the video, she’s really good!)
Sunday was league play day, which meant the competition was a bit more fierce than on usual “pick up” days. Jordan Bailey (below) is one of the organizers and refereed several of the games. He said the basic rule is that you can’t do anything that might hurt another player. You can’t use your body and bike to “screen” someone, you have to keep your mallet strikes low, it’s not cool to attack from someone’s swinging-side, and so on. Another key rule is that you cannot put your foot down (the penalty is you must take a few second time-out before playing again), but beginners are given a grace period.
“It is a steep learning curve,” Bailey said. “The people that we’ve seen come out and try it and really succeed are people that have a mountain biking, cyclocross, or trials background because they’ve got that bike control. And people that played hockey, lacrosse or golf, that helps you get the mallet control down.”
Bailey (who happened to be playing his last game before leaving Portland to live on a sailboat in Puerto Rico) is also the owner of HecklersAlley.com, a website that sells bike polo equipment like mallets, Enforcer brand frames (below), lacrosse gloves, top tube pads, and so on.
One player who gets the most out of his equipment is Kody Scheirmeier (below). He caught my eye instantly with deft combinations of moves that displayed a nonchalant mastery of body and bike. Scheirmeier, like a few of the other players, was able to stop on a dime, then hop in place, all while trying to scoop the ball away from an opposing player. As he describes in the video, one of his signature moves is to scoop up the ball into the open side of his mallet, fling it into the air and then swing with his mallet for a high speed hit. In a split second, he could go from a stop to full speed headed down the court, or curving into a sharp turn.
Scheirmeier told me he revels in his skills because it makes the game more fun. “I like to do cool stuff, even sometimes at the detriment of it being a smart play. I’d rather do a cool play,” he shared with a smile while watching a game through the chain-link fence.
The games on Sunday had two, 20-minute halves and teams of three players who remain in constant flow to cover spots on the court interchangeably. When the ball is near one side, someone will take the position of goalie and use the head of their mallet and their wheels to try and block shots. Falls are not uncommon and play can become quite rough depending on who’s on the court. One player was ejected Sunday for rough play.
Bailey said the sport is popular all over the world, especially in France and other European strongholds. He’s also aware of a burgeoning scene in India.
Portland Bike Polo is at Alberta Park every Sunday. Play starts at 10:00 am and reaches a peak at around noon.
“Coming out here and challenging yourself and being a part of the community and hanging out with all these weirdos… You just keep wanting to come back and it just it feels good. It’s exciting.”
— Follow Portland Bike Polo on Instagram.