The kings of spring
Local cyclists bring sport of royalty to the pedaling masses

Chad Cheeney gets a solid breakaway as he maneuvers around his opponents during a bike polo match Sunday night at Buckley Park./Photo by Todd Newcomer.

Legions of local mountain bikers have been trading the singletrack of Horse Gulch for the manicured grass of Buckley Park. No longer trying to navigate technical descents or difficult climbs, their attention is now focused on a small ball and a stick. But there is still plenty of action surrounding Durango bike polo.

Local cyclists first climbed on their bikes and started chasing a ball armed with mallets four Thanksgivings ago. Chad Cheeney was largely responsible for the local birth of bike polo.

“We were just sitting there on that first Thanksgiving Day with nothing else to do, so we took to the park and started to play polo,” said Cheeney.

Since that first tryptophan-induced trip to the field at Park Elementary, bike polo has grown in popularity. “It was just something to fill that day,” Cheeney added. “But then it turned into a tradition, and now it’s something we play a lot.”

Although bike polo has only been in Durango for four years, the hybrid of two sports has a century-old history. The “commoner’s” version of the “sport of kings” allegedly originated in Ireland in 1891, when groups played on a pitch affectionately known as “The Scalp” outside Dublin. According to the U.S. Bicycle Polo Association, the first club started playing in the United States in 1897, and the sport actually made an appearance in the 1908 Olympics. Since then, the sport has developed rules and regulations and accepted strategy. However, in true Durango fashion, local riders have shunned history and rewritten the rules.

“We made our own rules,” says player Chris Adams. “Well, actually, it’s only one rule.” That rule states that players are not allowed to put their feet on the grass, otherwise known as dabbing. This guiding principle works well for the players, according to Cheeney. “There is a flow to our style of play,” he said. “Other clubs use the sideline rule called veering, which means no one can steal the ball. It’s slower and not in the cards here.”

Eric Ransom laughs after a
mild collision as he re-saddles
his bike on Monday
night./Photo by Todd Newcomer.

Nevertheless, local bike polo players do follow a gentlemen’s code of ethics. If a player checks or hits someone, that player will receive a check back in kind. “It can be like hockey,” Cheeney said. “We’ve had a couple of injuries, but everyone recovered.”

Local bike polo aficionado John Bailey added, “The play can be rough, but it is so entertaining.”

There are a handful of other unwritten rules for local bike polo. For example, visible spandex is off limits, even though wearing a chamois underneath clothing is recommended. According to numerous players, the protection is vital.

The games typically begin at sunset. Whoever shows up on a Wednesday night at Buckley Park or Sunday night at Park Elementary grabs a mallet and takes to the turf. The field of players needs to be even, but no more than six on six, because with more than that “nothing happens, no one scores; it’s just too many bikers,” according to Cheeney.

Teams are often chosen by separating the youngest from the oldest for a battle of the ages. Other times, it’s shorts vs. long pants. Teams also have been chosen alphabetically, but whatever the method, a laid-back feel dominates the field.

Still the big question remains: Why would mountain bikers choose bike polo over world-class singletrack? The answer lies in the season, according to Bailey. “During the spring and fall, it’s polo time,” he said.

Cheeney added, “You know the trails are wet anyway, so why not play polo?”

Spring offers another bonus because the newly melted fields are packed down from winter’s snowpack and the ball really moves.

Skill is another reason local cyclists have been known to choose polo over trails. Nick Van Dine commented that playing bike polo helps develop balance and technique, and as a result, “you can rage on the downhills.” Although

The polo ball gets ping-ponged among the spokes and pedals of the bicycles on the playing field at
Buckley Park./Photo by Todd Newcomer.

manipulating a mallet does not translate into skill on singletrack, bike polo is a game of constant sprinting, sharp cornering and aggressive competition. The ability to hold one’s bike in place without moving, also known as track standing, is also critical. “Now that I’ve played polo, I can track stand and take sharp turns on the trails with one hand on my bike and one hand on my water bottle,” said Cheeney.

Many mountain bike racers also credit bike polo for helping them maintain a cutthroat edge. “Polo is a way to be competitive, while having fun with your friends,” said Van Dine.

Consequently, more and more cyclists have turned to swinging mallets in the local parks. Cheeney concluded, “All the new players seem to be having a good time. Besides, it isn’t a hard sport to learn, but it is one of those sports that makes you just giggle.”







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