Bike polo may have its origins in England and France, but it has successfully made the shift across the pond and continues to evolve on an almost daily basis.
From its ancient and somewhat pretentious beginnings, recently bike polo has been transformed into something of an “extreme” sport.
I’m sure it’s not what R.J. Mecredy envisioned when he first invented the game back in 1891, but bike polo is now played by the same demographic that turned skateboarding, in-line skating, and BMX into mainstream sports.
Traditional bike polo saw early success on the expansive glass fields of country clubs across England and France, and it quickly made its way into similar institutions in the United States.
The country club contingent grew increasingly fond of the sport and continued to play it. Although organizations existed for decades, the U.S. Bike Polo Association was officially founded in 1994 is still going strong.
There is a European Championship that has been played since 2007, which features club teams battling for supremacy rather than international squads.
The International Bike Polo Championship has also been played annually since its debut in 1999. The Championships alternate cities and have so far been played in different locations in India, Canada, England, France, and the United States.
While India dominated the sport early on, winning the first three titles, the field has leveled out as Canada and the United States have both since taken home titles.
As bike polo evolved, people realized that you don't necessarily need to belong to a club to play it. Basically, all you need is a large plot of grass. Because of this, an informal version of the game was eventually adapted to be played at city parks or anywhere else that has a large enough grass surface.
Unfortunately for city dwellers, it's hard to find open stretches of grass and even if you do, then chances are the caretakers won’t appreciate dozens of bikes destroying it every weekend.
The next step was obvious.
Just as early skateboarders saw their futures in the empty swimming pools of southern California, urban bike polo enthusiasts revolutionized the sport by taking it to tennis courts, street hockey rinks, or whatever other surface was available.
The sport that has been taking off in the United States since 2007 is called “Hardcourt Bike Polo” or, as a nod to the location of where it’s usually played, “Urban Bike Polo.”
Obviously with the change of venue there had to be corresponding rule changes. Because the hardcourt playing surfaces are generally smaller than their grass counterparts, the number of players per side was shrunk from four to three. They also eliminated the traditional ball used on grass surfaces and replaced it with a more durable, rubber, street hockey ball.
The hardcourt game has taken off in cities all over the globe, and may even have eclipsed its grass counterpart in certain areas. It's no longer difficult to find a league and tournaments are constantly popping up in various cities.
Just as worldwide competition exists in the grass game, the hardcourt game is also holding international tournaments everywhere from Australia to England to New York City.
After a brief hiatus, it seems as if bike polo is back stronger than ever. There’s no telling how it will progress in the coming years, but it certainly seems as if the hardcourt bike polo game is the future of the sport.