Editor-at-large Alexi Duggins is at your mercy. So this week, you had him cycle around with a mallet and ball.
Bad things happen when I get on a bike. Cars honk. Children scream. Pavements start acting like homicidal maniacs hellbent on jumping up and smashing me in the face. It’s weird. Or maybe it’s because I tend to cycle drunk. Either way, tonight, I’m playing bike polo. It’s like normal polo, but the pitch is concrete, the mallets cobbled together from golf clubs and drainpipes, and the players aren’t blazer-infesting twonks. They are, however, an incredibly active community. They’ve turned the annual London Open Bike Polo Tournament, held every August, into the biggest in the world. They’ve opened up matches to any kind of bike – previously it was mainly fixed gear. They’ve introduced the sport to schools. And they’ve even custom built a court at Herne Hill Velodrome. You know: for the bike curious.
So, to recap:
1) Bike polo is changing the face of London sport.
2) I am a disaster on wheels.
3) Thus bike polo is also likely to change the face of my face.
‘Yeah, some of us tend to wear helmets,’ says one of the players as I awkwardly saddle up – minus helmet – on an outdoor basketball court in Elephant & Castle. ‘In case you hit the floor?’ ‘Well, there is that. But there’s also the odd time you get a ball in the face.’ Christ. ‘Or a mallet.’ Christ.
We assemble into two teams of three, hop on our bikes and wait at opposite ends of the court. ‘Polo!’ yells the ref, and we all race towards a hockey ball, sat on the centre spot. The rules are simple: whoever’s in the lead after ten minutes – or the first to five goals – wins. Also, no putting feet on the floor. ‘Here!’ yells one of my teammates. The ball heads towards me. I receive it with my mallet. I wobble wildly, reach the two traffic cones functioning as a goal and… fall off. But the other players are friendly beyond belief. There’s so much camaraderie, it’s impossible not to have fun. In fact, they’re so patient and encouraging that, amazingly, by the end of ten minutes I’ve almost got the hang of it. I just wish I was as adept as them.
‘Yeah, I guess the sport is getting more professional,’ says one player afterwards. ‘Nowadays, at the serious tournaments, people don’t even get drunk before taking part.’ Drunk? I look round and realise that people are merrily sipping beers. Suddenly it strikes me: this may be my ideal sport – my idea of competitive heaven. I’m overcome. So overcome that I respond in the only way I can. I fall off my bike again.
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