During one of my recent absences from blogging I stopped in to visit a friend out-of-town. I e-mailed and said that my family and I had an extra day and we could stop in to see them overnight on the tail end of a trip. His response was "you can stay with us as long as you play bike polo with me."
This is really why you maintain friendships over years and years, isn't it? So that you have comrades who have no hesitation in placing absurd demands on you. "Sure, I'll do that as long as we finish this bottle of tequila" is one I remember. Actually, the demands of this friendship have resulted in a number of things, including the topic of my blog after this blog, but in this case, it resulted in that offer. Of course I said yes.
So, we arrived in town, had a lovely barbecue dinner, a bottle and a half of wine, the kids played together and then Paul announced it was time to go play bike polo. I had hoped he had forgotten.
I have bike gear for mountain biking, and for road riding, and for family trail riding, and commuting and I suppose most things you can do on a bike. But I had no real good idea of what to wear for bike polo, but I had packed a pair of shorts I didn't mind tearing, a Team Two Wheel t-shirt, a pair of Keens and a baseball cap just for this occasion. It was the right outfit. There was no lycra and no functional cycling gear to be had. A helmet would, in fact, have been a good idea, but since no one else was sporting one, I didn't either.
Can we pause for a moment and think about how stupid that is?
Thank you. Let's move on.
I was borrowing a bike, which turns out was a 29" mountain bike. My buddy was riding a fixed gear bike more suitable for a ride to the local coffee shop. There was every manner of non-road bike in the group of 12 people, but mostly beater-style mountain bikes.
The rules are fairly simple. You start off with a joust, in which two opposing cyclists charge the ball mid-field. In this case, we played on a field about the size of a soccer field, used soccer goals with the nets off or up so you can ride through, and with four players per team. No idea if this is standard. You can only hit the ball three times before another player has to hit it. The person with the shallowest angle of approach to the direction the ball is traveling has the right of way. And lastly, don't bust the spokes out of your friend's Industry Nine wheels.
I added that last one. Not to give away the ending, but I didn't bust them. For that I am pleased.
We played two halves, although I don't know how long each lasted. We had all adult males, but I know that prior weeks they had kids and females playing. Thankfully there were no women or children to add sense or sensibility this particular evening's display of testosterone and manly bike skills.
The group had used croquet mallets in prior weeks, along with a greatly oversized tennis ball, but this week someone had purchased a selection of actual bike polo mallets and people were borrowing them and then buying them in order to play in future weeks. Clearly, this neighborhood group was more organized than mine. I guess that comes from living in a neighborhood of million dollar homes with water views. But I digress.
The game itself is a lot of fun. It involves slow-speed bike handling with interspersed moments of sprinting frenzy. There is very little that it is subtle or nuanced about the bike polo I played. We were either charging with the ball or in something that looked like a bike rugby scrum. Those are the moments that offer the most opportunity for crashes and idiocy. I started out a bit slow, since I didn't know any of the players or any of the rules, but I know that at in at least a couple of instances later in the game I was not being looked upon favorably for either misunderstanding or ignoring the "shallowest angle of approach" rule. I was genuinely confused by the concept when the ball is sitting still on the field. Since the ball was not moving, how do you decide who has the shallowest angle relative to the angle of travel? Using my highly evolved sense of physics and geometry, I decided that whoever was moving faster must be that person, so a couple of times I got the hell out of the way and a couple of times I charged at it. I may have crossed the line over which the gentlemen of this neighborhood usually do not, but at the local tavern afterwards my transgressions were either overlooked or forgiven.
So yes, that poses two final bits of information that should be imparted to give the full picture. Who won the game and where did the beer come in? As to who won the game, I think that is purely besides the point. This was a neighborhood group of bicycle loving folks that come together on Thursday evenings for some camaraderie and exercise. The teams were picked on the field and players substituted in and out as they arrived or had to leave. Thus, who won or what the score was is clearly irrelevant.
Which leads to the other point to the game, at least in this neighborhood. After the game, at which there were a few family spectators, everyone rode home to drop off bikes and family, and then the players re-organized at the local tavern for a pitcher or two to discuss the match, upcoming rides and other sorts of gentlemanly topics. This portion of the night was just as important as the match and was the perfect compliment to the evening. It highlighted the enjoyment I get from cycling and hanging out with cyclists. Even though I only knew my friend, I had an instant connection to others who showed up. Our cycling provided a bond cemented by the pitcher of IPA on the table. And who won or lost, and who scored, all fell to the side as everyone looked forward to future matches among the members of the Tacoma Old Town Bike Polo and Duffer Society.
Oh yeah, my team won. 5-4. I scored twice.
I can't help myself.