Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Polo, Teams, and Branding

Is polo finally ready to embrace "the team"?   You might say "who cares" or "haven't we already" but i think think it's an issue that deserves a bit more light than those responses assume.  This thing we call bike polo is unique in that (up to this point) it's been so casual that concepts like a ruleset or dedicated referees have eluded us. But as we transition from a just-for-fun game to a ever-so-serious-and-competitive sport even the subtle differences have a big impact.

Case in point- Warlocks.  Their facebook page just launched yesterday and is already on the up and up.  Familiar faces banding together to form a new superteam is always gonna garner a good deal of attention, but what particularly caught my eye is the way in which they're doing it.  A quality team photo, team page, team logo, and a sponsor that's already promoting them.  Suffice to say- they're doing it right.  People like following teams.  They like knowing who's on the court just by glancing at the color of their jerseys.. hell, it's taken years for people to get around to even wearing jerseys!  Even arguely-the-best-team-in-the-world the Means got themselves a team page!  It might seem mundane at first but that's the kind of thing that shows a team is serious and gearing up to do more in the coming year.  That's also why whenever i see new (serious) teams like the Warlocks popping up not only does it make me happy, but it assures me that polo really is going places.

The European have arguably been better at this than us Norteamericanos.  Of course everybody knows of L'Equipe.  Then there's been the rise of Iron Ponies and the Swiss battle for supremacy.  For years Team Cosmic has been slaying tournaments and preaching their purple gospel of cosmic puke all across the poloverse.  It's fun, it's visual, and it makes polo more relatable for both players and fans.  I've never even met those guys but anytime i'm following a European event i check in to see how Cosmic is doing.  That's the strength of branding.  That's also why great teams like Spring Break, Dead Rappers, Cocorico, and a host of others have been making waves over the past year.

Now, i kinda hate the term branding cause it's a loaded term that implies you're selling something, but that's what i'm getting at here.  Maybe "thematic continuity" would be a better term.  Take my own team- Tree City.  We're not the greatest team in the world, but we're pretty decent and always getting better.  Nevertheless if you're from the Midwest you probably know us.  Tree City is a synonym for our home town of Bloomington where trees are treated like citizens and a dense canopy covers the whole city.  Of course it's also a reference to the *ahem* trees that we regularly enjoy, and if you know us off the court the whole theme makes perfect sense.  We've even been using the same grease and blood stained jerseys for years that are long overdue to be replaced.  We also practice together, travel together, win and lose together.  Maybe i'm just lucky to have such great friends who are such dedicated polo players, but i think what we have is gestaltic- that the whole is greater than the sum of it's parts.  We're better because we've banded together in a deeper sense than "hey let's play together for that tourney and come up with a potty mouth team name".  Not that that element will ever go away, just that i think everyone benefits when we strive for something greater.

Another example- in 2009 at the Midwest Championship in COMO there were only a few dedicated teams.  The final match was an epic struggle between Machine Politics of Chicago and the Beaver Boys of Milwaukee.  Unlike most of the teams that were assembled just for that tourney these guys had been playing together for years and continued to play together for years afterward.  At successive Championships we continued to see the epic rivalry between these two teams, with the Beaver Boys coming out on top in successive years, even culminating in a World Championship in Berlin.  Machine Politics didn't fade into the dark though- even as Lefty Joe moved westward and Matt Lane was replaced by Robbie Eccles the team found a new birth as "Clobber Politics".  They made a great showing at this past year's NA's then exploded on the final day of Worlds in Geneva to eventually reach the podium of the biggest event in the poloverse.  These are perfect examples of teams, in every sense of the word.  Not just some guys who banded together for a single event, but those who made a commitment to each other to work together in the long term.  Not only did it benefit them as players and a team, but it helps the sport as a whole.

I'm just brushing the surface here and we could talk about this all day long, but suffice to say that i'm excited to see the community embracing this "team element" so early in the 2013 year.  Some people like Capt Jake from Milwaukee are already way ahead of everyone on this subject- the MKE club has had legit cycling jerseys for the past two years and are currently designing their kit for next year!  Sean from Fixcraft helped a lot of people out this past year by producing team shirts for teams like the Guardians and Fluffy Ducks to help them out on the court.  That's the kinda direction we need.

