What exactly is a polo bike, anyway?

… as young men often ask me, as they struggle to maintain interest while I spin off on a bike related tangent.

Well, I’ll tell you. A polo bike is a rough looking, scratched up, bomb proof, 90’s style rigid mountain bike with a few modifications that make it easier to beat around on a basketball court while trying to smack an orange hockey ball with a mallet made out of ABS pipe and a ski pole.

Jackie Kanyuck recently let me have her old one, and it is seriously the bomb. Just gonna take a sec to brag here, but I used to score maybe once in three games if I was lucky. These days I’m scoring usually once or twice in every game, and doing a much better job of preventing Ryan, Ryan and Greg from scoring on me.

And I’ll show it to you.

Drive side
Drive side
Non drive side
Non drive side

We’ll go through this bit by bit. The frame is a Surly 1×1, a modern design, but a throwback to the old 90’s mountain bikes, you know the ones with the absurdly long stems and the gently curved forks, as ridden by nerds like this.


First, notice the fork and headtube. See how straight that line is? So straight. That’s so you can turn in tiny, tiny circles at very low speeds. Kona forks in particular are well known for being relatively common as salvage (i.e., cheap), but also tough and decent quality. And straight as straight can be. Queer people are welcome, but queer forks are not. We call that “zero offset fork” and “no rake”.

The wheel covers are to prevent balls and mallets from getting stuck in your spokes, and preventing damage to the spokes. Balls make a very satisfying *smack* as they bounce off the corrugated plastic. I am always surprised when I see people playing without them – they’re essential, in my opinion.

4 item(s)

Brakes are the most important polo mod. You have to brake with your non-dominant hand so you can swing with the other. These days all the big deals in polo seem to be using either dual brakes or just a front brake. In the past I just had a single rear, rim brake, with the lever moved to the left side of the bars. Back brakes give you less stopping power, but you’re also less likely to flip yourself over, as our man Greg does frequently.

But, Jackie had some awesome BB7 disc brakes on the Surly, and who am I to argue? They are amazing. It’s my first experience with disc brakes and I can confirm that they stop me on a dime regardless of how wet they get.

Jackie also hacked up this dual brake lever, for double the stopping power. It helps with the flipping-over problem.

3 item(s)

For the drive train, we want a nice loooow gear ratio, for quick accelerating. 32-22 is perfect, anyone who says otherwise is lying and wrong. In the past I used a cassette cog from some Shimano 10 speed sprocket, which worked okay, except for how it skipped all the time. This bike came with roughly the same deal. First thing I did upon receiving it was replace the entire drive train. The chain and front chain ring were direct replacements, but I put this beautiful Surly single-speed cog on instead of the cassette mess. As long as I replace the chain often enough, it should never skip again.

SeatNot much to say about the seat; it’s cheap and comfy. The seatpost is more interesting. It’s like, the longest seatpost ever. With my old bike I needed the whole thing. This frame is a bit more reasonably sized. Fully half the seatpost is inside the frame. More stability? Sure.



Stickers are important, obv, they add 5hp each.

2 item(s)

Pedal straps are perfect for attaching your mallet to the bike.

Tire with flashAnd finally, the shoes. See that yellow? That’s the inside of the tire. Jackie says she’s giving me a new one, but honestly, we ride old tires as long as they hold air. This is the one place where I’m a cheapskate. (Ha! I’m always a cheapskate! But especially on tires.)

Ultimately, the player is more important than the bike. But hey, I’m a bike nerd, I love this stuff. I could write an essay on each individual part. In fact I might do so. I also rode a cheap, old, flexy, badly-handling polo bike for quite a long time, and I got good on it. Now that I’m a good enough player to justify the decent bike, it makes a huge difference, and I feel that I’ve earned it. And I feel like a rockstar when I’m riding it, and that’s the most you can ask of any vehicle.

