Three. Two. One. Polo!!!!

In all about the ride, bike, ozstraylia on April 2, 2010 at 8:47 pm

First things first for those of you who have never seen bike polo here is a short film made by Blunt Films which shows you the ins and outs.

I don’t play bike polo. I always say to the polo bods who ask why don’t I play, that I don’t like riding (relatively) slowly, and falling off. Which you do lots of in bike polo. I am happiest when I am healthy, and when I am unhealthy or carrying knocks or niggles I am a shadow of myself. And carrying knocks and niggles is part of polo as in any sport, playing through pain becomes de riguer. But also I know when I was younger and competitive in sports, I was VERY VERY VERY competitive, so much so that it became all encompassing, and it made me physically ill to lose, and having made the decision not to actually pursue a competitive life, I’m much happier/content being so competitive that if I can’t win I won’t compete at all.

Bike Polo in London is big, 17 teams in the league, pretty much polo every night of the week if you want, and most do want, oh they so do want, tourneys in Europe, and the rest of the world to compete in, and an instant easy camaraderie and bond of fellow feeling amongst the players that exists, that if you don’t play, you do feel envious of.

But having known, and spoken to, and hung out with a lot of the polo bods before polo became the be all and end all of riding a bike, I know that I miss them, and the interaction we shared, which is now limited since the desire to play polo became the meaning of being, so much so that they self selected themselves out of anything which wasn’t polo orientated. Meaning to see them, or be with them usually involves polo, and if your just spectating that can get old in a hurry.

So coming over to Melbourne to hang with the polo bods over here was by turns intriguing and slightly nerve wracking. Would I be confronted with the dreaded “no polo, no talk”, the inbuilt cliqueness of those who have spent many hours in each others company, with the ongoing familiarity and in jokes to which no one who doesn’t serve their time can hope to achieve.

I needn’t have had any fears, Joel/Jol who I’d known back in London had emigrated over to Oz with his girlfriend and was my entrée into the polo scene over here. But here in Melbourne rather than seeing the polo bods as a splinter from THE forum with a distinct self identity and a lack of interaction with those who aren’t part of the polo circle, I saw the polo bods as my cycling circle, the people who I can roll for miles with, sit and drink beer and chat bikes with, the people who understand why you can’t be off the bike for a single day because they feel the same way.

The generous souls I’ve met through Melbourne polo have pulled me, gratefully, into their cycling world.

Take last night for instance, hanging out at their main court up in north Carlton, chatting shit, watching the games ebb and flow, speed ratcheting up, slowing to a crawl, falls and rolls, crashes and catches. On the edges not playing but cheering a good shot, or commiserating on a lost opportunity, night falls rapidly, the light slips away and those anxious on the sidelines shave minutes off games so they can get back on in the next throw-in.

Questions are asked, conversations batted back and forth, decisions made. We’re going to the night court, a car park out in Coburg which has floodlights and Ezee’s house is over the way with a cached supply of wood, enough to cover the ends and the drainage holes which are around the edges.

We haul ass out there, some in cars carting bikes and equipment, the rest of us on our bikes, there had been talk of trains, but we’re spinning before the talk takes hold.

Melbourne’s a city of long wide roads, to accommodate the cars and the trams. Rolling forever uphill, unless your going downhill. It’s getting chillier, we reckon it’s 16 or 17 degrees, weirdly wonderful how your body gets used to the conditions it’s set in, if I was in London I would have been exclaiming how warm it was. Here after getting used to thirty odd degrees it feels positively arctic.

But we roll, five, six, seven of us, dangerous Dan going all Macaskill on us, pulling rolling endoes, seated wheelies, popping huge bunny hops off speed bumps, searching for lines along the sidewalks before hopping back into the street. And I’m in my element, sometimes keeping up, sometimes at the front, chatting with Scott as we both spy a bike with a Spinergy rev x on the front, catching joke with Anthony (who is like me traveling round the world with bike, except he is getting funded to do it and builds a bike wherever he lands rather than take one with him as I am doing, his blog is here: we vaguely remember each other from the BFF polo tourney held back in London last year down in Newington and we discuss dangerous Dan’s riding style, polo gearing, his journey, couch surfing and we ride.

We ride into the night, up a road which feels like it has no end, rising into the distant horizon, my legs feel good and I follow the light in front, making sure to cross the tramlines on the diagonal, giving space here, squeezing in there. Time moves fast and slow, it’s only supposed to take fifteen mins but I haven’t looked at my watch and it feels like more and less time has passed.

The déjà vu is strong, in a group of cyclists heading into the night following lights and grinning like a loon all the way. God I fucking love Cycling

Coburg is lit up bright when we get there, feels like we’re the first but we’re not. A trolley is procured from the massive diy store that is at one end of the car park and frames the cones set down as goals. We drink more beer as the games start, and the temperature dips even more, shouts and cat calls, serious and childish play breaks out. There is a distinct edge sometimes, some want to win, others want to have fun, the urge to be competitive, to not be beaten, overrides the inclination to muck about on the bike, within the game, to try, to learn, to see what is possible.

I drink, I take photo’s I fall into the spirit of the evening, I laugh long, and loud into the night and then I help carry the wood, back to Ezee’s place.

Then there are four of us, heading back to town, unable to make a decision about what to do, the other three are hungry, I’ve already eaten a kebab from some corner place, I’ve demolished it and for the hundreth time I’m grateful that I’m not a vegetarian or a vegan as I’d be fucked. Imagine not being able to eat whatever you wanted because of the ingredients it may contain.

The ride back is different, slower, more sedate, more companionable, but the urge for food means that soon the pace is upped, we zip along tram lines, along dusty park tracks, Benne skidding zig zagging in front of me, whipping dust into my face, dangerous Dan’s search for new and unridden lines, never far from the surface. Teagen pulls us along quick at the front, and we hit Brunswick St, and the crew inhale their falafels, sucking them deep into their innards, the fuel needed to continue to exist gratefully received.

And as we go our separate ways, its nice to know for however long I’m part of a cycling crew again…

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