No one is saying you can't wear random tshirts and name your team "Pedalphiles" or "My Dixie Wrecked" (again that element will always be a part of polo) but if we start taking our teams a little more seriously then it's a good thing.  I

I'll also point out that I'm wearing a Guardians shirt as i type this, will eagerly follow every tournament they play this year, and i can't even remember who played on Pedalphiles or where i heard the name...


Sunday, January 27, 2013

Columbus David's beautifully re-painted Rustbelt Marco

I'll start by saying the florescent lighting at the Skatium really dulls the shine of this bike. Of course this bike's first paint job was textured spray-on truck liner.. it was a neat idea but boy did dirt stick to it. Plus that grit would've really ripped bare skin during a crash. Anyway David finally got around to giving it a proper paintjob and damn what a beaut it is! Notice that he even painted the brake boosters to match! A quality steed rode by a quality dude, and definitely my favorite paintjob at the moment. And that rabbit cut into the seatstay brace? Tight! Lou needs to make custom cuts like that on every Rustbelt!

[David's original paintjob]

Loving all the new bikes i'm seeing this year.. and it's only January!


Thursday, January 24, 2013

New NA's highlight video from Mr. Do!

NA Highlights from Mr.Do on Vimeo.

I get so excited everytime i see a new video from Dustin pop up! Especially here in the dead of winter it's always nice to have good polo memories to keep ya warm. Go back and watch some of his earlier videos after this one- it's amazing how far both he and polo have come... now think about how next year will be EVEN BETTER!


Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Tucker Schwinn's ever-evolving Joust

Every time i see Tucker there's something different about his bike, and this past weekend at the Lock-In was no exception. A whole new set of wheels was built up, each with something special. I've thought about putting a disc brake on the front for some time (a la every person in Cascadia) and his BB7 setup seems to do the trick. He left the v-brake on the back (single digit ultimate!) and said you definitely have to tune em right but there power is all there. I rode it around a bit and it was easily two to three times more powerful that my current setup, then again i'm using shitty shimano v-brakes at the moment. Still, after riding that bike the switch almost seems worth it.. but that's not all...

It's safe to say at this point that Tucker is the man who brought the external bottom bracket to bike polo. Sure there's might be a few others out there who had one on their bike before the rest, but no one has spent the past couple years preaching it's benefits like the fine Mr.Schwinn. There's been A LOT of new Jousts and Rustbelts popping up lately, and every single one of them has gone external with their BB. Moving the bearings to the outside allows for bigger (and therefore more durable) bearings in addition to the extra stiffness and weight savings. Plus there's a whole range of downhill cranks that pair with them perfectly. Which is another point Tucker's been trying to make for some time now- the crossover between downhill MTB and bike polo is a lot greater than most people (read: companies) have acknowledged so far. It's a good thing, and i every time i see some rad parts never meant for polo it brings a smile to my face. Much like the smile i had when i saw Tucker finally cut that giant mane he called facial hair ;)

(also note the tab on the right side for a Hammerschmidt..)

Which brings me to the last new addition, and it's probably my favorite. A automatic 2-speed SRAM hub. Polo gears have always walked a fine line between too much spin and too much torque. What works for quick moves in the crease doesn't give you a full gallop in open court. The automatic shifting is an elegant solution to that. Sure Tucker already had a Hammerschmidt on there and could shift gears with his thumb, but it's one more control to fiddle with during a match and damn that thing is expensive. The Automatix is ridiculously affordable and the difference it makes when it upshifts is worth every dollar. Keep yr rear in place and spin to keep your initial gear but when you get out of the saddle you can feel the extra boost kick in. It's pretty amazing. Now it would definitely take some extensive familiarity to make sure you don't shift at the wrong times, but it's a new level worth exploring. In polo sometimes that one extra tooth on a cog can be the different between victory and defeat, so imagine what a whole other gear could do for yr game!

So yeah, Tucker is always pushing gear to the next level. What else do you expect from such a great guy with a great history behind him? Can't wait to see what crazy idea he brings to polo next..


Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Lock-in #3 vs #4

This was this year.. things started getting weird in the wee hours of the morning..

For reference, here was last year..

It wasn't so much that things changed, rather they evolved.  Lock-in #3 may have listened to the Vengabus approximately 75 times, but Lock-in #4 had a live ska band play the song on a court-side platform!  This party gets bigger and better and crazier each year.. hell, last year there were only a handful of people up from 4-7am and games were only stacked 3 or 4 deep- this year the shortest the stack ever got was 12 games!

Ii wouldn't trade it for anything.  I'd explain, but i can't.  You gotta be there.


[thank you Tori!  please record more of the stupid stuff we all do]

Monday, January 21, 2013

Thanks again St. Louis Bike Polo!

And #4 is in the bag!  As always the STL polo club outdid themselves.  I'm not even going to try to summarize all the antics and lunacy that went on- you can't describe a lock-in, you just have to attend and experience it for yourself.  The picture above is everyone that made it all the way to noon on Sunday, and of course there'll be more to come tomorrow.. but for now i think i'm gonna just have a couple of breakfast grapefruit shots and try to get some sleep.


PS - i just realized the previous post of the "lifer" patch on my bike is post #500.  I guess it goes to show that polo isn't just some fad or passing fancy- it's a way of life.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Only ten more days til the St.Louis Lock-In!

Really starting to get excited for #4!  In my mind i've already scheduled off the saturday before MLK Day for the next 20 years...


Monday, January 7, 2013

What is "the polo season"?

I love numbers. Opinions are always subjective and scattered, but numbers tell their own story and never lie. Earlier in the year during NAH discussions i started making a spreadsheet to map out "the polo season". Now that the year has ended i decided to finish out the chart and clean it up a bit. While a lot of the conclusions i draw will be obvious, it's nice to have visuals and numbers to confirm that which we already know.

Let's start with the basics- every professional sport has a defined season. That's a good thing.  A defined season means people can plan their schedules ahead of time, it means clubs and organizers can know what to expect, and it means there's a natural flow to the season where teams can practice, progress, and eventually compete for a crown.  Additionally having a defined season means having a defined off-season, leaving time to rest, recover, and plan ahead for the next season.  I'm not saying you can't or shouldn't play polo 365 days a year if that's what you want, but from an organizational perspective having a defined season benefits players, organizers, and spectators alike.

For example- while anyone can go out and play baseball any day of the year the professional league (MLB) starts its season in April, runs through August, and holds its playoffs in September and October. Alternatively the National Hockey League, as an indoor sport runs October through March, with playoffs into April and even May. (though i'm still pissed about them canceling the Winter Classic...)  Most athletic seasons are defined by their tendency to be played indoor or outdoor, but the exact scheduling also takes into account weather, location, holidays, and competing sports.  While the NFL and the NCAA are both playing football, they intentionally schedule their title games a month apart.  Tonight i'm gonna watch Notre Dame play Alabama for the national championship, yet the Super Bowl won't take place til early February.  Obviously there's a myriad of considerations when defining an athletic calender, but i bring up these examples and pose these questions because i hope the polo community is thinking as much about our sport as others have about theirs.

For reference (and fun) take a look at Wikipedia's chart of seasons by league.

Now back to polo.  I took all the events posted on the League of Bike Polo from 2008 through 2012 and organized them by month, year, and continent.  Yes i realize that doesn't include every possible event, nor are all events created equal, but this is the best data-set available at the moment.

HERE is the google doc with the numbers.

The first takeaway is look how much polo has grown!  From 2008 to 2010 we went from only a handful of tournaments to over a hundred.  And while we experienced growth in 2011 and 2012 it was slightly muted compared to previous years- hopefully that doesn't mean polo is "leveling off".  Personally i don't think it is, at all, but that might speak to the quality of events increasing as opposed to quantity.  The difference between the first Worlds in Philly and Worlds in Geneva is like the difference between night and day.  We've grown not just bigger, but better.

But back to the season. 

Here's the breakdown of North American events...

