Saddling up for bike polo in New West
Move over lacrosse, there's a new game in New Westminster.
Like the venerable national sport that's bred in the bone of the Royal City's sporting heritage this newcomer has fast action, missile-like shots and crunching collisions.
But these crashes are more likely to break spokes than bones.
For the past eight weeks or so, Shawn Innes and some like-minded buddies have been saddling up their bikes every Wednesday evening to play bike polo.
Innes, who runs New West Cycles in the city's Downtown, says he was aware of the sport because some of his customers play in East Vancouver, but he'd never considered setting up a game himself until one of his mechanics watched some videos online and fashioned his own mallet from an old ski pole and PVC pipe. A shopping trip to the thrift store, some sawing, glueing and taping later they had enough equipment assembled for a proper game.
Word went out through his shop and on a late summer's evening, the orange plastic hockey ball was dropped for New West's first bike polo match on the expansive hardtop at the east end of Pier Park.
The game has since moved to the lacrosse box at Moody Park, but with daylight waning earlier and earlier, Innes says he's on the prowl for a location with more illumination.
So far the weekly matches have attracted a regular contingent of at least a half dozen players.
The earliest games were rather haphazard says Innes, as everyone worked out the proper combination of balance, speed, dexterity and fearlessness to maneuver their bikes in close quarters while swinging mallets at a rolling ball.
"There were a lot of collisions," says Innes.
There were also equipment issues to overcome.
Most players ride single speed or fixed-gear bikes with the rear brake lever mounted on the left handlebar to accommodate right-handed swings. Players on mountain bikes fashioned cages to protect their rear derailleurs. And after more than a few spokes were broken by mallets going through wheels, everyone quickly learned to devise wheel covers.
Like the more well-known and infinitely less-accessible horseback version of the game, bike polo involves two teams trying to pass and shoot a ball into the opposition's net. A game begins with each side lining up on its own goal line then, at the whistle, sending a designated "jouster" to play the ball at centre court. After that, it's mayhem.
Players have to keep their feet on the pedals at all times. Stepping off, or "dabbing," results in the player being sent to the sideline where they have to tap the boards before they can get back into the play.
"Everyone falls at least once," says Innes. "If you're fit, your body recovers quickly."
Innes is hopeful if more players come out, and they can keep the game going through the winter months, they'll eventually be able to hold their own in games against the grizzled bike polo veterans of Vancouver's east side, where the sport has been going strong for nearly two decades.
They've already sent an ambassador from Grandview Park to offer a little guidance to the nascent league. And maybe scout their future rivals.
Potential players or curious cyclists can find out more about bike polo in New West by contacting Innes at his shop, 778-397-3971