Thursday, April 21, 2011

"Bike polo gains following in Greater Lafayette"

Written by Taya Flores - tflores@jconline.com

Light rain drizzled on the court as Tomas Sowles pedaled atop his bike while swiftly maneuvering the roller hockey ball with a mallet. He gathered momentum, bypassed his opponents and whacked the ball between two orange posts during a recent pickup game of hardcourt bike polo.

"I'm thinking about where the ball is at all times and how I need to position myself in order to get it," said the 22-year-old Purdue University student. "You have a bike and it has to be maneuvered so you are coming about (the ball) at the right angle."

Bike polo is a grittier version of its equestrian cousin, polo. Instead of a horse, players ride bikes. In lieu of a nicely manicured lawn, they ride on pavement. These polo players ride without pretense, polish or prestige all for the glory of the formidable urban bike culture.

Although the sport is open to anyone, it generally appeals to the 20-something bike enthusiast who enjoys aimless adventuring, team sports and fixed-gear bikes -- a one-speed bike that doesn't coast.

The Lafayette Bike Polo club coalesced last May after Tyler Brown, a West Lafayette native and junior at Indiana University in Bloomington, brought the sport to Greater Lafayette. But the 10 to 15 people -- mostly college students -- who regularly play pickup games on Purdue basketball courts are not alone. The hardcourt version of bike polo, a game that dates back to the 1890s, has picked up tremendous speed and is spreading faster than a Jimmy John's delivery guy.

"This year it really has exploded," said Tyler Hoehn, a Purdue student who attends the local club. "There are groups popping up all over the place. For the first time tournaments are having to place caps on the number of people that can play."

American hardcourt bike polo originated in the Pacific Northwest about 10 years ago -- mainly growing out of the bike messenger scene in Seattle and Portland, Ore.,, said Kevin Walsh, board member of North American Hardcourt -- the domestic governing body of bike polo.

By 2005, there were about a dozen teams spread throughout the continent. The sport had diffused to urban metropoli such as New York City, Philadelphia and Vancouver, British Columbia. Now it's migrating to college towns that typically have large cycling communities, such as Bloomington and West Lafayette.

Currently, there are about 150 hardcourt bike polo clubs throughout North America, with new clubs forming each week, said Walsh, who also is founder of The League of Bike Polo, a social networking website for players.

"It's one of the fastest-growing sports out there," he said.

In Indiana, the number of clubs has increased as well. In 2009, only two clubs existed, one in Bloomington and one in Indianapolis. Since then, three other teams have started in West Lafayette, Muncie and Fort Wayne, Brown said.

Brown said he first encountered the sport while perusing YouTube videos online. "I rode fixed-gear bicycles back in the day, so it was kind of like the cultural scene behind that," he said. "So I would watch videos of fixed-gear riders doing races ... one time some video popped up. We watched some videos on (bike polo), and it seemed really cool."

His favorite aspect of the game is the social dynamic. "It's a lot of fun to become friends with all the people and go and heckle them twice a week and what not," he said.

Although the attraction was instantaneous, he fell in love with the sport last fall while attending the Midwestern Open in Lexington, Ky. "I saw how good everyone else was and how far you could go with it," he said.

Hoehn said he also enjoys the social aspect of the game. "It's an open community that likes to have fun," he said. "It's about hanging out and playing polo. It's not too serious. You can be as casual as you want or as serious as you want to be."

Purdue senior Amber Scheid agreed. "I like that you can make bike polo as serious or relaxed as you want," said the 21-year-old. "You can be competitive if you want, but in the end everyone is there because they love it."

Hoehn's roommate, Kevin White, also plays bike polo. Similar to Brown, he was first exposed to the sport by watching videos online. "The idea of playing polo on a bike was crazy," said the 22-year-old Purdue senior. "We talked about it for two years before we finally got to play it."

White believes the sport appeals to both the avid cyclist and the team player. "As a kid growing up I lived in Chicago and I used to play roller hockey and I also rode my bike everywhere," he said. "I feel like bike polo is the perfect combination of hockey and biking and it's just that combination that I love."

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I like this article. Well written, accurate, and with quotes from more than a few people. Plus it's great press for Lafayette. You guys have been killin' it this year- can't wait to see what our state road 231 alliance can do at derby in Louisville!

-W.

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