After a long, harsh winter, Toronto's bike polo scene returns to the city's parks.
It’s one of the surest signs of spring in Toronto. Every ten or so minutes at Dufferin Grove Park, a shout will ring out: “Three, two, one: POLO!” With that, a frenzy of hard-riding cyclists pedals forward, chasing the ball from one side of the park’s hockey rink to the other.
Yes, we said “cyclists.” Welcome to bike polo season, 2013 edition.
Occasionally, bikes will get knocked over. Many pairs of wheels have spoke guards fastened to them, some splashed with a little more character than others. These seemed to be personalized for each rider, as if bearing their signatures.
Every time a game is played, it’s like a kaleidoscopic blur of spinning wheels and cranking ankles. In a given day—four hours of play in total, usually—players swarm the pitch in whirlwind fifteen-minute intervals. Observers, meanwhile, watch the flailing mallets with a mounting urge to wince, hoping they don’t end up wedged in someone’s spokes.
You can’t help but imagine the hardy, battle-tested riders at Dufferin Grove—or Scadding Court, Trinity Bellwoods, or any other “random schoolyard,” to quote Bike Polo Toronto’s Facebook page—laughing off the usual traffic-related threats on city streets.
Cars or other obstacles? Just watch the smooth, serpentine alacrity with which these players ride around each other, every offensive and defensive move on the court a study in precision cycling. Collisions? After two or three rounds of polo, it’s clear that what sets these players apart is their willingness to bear a little black and blue in the event of a worst-case scenario. And that’s only if their skilled cycling fails—which, from a spectator’s standpoint, thankfully doesn’t happen often.
2013′s season kicks off with a new round of outdoor league play. League games will be happening on Friday nights at Dufferin Grove.
Rookies can test their pedals at Dufferin Grove from 7 to 9 p.m. Veterans with two-plus years’ experience have the run of the court from 9 until 11 p.m. on Friday nights. And all eager spectators—including hecklers, they say—are invited to check out informal games on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday evenings, as well as Sundays from 3 until 7 p.m. (All the details are on the league’s website.)
A word of advice if you do decide to try out, though: bring a helmet.
Photos by Todd Aalgaard/Torontoist.