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Bike Polo
Coordination is key in this variation of the sport on bikes instead of horses

By MARK CONCANNON
Photos by Matt Haas

June 2015

Not long ago, the local participants in bike polo spent almost as much time hoping not to get arrested during a game as they did playing it. But these days, the Milwaukee Bike Polo Club zooms around on two wheels, focusing solely on scoring goals while its membership steadily grows.

Jake Newborn, the club captain and president, began playing nine years ago when some people at a local bike shop told him about the sport. "I showed up and fell in love with it," Newborn remembers.

The hard-court version of bike polo is a three-on-three competition. There are no set positions, as players fluctuate between offense and defense. Competitors need to keep their feet on the pedals to be eligible to score a goal. If a foot touches the ground, the player has to ride to the middle of the court to "tap out" and restore eligibility. Goals can only be scored when the rounded end of the mallet strikes the ball.

The size of the court varies (Milwaukee’s is 140 by 60 feet), and the goals are 6 feet high by 3 feet wide. The ball is made of hard plastic, similar to a street hockey ball.

There are 25 members, men and women ranging in age from 18 to 40, in the Milwaukee club, which began play in 2005.

"Hockey players pick it up pretty naturally because of the hand-eye stick movement swinging at the ball," Newborn says. "Hockey or soccer players used to team movement passing sports get the gist of the game relatively quickly."

But learning to ride a bike one-handed without hitting other players while watching the ball and striking it with a mallet is an acquired skill. "It’s like any other sport," Newborn says. "You have to practice."

There are 193 clubs in America and about 400 worldwide. The Milwaukee club, which fields several teams based on skill and experience, has been competitive at all levels — winning the World Championship in Berlin in 2005 along with several North American and Midwest championships.

The club played Sunday nights in the O’Donnell Park parking garage until 2010, when 11 players were arrested there for trespassing. The club worked with Milwaukee County Parks and Recreation to find a new venue — the unused tennis courts at Washington Park, where Newborn says they play "pretty much whenever there isn’t snow on the ground."

Newborn, whose bike cost $1,800, says some players spend up to $2,500 for their mounts. One local shop designs specific frames for the sport.

As bike polo increases in popularity, more rules have been introduced to ensure safety. Shoulder-to-shoulder contact is allowed, but colliding with an opponent’s bike is illegal, as is touching another player’s steering arm.

But no rules will completely prevent injuries. Newborn broke his clavicle five years ago and says scrapes, cuts and bruises are common. But Newborn, who is 32 and the father of a 2-year-old daughter, says he has no plans to give up the sport.

"It’s a ton of fun," he says. "Both from the competitive aspect and the social aspect. I’ve made friends in the sport all across the country and around the world."

The club is looking for new members. Anyone is welcome to watch and try out for free. For more information, visit MKEBikepolo.com or the club’s Facebook page.

 


This story ran in the June 2015  issue of: