Social cycling: Rollapaluza and bike polo

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A bike isn‘t just for commuting. It was only going to be a matter of time before London's two-wheeled obsession carried over into leisure activities a little bit more leftfield than a Sunday bummel. Why not try Rollapaluza, or bike polo?

  • Social cycling: Rollapaluza and bike polo

    Never get in the way of a courier, especially when he's playing polo (© Elisabeth Blanchet)

  • In the upstairs room of a Mile End pub the contestant on the red bike cycles so hard his legs are just a whirling blur, while the cyclist on the blue bike strains to catch up with him. Joy Division pumps from the speakers while an MC shouts encouragement to both competitors while their struggle is being charted by blue and red arrows on a giant tachometer like a game show host’s wheel of fortune. Yet despite pedalling like the clappers both bikes are stationary. That’s the beauty of Rollapaluza.

    Roller racing, in which racing bikes are balanced on steel drum rollers so that the wheels can turn while the bike itself remains stationary, was invented to help racing cyclists train in a small space, but evolved into a popular indoor sport in the 1950s.

    Rollapaluza is the brainchild of Caspar Hughes and Paul ‘Winston’ Churchill. ‘There were no other social events in London for cyclists and I wanted to combine it with music, my other love’, says Hughes.

    Each Rollapaluza has various qualifying rounds before the finalists face off for a climactic showdown. Though Rollapaluza has largely grown out of the bike courier scene it’s a real have-a-go event. One race sees two complete novices, a teacher and an estate agent try and take each other on. Between races DJs crank up the sounds. At the larger events sometimes it’s indie rock and courier punk bands that get the crowd freewheeling, on other occasions Franco-Belgium gypsy jazz bands create a 1950s-style nostalgic vibe. Even Chris Hoy has been seen having a go! And if it’s good enough for an Olympian….

    Yet Rollapaluza is just one part of growing scene of people partying on bikes. I head down to the Brick Lane court to catch a game of bike polo.

    The rules are simple and anyone is welcome: each team has three people mounted on bikes and the object is to put the ball into each other’s net with a mallet. You must stay fully mounted at all times and if you accidentally put a foot on the ground you must cycle back to your half of the court, touch the fence with your mallet before you can rejoin the game. The first team to score five goals wins. ‘Half the skill is staying on your bike and not hitting other people,’ says Max Knight who kick-started the games two years ago.

    Now the scene has become as much about hanging out as knocking balls. The edges of the court are lined with people sharing beers and showing off or pulling stunts on slick fixed-wheel bikes that are as much hip accessory as about-town vehicle. Usually bikes have a single gear and no brakes, (you stop dead when you stop pedalling), and most are custom made by a small group of specialists who are at the heart of the scene.

    These days jumping on a fixed-gear means joining the party. A point born out by the Trixie Chix, a fixed-wheel girls-only gang who play polo, pull stunts and throw the odd glam bike party into the bargain. As Trixie Chix Muna Warsame says, ‘We just meet to teach each other tricks, make friends and most importantly, have a laugh.’

    You can read more about Rollapaluza at www.rollapaluza.com . Bike Polo is every Sunday, 1pm, Brick Lane & Shacklewell St, E2. Further details at www.londonfgss.com .


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