A Bike Polo Tournament

Vic Winter Mixer 2013

If you play bike polo, you have to have a tournament once in a while.

We were talking about it since Jawn Fawn put one on in spring, in Nanaimo. Around October Ryan started getting serious about doing it. I got put in charge the usual way – no one else wanted the job. But I’m mainly surprised at how little work I actually had to do, and how many problems solved themselves.

Anna got as a venue and insurance, and gave me a lot of tips.
Brett volunteered to help, so I put him in charge of food. That was probably the best decision I made, because he locked it down real good. Potato soup, huge loaves of bread, snacks, corporate sponsors.
Greg was captain of the boards without any intervention from me, and Ryan H. hired a truck to move the boards. The boards were beautiful.
Jawn kept score and ran the competition, an unexpectedly (to me) big job.
Ryan H. also helped by supplying a lot of money for tshirts and beer at the after party. And by being calm and chill when I was panicking.
Cordelia was incredibly encouraging, and opened her house up to visitors.

The boards, assembled the night before, by hands and feet that were like bricks of ice in -8 degree weather.
The boards, assembled the night before, by hands and feet that were like bricks of ice in -8 degree weather.

Some things that went really well: there were no fights or drama at any point during the planning or the actual tournament. Or if there was, I didn’t know about it.
Volunteers showed up to move the boards… it was a hella big job.

Greg handled his job and Brett handled his. I’m sure I did a lot of things wrong or insufficiently, but everyone was incredibly encouraging. People had fun! They kept telling me so. And I learned a ton, and met so many cool people.

Some things I’d do differently next time:

  • Have people pre-register/pre-pay to save on running around collecting cash from people.
  • Give people a discount on tshirts if they buy them at the same time as their registration.
  • Maybe don’t get quite so many tshirts.
  • Make sure all the little items like balls, whiteboard markers, timers, and so on, are accounted for.
  • Figure out the competition style and schedule beforehand. Figure out prized beforehand too.
  • Have a cashbox, and appoint someone to be in charge of it.
  • Have a megaphone.
  • Get more people to commit to volunteering – though it’s hard to do. I’m so grateful to the people who did help in the freezing cold, but boy hardy it was one full ton of wood. The more hands the better.
  • Do a better job with the social media stuff – an Instagram handle is a great way of getting all the photos into one place. Live tweets are awesome.
  • Followpodium.com was an amazing resource that I had no idea existed until days before the tournament began. It’s polo-specific tournament software that’s tied into the League of Bike Polo website, so everyone’s names are already in it.
"Call me baby", I don't care what you call yourselves, that's your name now.
“Call Me Baby”, I don’t care what you call yourselves, that’s your name now.

Most of all, I wish I’d played more pickup and talked to more people. I did talk to a lot of them, but the more the better. I’m always too shy. All the people I met from Vancouver and Seattle were super cool and nice, and I only managed to hang on to maybe 1 name out of 5. In some cases I mistook Victorians for Vancouverites and vice versa.

One of the cool people I met was Max from Seattle (hi Max!) great guy, and interestingly, has 2 cochlear implants (I have one) so he’s deaf the same way I am. That is, he can hear quite a lot… enough to fool people a lot of the time. But I could tell when he had only heard maybe 3 words out of 20, and attempted to piece together a whole conversation from that little information.

I do the same thing, often. When I’m feeling shy or tired, it’s often easier to just guess and fake my way through the conversation – but though my guesses are very good considering how little information I’m working with, they are often a little off. It tends to ruin the flow of conversation. Better to come clean and give people instructions on how to talk to me. But still… it’s exhausting.

Max gave me a chance to see what that’s like from the other person’s point of view. He also came second in the tournament, thus demonstrating that being deaf still isn’t an excuse for not being excellent.

The List.
The List.

The tournament was really great experience, and though it will take me quite some time to muster up enough mental energy for the next one, I want to do it again. But only if I’m backed up by a crew as amazing as the one we had this time.