If you ever walk past Frary Dining Hall between 2-4 p.m. on a Friday, you may stop to admire the spectacle that is Claremont’s bike polo team.
On a typical afternoon, you will likely see five to 10 players steering bicycles one-handed through Bixby Plaza, jousting (when opponents charge at the ball from opposite ends of the court), and shuffling tennis balls with homemade mallets toward their rival team’s goal.
On an off day, you may also see balls sliced in mid-air, ski poles cleaved in half, or unlucky cyclists flying off the seats of their bikes toward fast-approaching Walker Lounge windows.
Hardcourt bike polo, developed in Seattle by bike messengers looking to kill time in between deliveries, is simply, as co-manager Rèmy Rossi PO ’19 explains, “like horse polo but on bikes.”
Although it was only popularized in the early 2000’s, the sport has expanded to many cities across North America and Europe where players participate in a variety of bike polo leagues and tournaments.
Here, at the 5Cs, the Claremont bike polo team runs as a function of the Green Bike program at Pomona College. While not recognized as an official club by the Claremont Colleges, that doesn’t bother managers Jojo Modeste PO ’19 and Rossi.
They explain that, because they’re not bogged down by sponsors or faculty advisers, the group has a liberated feel, untethered by the structure that may make other on-campus organizations seem intimidating or constricted.
“It feels very free and chill,” Rossi said. “I like the [do-it-yourself] part of it.”
That part is, in many ways, the very heart of the club. The mallets, which are provided for players at the start of practice, are made by nailing bits of PVC piping to old ski poles. The bikes, which are also provided, are all fixed up in the Pomona bike shop.
Even the rules of the game are tailored to meet the needs of the group and their space. For example, if a player’s feet ever touch the ground, they are “out,” and to get back “in,” they must tap their mallet against the Frary fountain.
Although scoring goals is the only way to earn points, the team has developed its own, unspoken value system that can earn players bragging rights for performing difficult moves or tricks.
Some impressive techniques include: switching mallets with another player mid-cycle, scoring a goal by rebounding the ball off of another bike, or picking up a dropped mallet without ever having to stop and dismount.
Ultimately, however, the amount of points scored and maneuvers performed are secondary to the group’s primary focus: building a positive, inclusive environment.
“The bike community is really exclusive — we’re trying to change that,” Rossi said. “The group’s focus is inclusivity and learning, not competition.”
Modeste also said she likes the fact that the group practices in such an open space because it encourages occasional passers-by to join.
When people stop to watch, she often invites them to just jump in. “Sometimes they do,” she said, “sometimes they’ll just be like, ‘okay, next week.’”
Surprisingly, the game isn’t as difficult to learn as it may look. According to Modeste, “people pick it up pretty quickly,” so newcomers should not be discouraged.
To quote some of the posts on the Pomona Green Bike Shop Facebook Page: “come if you’re new (yes u!) and come if (u think) you’re pro!”
This article was last updated Nov. 2 at 2:57 p.m.