With balance and mallets, bike polo thrills
Steamboat Springs — The key to bike polo is balance.
“Balance,” Ben Clark said, “and patience.”
Saturday, Clark and about 30 other riders tried both their balance and their patience in a bike polo tournament on Yampa Street, the unofficial continuation of one of Steamboat Springs’ most unofficial sports.
The city has seen small bike polo tournaments in the past, mostly as a part of the day’s activities when the U.S. Pro Challenge has come to town, in 2011, 2013 and 2015.
The sport — sport? — has enjoyed a slightly bigger life than that, however, as a not-quite-weekly weekend get-together among some of Steamboat’s bike savvy citizens.
The premise is simple: Ride a bike and use a long mallet to hit a ball into a goal.
The rules add some complexity and incorporate that first big key: balance. Riders can continue to fight for the ball until they lose their balance on their bike and have to put a foot down. Then, they have to ride back behind their own goal before emerging again to play, or they can sub out with another player.
The equipment is decidedly ramshackle.
Mallets are made from a number of things, including hockey sticks and golf clubs with PVC pipe attached to the ends.
It’s best for the bikes themselves to be somewhat expendable.
“One of the keys is to have no fear,” said Mindy Mulliken. “You can’t hold anything back out there. The more you think about if you’re going to t-bone someone, or is your mallet going to get stuck in a spoke, the more likely you are to go down.”
Mulliken considers herself — with a laugh — a seasoned bike polo veteran, a survivor of many matches in friends’ backyards and of those every-so-often impromptu weekend showdowns.
“I’m shaking from the adrenaline I get from it,” she said after her team came up just short in the championship match, falling to Clark’s squad, 4-1.
“It’s a great team sport,” she said. “How many team sports do you really play once you’re past 25?”
She plays this one thanks, in part, to Helen Beall, who almost inadvertently became bike polo’s biggest ambassador in Steamboat.
Beall has also been playing for a long time, and she was volunteered to help organize the sport as an activity during the U.S. Pro Challenge festival in Steamboat. She took on the task of forming the teams, drawing mostly from whomever responded from her Facebook friends list.
“There’s not much organizing,” she said. “It’s mostly a bunch of people who ride bikes and hit things.”
Still, that led to Saturday, when organizers of the Steamboat Springs Farmers Market asked if she’d put on a tournament during their weekly event. She did, gathering four teams for the affair.
They battled for a thrift store child’s BMX bike spray-painted gold.
“We want to figure out a way to make it quasi-sanctioned,” Beall said. “It’s pretty word-of-mouth right now, but at least a half dozen people came up today and asked how they could play. We’d love to play every week, but I don’t know if that’s feasible.”
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