May 31, 2013
‘Cycle Polo’ – two words that in Perth, until recently, had rarely been seen jammed together in the same sentence.
But if a quirky band of Perth sportspeople has its way that is all about to change.
On an array of bicycles, a group of six riders, three to a side, takes to a makeshift concrete court with plastic mallets.
With the wheels of their bicycles spinning in a blur and turning on a dime, the riders chase a hard plastic ball.
The rules of Cycle Polo are simple: contact is mallet-on-mallet, and bike-on-bike only.
No ‘foot-downs’ are allowed, meaning that riders have to keep their feet on the pedals and cannot steady themselves by placing their feet on the ground.
If a player puts their foot down during a game they are not allowed to impact other players, or touch the plastic ball until they have ‘tapped out’ by returning to a defined spot in the middle of the court, at which point they can rejoin the action.
With no permanent home, Perth Cycle Polo makes do with a car park at the Mt Lawley campus of Edith Cowan University.
One player, Derren Hall, has been wielding the mallet for four years.
He says that, in an ideal world, Perth would have a custom built court similar to one in Vancouver, Canada, which is essentially a concrete hockey rink.
Looking skyward at the dark clouds, Hall says that rain only stops a few games a season in Perth.
But today there is a broom on hand to sweep the court after the rain drives the players to seek shelter.
Across the wet playing surface, a player comes skidding toward the goal that Hall and I are standing near and smashes into a makeshift crash barrier.
One of the players shouts at the rider: “Probably don’t want to come in that fast when it’s wet, mate!”
But Cycle Polo is about having a good time. The players laugh the crash off and work together to rebuild the barrier.
Another player, Scott D’Mello, tells me that bike polo players are an unpredictable bunch.
He says that players range roughly in age from 18 to about 45.
“For some reason people who play bike polo also tend to be a little bit weird,” D’Mello says.
“They like to dress up.
“Whenever we have a tournament they’re usually themed.
“There [are] a few guys that like to wear dresses as well, and I can’t feel that [the dress versus bike chain potential] would be all that good for polo.”
Perth’s only female player, Claire Shepherd, is unfazed about being the only woman on court.
“I’m not the only one with a vagina but I’m the only female,” she quips.
When Shepherd is on the court, she asks no quarter of the blokes, and none is given.
She rides hard, and recently endured a blood nose for her efforts.
The 10-minute long games are played about three times a week, and arranged via Facebook.
On Facebook, agreements are made about who will pick up the custom-built trailer full of Cycle Polo gear.
The trailer houses goals, mallets, guards for the court and the all important balls.
Cycle polo balls and mallets are now custom made, but players previously used indoor hockey balls, and mallets made from pieces of plumbers’ pipe affixed to the bottom of hockey sticks.
Another player, Nick Metcalfe, tells me the sport has also bred a new style of bike.
He tells me the changes are to reduce turning circle and improve mobility.
The new frame has a smaller distance between the wheels, and often has wheel guards, particularly on the front wheel which cops a real beating.
The guards protect the spokes from mallet hits, balls and damage from collisions.
The composition of Cycle Polo teams is decided by throwing mallets into the middle of the court. Whoever is keen to play just rides in and grabs a mallet.
New players are welcome. All you need is a bike, a helmet and some courage.
You can also check out Rhian’s work in the Western Independent newspaper, available from this week at news stands around Curtin University.