How Bike Polo Became a Sunday Obsession in Carbondale
On a chilly evening in May 2008, during Carbondale’s annual Bonedale Bike Week, a group of bicycle fanatics with the self-proclaimed name Stomparillaz Brigade engaged in a team sport involving riding bikes and using long-handled mallets to hit a ball downfield into a net defended by the opposite team, also on bikes. Similar to horseback polo — the bikes are the ponies in this case — the team that scores the most points wins.
Smitten with their new sport, the Stomparillaz played into the night. Former Roaring Fork Valley resident and instigator Max Cooper described the escapades in a blog:
The bike mechanics amongst the crowd immediately got to playing and continued to do so until some time around 11-ish, when a silver Volkswagen Jetta communicated with the squad in the City Market parking lot. Darin Binion of Gear Exchange fame was informed by the fellow driving the Jetta that someone had complained (about bike polo, apparently, not the fact that our Xtracycles could demolish his Jetta in lots of tests). “The cops will be here in five minutes, just warnin’ yah.” Upon hearing this amidst heated bike polo, I was quite curious if the cops had heard of Bonedale Bike Week? They had not, nor did they seem to have much interest in the great and glorious game of bike polo. But, hot damn, I sure do. They did want our names. I invited them to ride their bikez out to bike polo Thursday night.
It was the start of a weekly tradition for a handful of valley locals, who continue to meet Sundays at Hendrick Park in Carbondale to play non-competitive matches, practice for select tournaments, enjoy cold beverages together, catch up on the week’s happenings, and get a high-intensity workout.
“I started coming a couple years ago with a few friends, and I was immediately hooked. I’ve been coming every Sunday ever since,” says Carbondale resident Cortney McDougall.
An athlete since she was young, McDougall says bike polo combines her love of bikes and team sports. “Everyone who plays rides bikes. They probably have more than one bike—maybe more than three—well, maybe four bikes,” McDougall says while watching her 12-month-old, Sam, turn the pedal on one of the bikes. Sam was a product of bike polo. McDougall met her husband, Dan Giese, during a Sunday session.
Giese has played since Carbondale’s early days. Friends told him, “Just show up with a bike; we’ve got everything else you need.”
There are two styles of bike polo. Hard court is as it sounds, played on a concrete court with more serious consequences should a player fall. The Roaring Fork Valley crew plays instead on grass, where a fall is more forgiving. And falling does occur, as does laughter, supportive calls of “Nice job!” and camaraderie.
Most players ride fixed gear or single speed bicycles. Mallets are handmade out of ski poles, PVC pipe, wood, aluminum tubing, and the like. Additional gear includes gloves, closed-toe shoes, sunglasses, helmet, and No. 1 size soccer balls. Colorful knee-high socks lend to the panache of what might be considered a bit of an underground obsession.
Binion (mentioned in the blog) has played for more than 10 years. He and fiancé Rebecca Murray live near Hendrick Park and store bicycles, nets/goals, mallets, foldable chairs, and tents for the Sunday gigs. They also pay the dues and make reservations through the Carbondale Recreation Department to officially be on the field every week.
“I will typically work on polo ponies for at least a couple of hours before we play on Sundays. They get beat up pretty bad sometimes and lots of truing wheels and replacing spokes is what I do,” Binion says.
In addition to it being a social hour (or four), players will tell you that bike polo also forces you to be a better bike handler.
“Polo is something that draws me each week because I love to ride bikes and hang out with friends, but riding single track isn’t generally very social,” says Binion, who commutes by bicycle and mountain bikes on the valley’s wealth of trails. “Polo allows you to interact on the field while giggling like school girls. It gives you a workout that you can’t get anywhere else. Sprinting for the ball and chasing it in circles is so much fun. I could go on and on about how much it has helped my riding skills and balance for other cycling activities.”