Tuesday, October 6, 2009

London Part I

If you'd told me before I left Memphis that I would develop an acute passion for playing bicycle polo, I would have called you crazy; or at least confused.

But after having spent the better part of the last month playing a couple times a week in Amsterdam, the unforeseen has become reality: I absolutely love playing bike polo.

After using a mallet from the collective batch of mallets forged by the Amsterdam bike messengers at Infinity Express, I decided I needed to build something of my own. While the other mallets worked fine, (a bit beat up, sure, but that just gave them character!) I really wanted to have the experience of finding the materials for a mallet and piecing it together myself.

After asking around about materials, I found that Straight Edge Pat, a lovely polo player in the Amsterdam scene, had all the necessary parts for a mallet. Within a day, I had purchased the necessary parts: a ski pole, a piece of gas pipe, handlebar tape and a bolt.
What I didn't have was a drill and the drill bits required to make the mallet, so I scurried over to Infinity Express for some help. Lester is pictured here helping me get the mallet head straight. Though we tried, the finished product was about as straight Forrest Gump's childhood legs. Still, it wasn't bad for a first go.

I met a fantastic young lady named Bianca at the bike polo tournament held in Amsterdam a couple weeks ago, and she encouraged me to come to a tournament being held in London during the bike film fest. Intrigued, I began making plans....

First, how to get the bike there. My friend South African James suggested a bike bag, which I could claim as luggage if I took the bus. So, I bought a EuroLines bus ticket to London, snagged the bike bag, and made ready for my trip across the English Channel.

At the bus station, I disassembled my bicycle to fit it inside the bag. The wheels had to come off along with the pedals and handlebars, so I used a crescent wrenches and a hand tool to make the bike into a packable shape.
On top of the wheels you can see the shaft of my freshly assembled bike polo mallet.
Feeling quite proud of my work, I boarded the bus at 22:30 for an 8 hour overnight trip to Great Britain.

I slept well on the bus, which started out nearly empty in Amsterdam, but grew steadily more packed as we made stops in coastal Dutch towns and Belgium. By 1 a.m., the bus was packed, and I found myself next to a nice lady who smelled of fried onions. She must have had a sandwich or something in her luggage.

When I arrived at the Bow Road station in London via the Victoria Station it was 8 a.m. This was wicked early for my host, Emily, who had enjoyed the festivities surrounding the Bicycle Film Festival until just a few hours before he came to pick me up. A super sweet guy, Em, and one hell of a bicycle polo player.
I found this poster just outside the Bow Road station. London has done a lot to improve the image of cycling over the last five years, concurrently alongside the improvement of their bicycle infrastructure, and I really like this message: catch up with the bicycle! It's a bit like saying, "get with the program yall! The bike is the only way to fly!"

On the day I arrived, I asked Em what was on the day's agenda. His reply was simple: "playing polo." Indeed. Polo was played, and competitively at that, for almost a full 8 hours.
I brought my mallet and threw it into the grand shuffle, which is exactly as it sounds: a grand shuffling of all the polo mallets which results in the separation of teams. The mallets are separated into groups of three, and then each group faces off against another. The gentleman pictured above, presiding over a grand shuffle in later afternoon, had his hands full.
The tournament started bright and early the next day with close to 30 teams registered. You can (sorta) see them listed here on the blackboard.
Because polo is often a fierce game, Brixton Cycles--a full blown worker owned bicycle cooperative--sent out a mechanic to help repair any broken bikes. Nat, the Brixton mechanic, rode a Surly Big Dummy to the event with a complete tool set (and truing stand!) on the extended rear rack. It was quite impressive.
My team, "Lopsided Titillating Loins," won in the first round. You can see our abbreviated name (Lopsided) advanced to play (polo) "Fiasco," a team of three youngsters that did REALLY well in the tournament. And because 2 of the 3 were barely at drinking age, the team was a crowd favorite throughout the night.
Fiasco defeated us 5-3 in the second round, which put our team in the losers bracket where after winning one game we played team Zombie--veterans of London Bike Polo. We lost to Zombie, 5-2. I managed to maintain my dignity throughout the day largely because our record in the tournament was 2-2--not bad for a French guy, an American guy and an Australian guy who had never played as a team before!
After many, many games of polo, an intermission was had in which the stepper bikes (pictured here) squared off with an all girls team on BMX bikes.

A good time was had by all.

Stay tuned for part II of the London post!

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