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Pedalers' polo.

If you can ride a bicycle and enjoy a bit of friendly competition, then this is the sport for you

LOU "MALLETHEAD" Gonzalez, the king of bicycle polo, goes over the tournament rules. He holds a bulb-nosed bugle under one arm and his fidgeting 2-year-old son, Max, beneath the other. Max wants to get to the bugle, used to begin the chukkers (periods). Dad wants to start the first match between the Fun Hogs and the Road Warriors, signaling the beginning of an eight-team tournament in Santa Barbara.

"There are plenty of insane games in the world," says Gonzalez, who's nattily dressed in white tails and Hawaiian print shorts--his official attire. "Don't make this one of them. Remember the two most important rules: know fun and no whining."

Forty male and female weekend warriors, a few with girths exceeding the circumference of their bike wheels, mount their two-wheeled steeds, clack mallets and--as Gonzalez sounds the bugle--charge a white plastic orb the size of a baseball.

Welcome to the thoroughly Western sport of bicycle polo, conceived in 1987 by Gonzalez and his wife, Trice "Polo Queen" Hufnagel, on Fourth of July weekend in Crested Butte, Colorado. Bicycle polo combines basketball's high scoring with chess's strategy. Players needn't be youthful, strong, dexterous, or male to play, and contact between players (or their bikes) is not allowed.


Forget the Lombardi ethic that winning is everything. Besides a mountain bike and a few simple pieces of equipment, the key ingredient to bicycle polo is fun.

To get started, you need a playing field about 100 by 200 feet. Gonzalez and Hufnagel, who run the World Bicycle Polo Federation from their home in Bailey, Colorado, swear you won't tear up the grass. "Bicycle polo does less harm to fields than an average youth soccer game," says Gonzalez.

Each team consists of four players, at least one of whom must be female (according to official rules). Some bike shops and parks departments have mallets and balls for rent or loan, or you can buy a complete eight-player set for about $250 from the World Bicycle Polo Federation.


Ted Braun, whose Pologonians won the 1991 California state championship, suggests that newcomers to the sport "think of it as being chess on wheels: it's not where the ball is now that's important. It's where the ball is going to be. You don't have to hit the ball hard to win. Think ahead."

Here are more tips:

* Work the ball upfield slowly but surely, as in soccer. Charge the ball, hit it forward where a teammate can pedal it down, then circle back into the goalie position (see diagram); repeat thrusts toward goal.

After you score, ideally every couple of minutes, the other team brings the ball out from its goal. Games are divided into two or four 10-minute chukkers.

* Communicate with fellow players; tell them where you are, where you're going.

* Wear a helmet and gloves. Collisions are rare, but if you brake quickly you might do an endo (end-over-end flip). Consider switching the brake cables on your bike so that your braking hand--the left--stops the rear wheel.

* Join the WBPF, Box 1039, Bailey, Colo. 80421; (303) 838-4878. For $10 a year, you get a newsletter and a 15 percent discount on equipment.


In the West you can watch bicycle polo (or join or form a league team) at several locations. Play usually begins in May and runs through late October, when the world championship is held in Moab, Utah.

California. Grass Valley: Wednesdays and Sundays through October. Call Samurai Bike Shop at (916) 477-0858. Occidental: Saturdays (times vary) March through October. Call Pat Miller at (707) 874-2169. Santa Barbara: Sundays at 9. Call Tom Dolan at (805) 965-2425.

Colorado. Boulder: Call Mo Bray at Boulder County's Department of Transportation, (303) 441-3900.

Do's and don'ts of bicycle polo

Play begins with a joust for the ball, placed at center field. Four-person teams ride out from behind their goal lines, led by a "charger," then a "wingman," then a "sweeper" farther back. As play develops, the goalie circulates onto the field as a teammate who has overrun play circles back to replace him.

Four major penalties emphasize brains (and safety) over brawn. The fouled team gets a free shot at goal from the point where the infraction occurred.

1. No veering

In order to move the ball upfield, defend your goal, or really do anything on the field, you must keep your bike roughly parallel to the sidelines except, of course, when turning; you are not allowed to ride at a sharp angle toward the ball.

2. No interference

Only two riders may compete for the ball. Other players must respect their rights of way, riding a yard to either side or behind.

3. No feet down

If you do put your foot down, you must ride away from the ball. For balance, goalie uses mallet as a third leg.

4. No high-sticking

Unlike in equestrian polo, the mallet must be kept below the shoulders when other riders are within 6 feet. Poke the ball--don't swing at it.
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Author:Lansing, David
Date:Apr 1, 1993
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