While i'd love to discuss every little bit of this my fingers would fall off trying to type it all, so let's just go start with the obvious- January, February, and December (and arguably November) are the deadest months for polo.  Snow-polo can be fun, but it can also be dangerous (and i have a metal plate in my wrist to prove it). There is clearly an early peak and a late peak, spring and autumn respectively, when the weather is ideal to play polo- not too hot, not too cold- and lulls during the summer.  What's interesting is that the lull doesn't necessarily fall at the same time each year.  in '09 it was in May, in '10 it was June/July, in '11 it was just June, then in '12 there was a massive drop during July.  I'd argue this shows that people are trying to plan their events earlier, resulting in the calender becoming progressively more "front-loaded" each year.  But then we must note that the autumn months- August, September, October- are clearly the favorite time for events to be held, with October taking the crown for most polorific month on the calender.  Personally October is my favorite month out of the year, plan and simple.  The weather here in Indiana is just perfect.  A light jacket will do you fine, the summer humidity has finally gone, and as the leaves begin to change the scenery is almost magical.  So i see why everyone loves October, but pointing this fact out doesn't mean we all need to rush to plan events for one or two months in particular, but rather we need to spread out our events to maximize both participation and enjoyment.  

Which brings up a good question- just how many tournaments can a player reasonably attend in a year?  We're a weekend sport, so that's 52 possible events.  Subtract the dead-of-winter months and you're at about 40.  So considering that even the most dedicated player can't play every single weekend let's assume every other weekend- that's 20 events per year.  And not all of those will/should necessarily be high level events- you gotta leave time for the pickup tourneys, the friendlies, the new club visits, the St.Louis Lock-Ins of the world.  Hopefully you're seeing why i think it's important to keep a keen eye to the calender.  There's already more events than any one person can possibly attend, so as polo continues to grow the way we organize our season will become more and more important.

 Now let's look at them yurpeens...

You'll notice similar peaks and valleys, though the summer lull seems a little more pronounced... until 2012.  This past year seemed to blow the previous stats out of the water... an earlier push in March, April lull, then a slight bubble in early summer, another lull in August, then triple the number of tourneys in September.  While the overall averages (chart below) still follow the general pattern of spring boom, summer lull, autumn boom, i think what this chart really affirms is that polo tends to go in spurts.  That is to say that there will be a bunch of tourneys at one time, then people will run out of money or time-off or interest and a lull will occur, then as interest/time/money rebound another boom occurs.  I think this is a reality that we all face- maybe you go to three tourneys one month, but at that point you've probably exhusted your bank account or girlfriend's patience and decide to stick closer to home for a bit.  I'd really like to have a data-set that included distance traveled.. oh man think of the graphs + maps we could make!  Thankfully Zach from Austin has his polo stat site running better than ever.. the more metrics the better in my opinion!

But i digress.  Here's the averages grouped by Northern and Southern Hemispheres...


It's a little easier to see the overall flow of the season with these charts.  I thought there might be more of a difference with the Southern Hemisphere being in winter while we're in summer (and visa versa) but then i looked at Syndey's average temperature by month and saw they don't really have much of a winter anyways.. unless you consider 47 degree Fahrenheit to be "cold".  I do not.  But maybe that explains while the Australian calender is a lot more balanced and constant than their northern counterparts.  Maybe it's just the smaller number of events skewing the results.  Either way i'm not the right person to be commenting on anything south of the mason-dixon line... maybe the gents over at GoalHole could enlighten us to the ins and outs of the aussie (and kiwi) polo calender?

- - - - -

Anyway, i can ramble about this stuff for hours, but for now i'm just putting this google doc out there for others to play around with.  Here's the full link in case you wanna copy it...

Keep in mind there's tabs (sheets) at the bottom that have more and different info.  I have a few other graphs that i'll share later, but if there's anyone out there who wants to use this info and come up with some of their own i'd love to see em!  Just copy paste the numbers into your own google doc if you wanna make some new charts.  Maybe you don't agree with my interpretation of the numbers- that's cool and i'd love to hear what you think.  And yes, i take polo a little too seriously, but i know a lot of you do too. 


Friday, January 4, 2013