Blood in Bike Polo: The Role of Violence

Bike polo, in its very nature, is a relatively dangerous sport. When I first started playing (and my club was young, and I was scared to lean on my bike, and I didn’t keep my head up nor did anyone else, really) I crashed a lot.

Our club as a whole was pretty rock-um-sock-um when it came to playing. We’d run each other into the fence, we’d T-bone on purpose at times. It was great fun, really.

But as we developed as a club we stopped being so violent (I like to think we were getting more skilled and didn’t need to crash into each other to stop plays, for instance), and that was pretty good, too. There was a general feeling that really good players didn’t need to be violent (and I subscribe to that belief myself), so if you want to become a good player, you need to depend on finesse more than brute strength.

But let’s take a moment to talk about the other side of the coin, here. The scarred up, bruised and tooth spitting side of the coin.

The general rules of bike polo (if you don’t subscribe to reading all of the NAH rulebook) is body to body, bike to bike, and mallet to mallet contact. 2 of these three can lead to some brutal situations, as evidenced by Mr. Do’s lovely video which I will now gratuitously post because it’s that damned good:

World Class Polo from Mr.Do on Vimeo.

I bring this up for a few reasons: 1. It’s so good. God just watch it again right now. 2.These are champion players. Top notch in North America.  3. They are sometimes not finesse players. They are intelligent brutes. They are corking geniuses. They are using violence in a not-so-violent way (with purpose rather than malice, I suppose). And that makes me respect the way they’re playing a touch more.

I am, by nature, a guy who likes getting into a good spat. I like getting thrown around and laying a clean amount of crush on someone who just tried to take the ball from me. But it’s important to note that I don’t like when people are violent without cause – when people choose to lay someone out who, by all accounts, isn’t an aggressive player.

picture from Brisbane bike polo ( I think)

I guess what I’m coming to is this: aggressive play in bike polo is an important element that, frankly, I’m concerned is going to disappear. I also believe, however, that all out violence for the sake of violence (i.e. bike hockey) isn’t the way our sport is going to progress and develop. We have to find a balance – and I believe when we’re talking about a sport that takes place on two wheels, balance shouldn’t be too terribly hard to come by.

For instance: my club had a policy, as I mentioned before, of restraining ourselves on aggressive play. Then we sent our first few boys into a few tournaments, and we almost instantly became somewhat aggressive again. Certainly not brawlers like we were before, but more selectively—using it when the other guy was up for it and it made sense/was fun (after all, we’re talking pickup). I think the way Lancaster United has found the balance between aggressive play and finesse can be a microcosm of what the sport as a whole should develop into, if it hasn’t already. Aggressive players who intelligently use their power can play alongside finesse players who are able to dart in and out of plays. This promotes a more varied skillset of individuals, more interesting play, and keeps the sport to its roots as a rough and tumble sort of game.

As with every longwinded post I make on this site, please do (and I really want to know, srsly) what you think. Is there any place for aggressive play? Should we all work on strict finesse? A balance of both? Am I way off base? Do you still love me?

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  1. Bill Laudien says:

    I thought most of the hits in the video were clean with the exception of the elbows and arms thrown. Shoulders, bike checks, and leaning on each other seems reasonable, but you shouldn’t be allowed to extend your arm and initiate contact with someone else. Pushing, shoving, elbowing, punching should all be penalties.

    • Crusher says:

      Agreed – and I am at fault if I didn’t explain that I meant only “clean” aggressiveness in the post. My point was that there is a growing separation between people who believe there should be proper contact (which is shown throughout that video) and a sport with little to no contact at all.

  2. Jeff says:

    The image is from worlds last year. 2:15 in this video:
    I’m guessing that’s not the type of aggressiveness you’d like to keep seeing in polo?

    • Crusher says:

      I don’t know, I’m pretty cool with that. Obviously legit.

      • mathbach says:

        retaliatory, based on the blatant mallet hook a couple secs earlier in the video. if the ref didn’t penalize the hook, then the hardcheck justice was certainly deserved.

        • Jeff says:

          Eh, the mallets got tangled after a tight pick. Dabber should have dropped his instead of pulling the other guy off his bike, but in my mind that doesn’t justify an intentional t-bone.
          If you have been practicing body-to-body contact, it’s possible to make someone pay the price without turning the game into a shitshow…

  3. mathbach says:

    overall i’d say that at the tourney level, you figure most guys have pretty amazing bike skills and they know how take a fall and typically are not going to be caught off guard by body checks and things that fall into the “legit but violent” range.

    at the pick-up level everybody should be aware of everyone else’s tolerance for the argy bargy and should dial down the aggression according.

  4. virginia says:

    This is a subject very close to my heart. In Sydney Australia when I started 4 years ago, the violence level was ridiculous but, in the most part, still fun. It wasn’t until someone’s forks got snapped, that we outlawed throwing mallets and having carbon forks. When we started playing other cities they were put off by our aggression levels and, over the years, we have toned it down quite a lot at tournaments compared to how we play at home.

    I think you should still be able to have good, rough, aggressive fun at pick up between consenting players. Nothing better than a mallet-hacking sword fight between two friends during a casual game. It makes me smile. Keep it safe and keep it away from the people that don’t like it. Also make sure everyone knows the difference between ‘real’ rules and ‘pick-up’ rules but apart from that, I say go for it.

  5. Joe says:

    Every club seems to have a different dynamic at home. We started about 4 years ago and basically played horse polo. No contact allowed, you avoided people and let people move. Understanding the dynamic of a right to space and right to a line was a big turning point for our club. I heard it said best at the NAHBPC this year that the “mallet to mallet, bike to bike, body to body” rule was about the worst thing that could have happened because it is much more complicated than that. I see that everyday with newer players: ,allet hacking, intentional t-boning and chicken winging are common with players who get frustrated with getting beat, and they often get called out for it. Meanwhile the players who don’t keep their head up and make bad decisions and cause accidents often don’t get called out. This things are viewed as “accidents”. I feel like the checking, mallet play and everything else is okay to a certain intensity and shouldn’t be quite as much of an issue. The problem is when people stay silent when dangerous plays happen and they write it off as “an accident”. Recklessness is the issue overall, and is understood by the skilled players in tournament play, but for newer players and uninformed spectators they just don’t get it.

  6. Trace says:

    My gut says that all of us who play bicycle polo do so, to some degree, as a legit/healthy outlet for the frustrations of life. That said, in our club EVERYONE intuitively knows when someone is doing healthy venting on the court versus just being a douche, and we call them out. The challenge is being man enough to listen to your buds calling you on it and responding like an adult.
    If you really do not like a bit of violence, I doubt you are reading this blog.

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