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Bike polo: A gritty, city version of the high-society sport

Aug. 28, 2013 at 2:49 PM ET

Video: When you think of polo, what comes to mind? Champagne, ponies, high society? Think again. The sport of bike polo has been around since the late 1800s, and the urban version of the game is flourishing. NBC’s Chapman Bell saddles up to see what it’s all about.

The game of polo normally conjures up images of princes, ponies and collared shirts on the field, with Champagne, glitz and glamour on the sidelines. But don’t be fooled: A vastly different version of the sport is growing in popularity around the world.

That version isn’t water polo in a pool — it’s bicycle polo, and it’s probably being played at a court near you.

Bike polo has actually been around since the late 1800s. It was played as a demonstration sport at the 1908 London Olympics, and Prince Philip was photographed playing polo on a bike in 1967 at Windsor. But in all those instances, bike polo was played on grass. 

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Like tennis, the grass version still exists, but the sport’s hard-court cousin is garnering a growing, urban following. This version of bike polo is said to have been first played in Seattle in the 1990s.

“Not everyone in London or a city has a horse, but ... it's easy enough just to get a bike and go play with your mates,” said Johannes Douglas, a marketing consultant in London who has taken to playing the game. “It can be any kind of bike. You can play it on your BMX, you can play it on your mountain bike — anything, really.”

Douglas also pointed out the difference in the sticks used in bike polo. They’re not the wooden ones polo players use when riding horses; instead, bike-polo players typically use old golf clubs or ski poles and attach some PVC pipe on the end.

“You don’t just go up to the shop and buy one,” Douglas said. “You make your own, and yeah, it’s on a budget.”

Many are drawn to the sport because of its speed and thrills — almost like roller derby meets hockey.

“I thought rolling around playing a sport looks a lot of fun,” said Phil Durrant, a computer programmer in London. “It’s a sport without running in it, that's my biggest thing for it. I've never liked running — I've always liked cycling.”

The London Hardcourt Bike Polo Association just hosted its fourth-annual London Open Bike Polo Tournament, the biggest event in the sport, which draws dozens of teams from around the world. And each year, bike polo continues to attract hundreds of new players who are finding a way to play the sport of kings — on a budget, and in the city.

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