Magazine article Sunset

Pedalers' Polo

Magazine article Sunset

Pedalers' Polo

Article excerpt

If you can ride a bicycle and enjoy a bit of friendly competition, then this is the sport for you

LOU "MALLETHEAD" Gonzalez, the king of bicycle polo, goes over the tournament rules. He holds a bulb-nosed bugle under one arm and his fidgeting 2-year-old son, Max, beneath the other. Max wants to get to the bugle, used to begin the chukkers (periods). Dad wants to start the first match between the Fun Hogs and the Road Warriors, signaling the beginning of an eight-team tournament in Santa Barbara.

"There are plenty of insane games in the world," says Gonzalez, who's nattily dressed in white tails and Hawaiian print shorts--his official attire. "Don't make this one of them. Remember the two most important rules: know fun and no whining."

Forty male and female weekend warriors, a few with girths exceeding the circumference of their bike wheels, mount their two-wheeled steeds, clack mallets and--as Gonzalez sounds the bugle--charge a white plastic orb the size of a baseball.

Welcome to the thoroughly Western sport of bicycle polo, conceived in 1987 by Gonzalez and his wife, Trice "Polo Queen" Hufnagel, on Fourth of July weekend in Crested Butte, Colorado. Bicycle polo combines basketball's high scoring with chess's strategy. Players needn't be youthful, strong, dexterous, or male to play, and contact between players (or their bikes) is not allowed.

KNOW FUN: HERE'S HOW

Forget the Lombardi ethic that winning is everything. Besides a mountain bike and a few simple pieces of equipment, the key ingredient to bicycle polo is fun.

To get started, you need a playing field about 100 by 200 feet. Gonzalez and Hufnagel, who run the World Bicycle Polo Federation from their home in Bailey, Colorado, swear you won't tear up the grass. "Bicycle polo does less harm to fields than an average youth soccer game," says Gonzalez.

Each team consists of four players, at least one of whom must be female (according to official rules). Some bike shops and parks departments have mallets and balls for rent or loan, or you can buy a complete eight-player set for about $250 from the World Bicycle Polo Federation.

KNOW STRATEGY: IT'S LIKE CHESS ON WHEELS

Ted Braun, whose Pologonians won the 1991 California state championship, suggests that newcomers to the sport "think of it as being chess on wheels: it's not where the ball is now that's important. It's where the ball is going to be. You don't have to hit the ball hard to win. Think ahead."

Here are more tips:

* Work the ball upfield slowly but surely, as in soccer. Charge the ball, hit it forward where a teammate can pedal it down, then circle back into the goalie position (see diagram); repeat thrusts toward goal. …

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