If you happen to stroll by the northwestern corner of Dolores Park on a Thursday or Saturday evening, you may perhaps stumble on one thing you have by no means observed right before. In a fenced region a little bit much larger than the tennis courts close by, groups of three men and women chase all around a modest ball on single-pace bicycles, holding long mallets in thickly gloved palms.

To start the recreation, the groups line up on either end of the court docket though the ball is placed at the half-courtroom line. When equally sides are ready, a shout from the sideline sets the sport in movement, and the gamers race toward the ball and 1 a further, the winner swooping in with their mallet to acquire possession of the ball. A handful of passes afterwards, the ball rattles into a single of the hockey objectives positioned on each individual stop of the court docket, and the rating is 1-. 

Bicycle polo, below the lights at Dolores Park. Dillon McNeil image.

The match is Hardcourt Bike Polo, and the athletes are an eclectic team from a wide array of demographics, occupations, and practical experience with the sport. Bonded by a appreciate for this unique and challenging activity, the team is limited knit, the ambiance surrounding the court docket lighthearted and welcoming. Several players share an affection for other bicycle sports: highway biking, mountain biking, and cyclocross, to identify a couple. Some way or one more, every discovered their way to bicycle polo, and twice a week, they uncover their way to Dolores Park, the only location in San Francisco exactly where the sport is performed. 

“A ton of times, when men and women see it, they’re like, who are these weirdos on these bikes?” laughs Jenny Spencer, who was launched to the match in the course of her time in graduate college at UC Davis. Her good friends performed bike polo, and when they initial recruited her to join them, she was hesitant: “It appears far too harmful,” Jenny experienced instructed them. “I’m much too chaotic for this.” Other than, she did not have a polo-certain bike. But her buddies were being persistent, and when they found a bike for her to use, Spencer last but not least folded. That was 7 years in the past, and she’s been participating in at any time given that. Now, she’s the president of the North American Hardcourt Bike Polo Association. 

Hardcourt bike polo is a world wide activity. Though grass bicycle polo has been all around considering the fact that the 19th century, it was not until about 20 several years back that the game found a dwelling in the town. In the late 1990s, a group of Seattle bicycle messengers hunting to move time among shifts brought polo to the hardcourt, participating in on outside basketball courts and in parking loads. The recreation spread like wildfire, very first traveling south to Portland and at some point creating it throughout the country to Boston and New York. Now, hardcourt bike polo is played all over the United States, as perfectly as in Asia, Europe, Australia, Latin America, Russia, and India. Every two many years, qualifying groups occur jointly to crown the Planet Hardcourt Bicycle Polo Champion. In 2019, the match took put in Cordóba, Argentina, wherever international club Mongrels United took dwelling their 3rd consecutive title. 

The associates of the San Francisco Bicycle Polo Club are no slouches by themselves. Quite a few of them have performed, and gained, at both of those regional and nationwide championships. There’s no lack of talent on the courtroom at Mission Dolores Park, and though that will make for some higher-level opposition, it can be intimidating for all those just mastering the sport. 

Kevin Xu experienced come to the park to watch their mates enjoy for a prolonged time right before currently being convinced to give it a shot, and when they did, there was a mastering curve. “I took a large amount of falls,” remembers Xu, 22, a new graduate of Laney School. 

Armed with a helmet and a fantastic mindset, they ended up equipped to stay clear of any important accidents, but the recreation did not occur uncomplicated, even to Xu, a biking fanatic who has dabbled in a selection of bicycle athletics. “It was hard to get dependable at to start with,” they muse. “This club is comprehensive of veterans.”

Continue to, Xu was persistent, producing the journey across the bay each and every week: “I would consider BART for half an hour to appear out below and get my ass kicked.” The operate compensated off, and now, Xu is suitable at household with the veterans at Dolores Park. Subsequent week, they’ll be a part of a handful of other club associates as they travel to San Juan, Puerto Rico for the 2022 Tropiclassic: a two-working day, 24-crew Hardcourt Bike Polo event. 

Xu has also labored to carry the match back to their facet of the bay. The Oakland Bicycle Polo club had been dormant for a yrs just before Xu helped to revive it, organizing weekly “Newbie Nights” to deliver a far more inviting and comfortable atmosphere for folks to master the activity. You can sign up for them at Defremery Park in West Oakland on Tuesday nights at 7:30. All talent degrees are welcome, and no gear is necessary. 

Back in the Mission, the heat night air is stuffed with laughs, the whizz of bicycle chains, and the occasional plume of cannabis smoke. These waiting their change to participate in sit in the “Chill Corner,” sipping beers and catching up, and close by, Jenny offers me a rapid rundown of the procedures. As we talk, the ball arrives skidding more than, hitting me in the foot. It’s a little bit more difficult than I’d predicted, but I chuckle it off. Jenny and I are standing in the industry of play, right after all.  “If you do not go home with a bruise, did you definitely practical experience polo?” she grins, kicking the ball absent. 

When the clock strikes 10pm, the court is plunged into darkness as the lights illuminating the park shut off, abbreviating the match in-progress and marking the end of that evening’s bike polo. A handful of players place the two transportable hockey plans absent whilst other people use mobile phone flashlights to track down their points. They bid just about every other farewell, go their independent ways, and night time falls on a heat February night in Dolores Park, house of the San Francisco Bicycle Polo Club.  

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