Get off your high horse: inside London’s bike polo scene

The first documented game of bike polo took place in County Wicklow, Ireland in 1891 between Rathclaren Rovers and Ohne Hast Cycling Club with one man, Richard J Mecredy, holding the most credible claim of inventing the game.

Bike polo became popular in London in the proceeding years as a more affordable alternative to its more aristocratic namesake, spreading from Ireland to England, and then to France and the US.

It was also played as a demonstration game in the 1908 London Olympics, where Ireland beat Germany 3-1.

Despite this debut on the world stage, the interest in bike polo steadily declined for the next two decades before a small but committed set of enthusiasts established the Bicycle Polo Association of Great Britain with an official rulebook and league.

In the years leading up to the Second World War, there were over 170 documented teams and over 1000 players.

In the present day, the sport is very niche, but in London it is has become a small but enduring sub-culture.

SWL went to a London bike polo session to find out more.

The sport has never quite reached its pre-Second World War popularity, but in small enclaves across the country in Birmingham, Bristol and London – a passionate group of bike polo fanatics remains, playing the game in exactly the same way as their 1930s counterparts.

The rules are simple.

Using a mallet, you have to hit the ball into the goal whilst riding a fixed-gear bike and the team with the most goals at the end of ten minutes wins.

You are not allowed to touch the ground with your feet or you are temporarily out of the game until you ‘tap’ back in.

SWL spoke to a woman who plays conventional polo to a high level.

“I’m in the UK for a polo tournament, but I’ve just started playing bike polo too. It’s great,” she said.

“My bike seems to misbehave more than the horse to be honest! It’s very different but striking the ball is quite similar.”

The most striking thing about the game is its relaxed nature.

One of the members of the London Bike Polo summed up the general theme: “Basically the golden rule is don’t be a prat!”

There have been pushes in the past to have the game formally recognised by Sport England which would bring with it significant funding, however for the foreseeable future it looks likely that bike polo will remain outside of the mainstream.

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