Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Bike Nerd

So deep down, I'm really a bike nerd.  

Currently, I'm working with an organization--Bicycle Victoria--that talks about "normalizing" bicycling; BV aspires to make bicycling into a mainstream activity, something we all do because it's just what we do.  When I was in Copenhagen, this mainstream-ization of cycling was apparent everywhere.  People bicycled to work and they rode for fun, never thinking that what they were doing was particularly important, or even particularly unique--at least within their own cultural context.  Creating more Copenhagens, that is increasing the ability of more people to cycle more often, is a wonderful goal.  It is part and parcel of my own personal mission.   I, and others, believe that making the bicycle into something as ordinary as a vacuum cleaner would do a lot of good for humanity.  

But it also tends to make the bike kind of boring.     

When I was in Copenhagen, I was boasting to a friend and fellow blogger about a recently acquired steel road racing frame.  I was glowing as I traced the elegant lugs with my pointer finger, giddy at the prospect of that supple steel frame gliding effortlessly beneath me.  My friend smirked and pointed out that I was a "bicycle fetishist."  I suddenly felt ashamed of my love for these simple machines, bashful about the excitement that buds in my heart when I see that little white dove on the Columbus tubing sticker.  

But the shame was momentary, gone as quickly as it had arrived.  I just love bicycles--all bicycles--and I can't help it.  I love rolling junkers that defy gravity as they're pushed up hill by dedicated riders; I love frankenbikes, cruiser bikes, folding bikes, tandem bikes and polo bikes.  And I love being able to travel across the world and observe the kaleidoscope of cultures that emerge from bicycle use.  

Enter Bicycle Polo.

A warning: proceed through this post with caution, as excessive exposure to the intricacies of mallet making and bicycle construction have been known to produce dizziness and nausea in the completely disinterested.  

I built the two mallets pictured above here in Melbourne.  Our friend Damon has accumulated a number of ski poles over the past year by scouring op-shops (thrift stores) and Savers markets (also thrift stores) in search of abandoned but usable aluminum shafts.   The mallet on the left is the first mallet I built, though it's on it's second head.  

Both mallet-heads have been attached to the shaft with a single screw threaded directly into the ski-pole.  The bolt doesn't come through at all on the opposite side of the mallet, which means the bolt provides minimal interference while handling the ball.   
This blue striped-piping has an inner diameter of 55mm and an outer diameter of 60mm.  It works well for balljointing, if that's your thing, and the bigger the piping the easier it is to actually strike the ball.   

The first head had the exact same tubing, only I had drilled the holes a bit differently.  
You can see that none of the holes are very close to the "business-end" of the mallet (the tip of the mallet used for taking shots and scoring).  I found that when I drilled the 3/4" holes too close to the edge, the mallet-head broke.  Literally, the round end of the mallet used for taking shots just fell apart while playing.      

This incarnation of the mallet also included a cap.  This cap, salvaged from one of Damon's old mallets, has been made from a cutting board.  It's held in place with four small screws--like 30 mm in length--driven on the top, bottom and sides.  I've found that when taking a shot using the 55mm diameter tubing without a cap, the ball tends to raise off the ground a bit.  While this can be an advantage in some situations, it's mostly annoying.  It makes otherwise accurate shots un-predictable.    

This second mallet was constructed at Tuesday night's Mallet Making Workshop.  I'm kicking myself for not bringing my camera along to the workshop, but I saw Damon snap a few photos--so here's hoping he'll post them soon.  

The inner diameter of this tubing is 53mm with an outer diameter of 57mm.  Being slightly smaller than the blue-striped tubing, it's slightly lighter.  This mallet is also capped on one end, but this time the cap is made of some pretty hard but lightweight plastic salvaged from a warehouse rubbish bin.   The plastic was much thicker than the cutting board, instead of four short screws I put in two slightly wider, longer screws.  I found the smaller screws were coming loose after intense play.  Here's hoping the longer screws will stay tighter for longer. 

The left side remains uncapped and, while smaller, it's still capable of ball jointing.  

On the whole, this mallet is lighter than the first.  The biggest difference between this mallet and the first is a lack of handlebar tape underneath the hockey tape used for a grip.  Leaving the HB tape off of this mallet made it heaps lighter--which means it's much easier to swing.    

While the doctor has asked me to hold off on playing any bike polo for awhile, I figured it couldn't hurt to have a bike that was capable of playing polo *if* and *when* the time comes to hit the court again.  The bike pictured above is exactly that bike. 
The bike is set-up like a single speed with a slight modification.  

I took a rear wheel originally used with with a Shimano Uni-glide 7-speed cassette and spaced it out so that it was possible to have two different gears, 21 and 24 tooth sprockets. 

Here, the bike is pictured in the smaller of the two sprockets, meaning the chain would need more tension in this setting than in the larger sprocket.  The wheel is pulled almost all the way back in the dropouts to achieve proper tension, but that leaves plenty of space to slide the wheel forward when utilizing the larger sprocket.  

Thus, we have the commuting gear and the polo gear.  I actually stole this idea from another Melbourne polo freak called Circus Alex.  I thought it was a wonderful idea, something I hadn't yet seen, and I wanted to give it a try.  Turns out it works like a charm.   

The cockpit view.  The handlebars have rise for days, but that's quite nice for polo.  This set-up allows me to stay upright enough to see the court, get a good angle on the ball for shots, and still steal quick glances at the ball as it's pushed down the court.  

The bike is on loan from my friend Mark at Born Again Cycles.  I've been doing a bit of volunteer work with him, and he's been gracious enough to loan me this superb old racer for the duration of my time in Melbourne.  Have a look at his blog here.  His logo looks eerily like the Revolutions logo...but we had it first!  Our lawyers are currently in dialogue.   


  1. Cheers for the mention! I'm a bit worried that the bike will get polo so deeply ingrained into it's metallic matrix that it won't want to come back from the dark side, and will have to be deprogrammed by being parked in front of Cafe Racer for a week to re-absorb roadie bulls%#t, um, I mean culture. Harsh, but necessary . . . (thinks: for exposure to the bulls&%t side of Melbourne roadie culture, that's a good place to start. There's definitely a greater concentration of A-Graders (Cat 1s) there than actually exist in the whole of Australia . . .). Just call me Mr Cynical. They make good coffee tho'.

  2. We oughta get in on some of that coffee soon, mate!

    I can handle bicycle BS in small doses, and I've actually found that coffee softens my stomach a bit--meaning my capacity for crap increases. See you tomorrow!