- Indy Bike Polo practices beneath a downtown overpass.
If you’ve never experienced bicycle polo, you no longer have an excuse; Indy's team has a home base now. As of just recently, and after dozens of phone calls, Indianapolis Bike Polo has claimed Arsenal Park as its own (46th Street and Haverford Road, right off the Monon Trail).
Keith Cruz is the de facto team leader; he and several regular players meet weekly on Sundays from noon until they get tired. And all are welcome. They played this Sunday, despite the cold, and then met up at Broad Ripple Brewpub to talk about plans and goals as spring approaches.
About ten guys fill up on bar food and beer as they recount a day of play and make plans for the upcoming weeks. On Friday, they’ll be at the Harrison Center. The Indy team, along with teams from Bloomington, Lafayette and Fort Wayne, will be there to play bicycle polo in the gymnasium during the Harrison's First Friday festivities. They’ll be happy to talk to anyone who is interested in getting involved; they pride themselves on being an amateur co-ed sports club: “It’s free, fun, and anyone can give it a shot.”
Kyle Roland found the team from a posting from IndyCog; he was hooked after his first practice: “Anyone who wants to play is more than welcome: come out on a Sunday. We’ve got bikes, extra mallets. You should probably bring a helmet. Everyone has to start somewhere.”
The rules are fairly simple. Two teams of three people play with a street-hockey ball, which starts in the middle of the court. The very first play of the game is called the “joust, and once the ball is in play, it’s in play at all times. No one necessarily guards the goal the whole time, but there are certainly methods of offense and defense. Touching the ground with your foot is called a “dap,” and you must go to the sideline and “tap” back in.
A game ends when a team reaches five points, or when ten minutes elapse. Person-to-person contact is legal, but players attempt to avoid mallet or bike contact. In Cruz’s words, “The number one rule of bike polo is, don’t be a dick.”
Since there aren’t a lot of people who have grown up with this sport, everyone is learning and getting better, says Cruz. “You’re going to be terrible at first. But it’s a lot of fun. People tend to know pretty quickly if it’s for them. When it sticks, it sticks pretty hard. It just takes a lot of practice.”
Another result of this being a relatively new sport is that there isn’t a whole lot of equipment being made just for bike polo. There are a lot of people making do-it-yourself bikes and mallets; players alter their bikes and try new things out as they go.
“Everyone has their own little quirk: their own little thing that they like to do to their bike," Bennett says, adding that players try to use bikes that have as little moving parts as possible; less to break means less to fix.
Some of the bigger tournaments feature teams that have been playing together for several years. A team out of Milwaukee, the Beaver Boys, have been cleaning up at all of the big tournaments, with sponsorship by Milwaukee Bike Company and PBR, among others.
Cruz and the Indy guys see the existence of the Beaver Boys as motivation; there's room to grow. They’ve already been sponsored for certain events from the Brewpub and from IndyCog. The biggest challenge of getting a local sponsor is that companies want a place to advertise; having Arsenal Park as a home court may help to address that obstacle.
People tend to think that bike polo is dangerous, and while there are injuries, the team is part of a statewide co-op that has offered a way for players to pool all of their resources in order to have insurance.
Having a state co-op allows pretty much anyone to start a team. The Indiana Bicycle Polo Co-op is working on a website, but for now, the teams just communicate through their respective Facebook pages and Twitter.
The Indy team has a meeting with the Indy Parks and Recreation in early February and hope to have their court built and the park cleaned up as soon as possible. They’ll maintain the park on a weekly basis and work from there to improve it to the point that people know about it and want to hang out and play or watch the games.
“If we’re talking about a 5-year plan, I can see a dual court being built and used in Indy," says Cruz, who notes that other cities (including Columbus, Ohio) have collaborated local YMCAs and community centers to create spaces that can be used for bike polo and other activities.
For now, the Indy team is keeping their Facebook and Twitter accounts up to date with announcements and information on weekly games. As the weather gets nicer and the Arsenal Park court is finalized, they expect to attract more and more people. The First Friday events have already helped to recruit interest, and most of the guys have dedicated their vehicle trunks to carrying around extra bikes to have available on Sunday afternoons.