Page last updated at 08:29 GMT, Friday, 31 July 2009 09:29 UK

Polo's young punk cousin

Bike polo

By Tamasin Ford
Radio 1 Newsbeat

It is usually reserved for Lords, Ladies and beautifully-groomed horses, but this weekend expect to see a polo tournament with a difference.

The UK is hosting the first European Hardcourt Bicycle Polo Championships (EHBPC) in London.

It is the same idea as polo but instead of playing on a horse, it is played on a bike.

Teams from Spain, France, Switzerland, Ireland and Germany will all be battling it out for the title in Southwark's Marlborough Gardens.

Lewis David is over from Paris and is getting one last practice session in at a court in east London.

Lewis, who plays for Les Debutantes, said: "I got into bike polo by riding fixed gear bikes. You only need a mallet, which you can make yourself, so slowly a lot of fixed gear riders just got into the sport."

If you do not have a bike or a mallet, if other practice sessions are anything like this one, there is always someone ready to lend you theirs and then take you through the ropes.

THE RULES
Two teams of three players
Players must not touch the ground
Players must tap out after touching the ground
No throwing of mallets
All bikes must have at least one brake
Only player-to-player contact is allowed
First to five goals wins
Goals can only be scored with the end of the mallet

Roxy Erickson, the main organiser of the championships, said: "Bike polo's really easy as long as you can ride a bike one handed while carrying a mallet, while following a ball, while five other players are doing exactly the same thing and you don't hit anyone - easy!"

In fact they make it look very easy.

Players gracefully skid and almost bunny hop to get the ball without so much as a wobble on the bike. There are only a few falls and those without knee pads and elbow pads wear their war wounds well.

"The three most important things if you want to play bike polo are just stay on your bike, be fearless and try not to run into anybody else," says Roxy.

US origins

Bicycle polo has been around for more than a 100 years but hardcourt bike polo, thought of by many as its punk cousin, came about around 12 years ago.

It originated on the west coast of America and was played mainly by bicycle messengers on fixed gear bikes.

A decade later it has spread to Europe and now seems to be getting more popular by the day.

Brendan Mcnamee plays for team BAD from London: "We make everything ourselves. It's very much a DIY sport and there's always someone to help do it for you.

"Probably the most expensive thing is the balls. The good ones come from the States and they cost a fiver and we're always losing them."

Lewis and Brendan are typical of many bike polo players. It seems all your need is an old bike, a makeshift mallet, an empty netball court and a hockey ball.

Bicycle polo referee James Hoggarth explains the rules of the game

There does not seem to be any lessons involved, there are no costly monthly subscriptions and even the mallets are home-made.

They usually come in the form of a disused ski pole or a golf club with a piece of plastic tubing bolted onto the end.

Brendan says he is addicted to the game: "The nicest thing about it really is you turn up to the court on your equipment. You have a mallet strapped to your bike and someone else brings a ball and that's literally it."

Hardcourt bicycle polo is still relatively new.

There are no professional players, but associations and federations are quickly beginning to pop up around the world.

Forty teams are in London for the Euros which is followed by the North American Championships in Seattle and then finally the World Championships in Philadelphia in September.

Roxy says she cannot wait: "We've done other tournaments previous to this and they keep getting bigger and bigger.

"This year we decided to go all out and make the European championships happen."

"It's really simple to learn, it's silly, it's a lot of fun and actually it's really cheap.

"The whole of idea is to ride your worst strong bike rather than your precious one. It's just a fun game."



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