Occasionally an urban underground trend makes it way inland from either coast and emphatically infiltrates this city's culture. The Milwaukee Bike Polo Club is just such a movement.
Bike Polo is just what it says. Reinventing the vintage horse ridden game, bike polo includes riders on bikes, swinging mallets and hitting a ball into a goal. The game evolved into two styles: field or hardcourt; changing the technique, turf and equipment used.
Much of the push behind the growth of the Milwaukee Bike Polo Club is team captain and Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin employee Jake Newborn. Admittedly nerdy in his zealous enthusiasm for the sport, Newborn exudes precisely the motivation and resolve needed to sustain what could have been disregarded as a temporary craze.
But of course he's not the only one. Luring dozens of players, (yes, including a number of women) Newborn is surrounded by a diehard group of riders who see little sacrifice in their weekly polo rituals.
"Bike polo is so inclusive. The bike really neutralizes strength and size. No one's going to knock you off your bike until you start knocking people off their bike. We really want the sport to grow and we really encourage others to come out," Newborn explains.
Newborn, who started playing three years ago, urged the league to switch from the field to the hardcourt style. The hardcourt style takes the game from the field to cement using a street hockey ball and a mallet made of an aluminum shaft and PVC plastic head.
Scouting a secret practice location hidden from snow and ice, droves of bike messengers, riding junkies and polo addicts swarm to get in the game two nights a week.
"Our location is lit and covered so we can play all winter long. Not a lot of other cities are that lucky," Newborn says. "We actually came out last April after being able to play all winter and really shocked other cities."
The talk, which ranges from technical gear ratios to debates over constantly evolving rules to straight up competitive hassling, pervades both local games and international message boards.
"It's something that our generation started. I don't know that it will ever be really huge but hardcourt really works in the urban environment," Milwaukee bike polo player, Sarah Weber explains.
The bike polo season runs from April to November with three man teams from cities around the region, nation and world competing in weekend tournaments. Midwestern rivalries link teams from Madison, Chicago, Minneapolis and Milwaukee for competitive round robins.
"It's been growing and growing. We've played tournaments in Ottawa, Toronto, Chicago, Madison, St. Louis, New York and Vancouver- all across the country," Newborn explains.
The overarching organization, League of Bike Polo, lists teams spanning five continents; providing a forum for posting style communication between players around the world. Since the Website's 2007 inception, players in Melbourne, Montreal and Berlin have been able to follow play in Milwaukee and vice versa.
"The rules are really subjective right now and so there is discussion to make universal rules. Concepts of court size or body to body contact; we're debating all these simple, small things. Besides the three main rules, everything differs depending on which city you're in. Milwaukee has a little bit of a reputation for being rough," Newborn explains and smiles.
Much as the Persian king's guardsmen rode polo horses in fields, bikers originally jumped on the concept of field bike polo played in grassy parks and unused soccer fields.
Bike polo was first seen in late 1800's and accredited to Irishman Richard Mecredy. Nearly a century later, Milwaukee rider's caught wind of the sport's new found trend and founded the Milwaukee Bike Polo Club to eventually move to the hardcourt style.
"It's easier to play hardcourt because you have abandoned tennis courts and basketball courts to play on in our communities," Newborn explains. "And everyone already has a road or track bike; it kind of started with the messengers but moved to those who work in shops and into the community."
City dwellers have always craved to create a sport fit to their surroundings. Just as empty California pools became the skateboarder's half-pipe, bike polo "hardcourt" style accepts the inescapability of Wisconsin weather and urban sprawl finding value, usability and speed on concrete.
"We're kind of in a transitional place right now. A lot of veterans either moved or suddenly stop playing, plus we lost a few people when we transitioned to hardcourt, so we're kind of training a lot of rookies right now. So, now's the perfect time for anyone new to start and play with people of your same skill level," Newborn says.
Vowing to maintain complete control of their league and denying any national corporate sponsorship, the Milwaukee Bike Polo Club may have been a late joiner to the game, but they have certainly caught up.
"We are incorporating under the name "Hardcourt Bike Polo Federation" to prevent a corporation from taking naming rights. So for 2009 we're already planning a North American tournament and championship with a tournament season schedule," Newborn continues. "We're trying to retain that in our own international player community."
Check out the Milwaukee Bike Polo MySpace page for details. Madison, WI hosts the next tournament in January 2009.
OnMilwaukee.com staff writer Maureen Post grew up in Wauwatosa. A lover of international and urban culture, Maureen received a bachelor’s degree in sociology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
After living on the east side of Madison for several years, Maureen returned to Milwaukee in 2006.
After a brief stint of travel, Maureen joined OnMilwaukee.com as the city’s oldest intern and has been hooked ever since. Combining her three key infatuations, Milwaukee’s great music, incredible food and inspiring art (and yes, in that order), Maureen’s job just about fits her perfectly.
Residing in Bay View, Maureen vehemently believes the city can become fresh and new with a simple move across town.