Bike polo hits Hali | Sports | Halifax, Nova Scotia | THE COAST

Bike polo hits Hali

Dedicated fixed-gear riders bring the "hipster NASCAR" rolling into town.

Two of Halifax's most devoted bike polo players meet me, a clueless but curious civilian trying to learn about this most niche of cycling cultures.

I know it's cool by virtue of its exclusivity---hence its sex appeal---but certainly there has to be something more to bike polo to justify its cult following in Tokyo, New York, Berlin and San Francisco.

Vince Vining and Ian Broscoe are hell-bent on establishing a Halifax bike polo league that rivals those of other major centres.

"It's the hipster NASCAR," Vining explains on the Halifax waterfront as he and Broscoe ride circles around me.

Indeed it is. There are over 800 YouTube videos devoted to bike polo, and once you know what to look for, you'll see it everywhere---magazines, Facebook, even in real life, provided you know when to visit deserted north end tennis courts.

Bike polo began in 19th century Ireland and achieved Olympic sport status at the 1908 London Games, but then fell out of favour.

The sport was reborn in the 1990s bike messenger culture, and has recently become synonymous with the fixed-gear bicycle craze and the fashionable aesthetic that comes with it.

There's no rule excluding non-fixed gear bikes from playing polo, but this style is preferred by an overwhelming majority of players. It allows for more control and more fun, says Broscoe.

Fixed gears have retro appeal, with designs channeling first-generation bikes. The "fixie" is characterized by a one-gear ratio and constantly moving pedals. Most have disabled brakes---slowing the bike takes slowing tire rotations through pedal resistance. "It's just like a salad spinner," explains Vining.

The fixie is no stranger to Halifax streets, but bike polo didn't make its local debut until last November.

Vining credits much of the local bike polo knowledge to tutorials on YouTube.

Modern bike polo is played three-on-three, but "every city has its own set of rules," explains Broscoe.

It's a lot like hockey on a paved surface; there are two nets and two teams. But players are bound to their bikes.

"We try our hardest not to do anything really stupid," jokes Vining. "We used to throw mallets to try to block," but when mallets began finding their way into spokes, that strategy was banned.

For the artistic, there's a truly creative and DIY element to the sport. Mallets are homemade and only a deified few have successfully crafted them in Halifax.

(I sense the envy as Vining says he has yet to make his own mallet.)

A few months ago Vining was tending bar by night and riding bikes by day. But in pursuit of bike polo Vining set out on a whirlwind hitch-hiking and bicycle touring expedition. From Halifax to Quebec City, Montreal to Toronto---complete with dumpster diving, train hopping and a few nights spent under the stars---Vining sought out the game he loves.

Back in Halifax, and having seen what's out there, he insists there is indeed something missing locally. "Maybe [Halifax bike polo players] haven't really gotten serious enough yet. So for the rest of the season, I'm really gonna be rockin' it."

Still busy touting biking as "fucking badass," Vining is planning Halifax' first-ever Bike Polo Tournament next month, open to experts and learners alike, with hopes of building spirit and numbers.

Bike Polo

Tennis courts at Agricola and Duffus, most Sunday afternoons. More details at Halifax Bike Polo Facebook group.

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