Bay Area BIke Polo Suffers Growing Pains

If cycling and polo ever had a baby, it would look a lot like Bike Polo.

Over the last 15 years, a growing number of people have begun mounting trusty two-wheeled steeds to chase a ball with mallets. It’s a blue collar spin on the famous blue blood sport.

Instead of polo grounds, competitors have taken to asphalt tennis or basketball courts around the Bay Area.

“You go fast, you kind of rough each other up a bit,” said Sam Bell, as she watched riders warming up at San Francisco’s Jose Coronado Park.

“It’s really fun and it’s on a bike, which I really like.”

In Coronado park, riders lined up on either side of a court, which on other occasions serves as a tennis court. They counted off, then steamed toward the ball in the middle. Mallets flew, riders plowed into one another, and the ball zipped toward the goal.

In the last few years, the sport has picked up speed in the Bay Area. Up to thirty competitors will fill the park at night, hoping to get into a game.

“You’ll come on nights and maybe play for three games because there’s so many people who want to play,” said Bell who’s been playing for about six years.

The sport’s increasing popularity is creating to some growing pains. There are few parks with enough hard court space to accommodate the dozens of riders turning out. So bike polo organizers are setting their sights on Dolores Park where a massive overhaul is underway to the grounds and athletic courts.

“During the renovations if we could renovate a space for a multi-use court, we could play there -- other people can use it,” said Joel Winter, one of the sport’s top competitors and organizers.

The group has submitted plans to create a multi-use court in Dolores Park they could share with skaters and other sports. A spokesman for San Francisco’s Park and Rec Department said the city is still collecting input on how to renovate the athletic courts. He said it would be difficult to devote space to bike polo with the city trying to accommodate many competing interests. He said the department worked with the bike polo community to arrange space at Jose Coronado Park. The other issue, is that Dolores Park is home to six of San Francisco’s most popular tennis courts. Bike Polo advocates’ plans for a multi-use court would claim at least some of the tennis courts.

That didn’t sit well with San Francisco tennis coach, McClain.

“Bike polo, I’ve got nothing against it,” said Mclain, who goes by a single name. “But these courts are probably the most famous in the city. You could probably say Golden Gate Park, then Dolores park.”

But Winter said his sport is growing so rapidly, city officials should plan for the near future.

“We’re really getting to the point where it’s really competitive internationally,” said Winter. “Maybe someday soon we’ll see it be an Olympic sport again.”

Parks and Rec is holding a community meeting this Thursday night to take community input on the plans. Bike polo organizers plan to turn out in force with their designs for the new athletic court. They said they plan to take their best swing in hopes of landing a new home.

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