Bikes and wooden mallets may sound like odd bedfellows, but the sport of bike polo is gaining popularity across the U.S. and beyond. There’s even an international federation for bike polo (Pakistan is a member) that’s pushing to get the hybrid sport into the 2012 Olympics—surprising, since most Americans have never even heard of the sport.

Imagine the bourgeois game of polo—horses, mallets, striped jerseys, and white pants. Now substitute bikes for horses and chamois for riding pants, and you get bike polo. In spite of its unfamiliarity to most Americans, bike polo has been played in some form or another for more than 100 years. The British army used to play the Indian Maharajas in the early 1900s. The first international bike polo competition was held in 1901 (Ireland beat England 10 to 5). And yet, as a sport, it has managed to stay on the fringe, particularly here in the U.S.

“Bike polo is not very organized,” says Bill Matheson, a world champion bike polo player from Aiken, S.C. and the vice president of the Bicycle Polo Association of America. “Equestrian polo players sign up with the polo association and play by the official association rules. With bike polo, it’s different. Everyone who starts a bike polo club makes up their own rules.”

Fledgling bike polo leagues are popping up all over the Southeast. Richmond, Va. has a bike polo scene. So do Slatyfork, W.Va., and Asheville, N.C. Bike polo matches have even been known to break out on the lawn of the D.C. Mall.

“More people are gravitating towards bikes,” says Minya James, founder of a new bike polo league in Chattanooga, Tenn. “This is another way to reinforce that choice. You’re riding your bike and playing a game. Everyone loves games.”

DO IT YOURSELF
Five things you need to know to start your own bike polo club:

  1. Any bike will work for bike polo, but most players ride singlespeed or fixed gear bikes.
  2. Bike polo is a non-contact sport. Right-of-way rules are established to keep the collisions to a minimum.
  3. The game is traditionally played on grass, but hardcourt (tennis and basketball courts) is the fastest growing version of the sport.
  4. Bike polo is played with four people on a team, moving the ball up and down the field. Each player is allowed three taps of the ball before he/she has to pass or shoot.
  5. You score by knocking the ball through the opposing team’s goal posts. There are no goalies, so games are high scoring.

Learn more at bikepolo.com