Grunge and highbrow come together on bikes

Mountain biking and polo has come together in San Diego  Credit: Sandy Burgin/
We know good fences make good neighbors. But do mountain bikes make good polo ponies?

To find the answer to that searing question, youll have to travel to San Diego and go out to the Del Mar Fairgrounds some Sunday morning and watch members of the San Diego Mountain Bike Polo Club.

The sport of Mountain Bike Polo has been around for a long time, particularly in India, where horse polo has been played for centuries and where today there are more than 700 bike polo clubs. In recent years the United States has taken to the sport of mountain bike polo.

"Its definitely gaining in popularity here, said Marv Dellinger of Solana Beach, a suburb of San Diego. It would be more popular if there were more places to play.

Dellinger and his wife Elaine are part of a new breed of athletes who play both real" polo with horses and bicycle polo with mountain bikes.

"Weve been playing polo for about four years on horses," said Dellinger, who is in real estate with his wife. "We heard about bike polo two years ago and just started playing it about a year ago. Its a terrific sport. We do it because it keeps us physically fit for polo. It keeps your hand-eye coordination proper and so when the real polo season starts here in June well be ready for it."

"While there are similar skills involved bike polo is a lot different than horse polo," Dellinger explained. "In horse polo you play a chukka that lasts 7 1/2 minutes and then you change horses each time. Here we play longer chukkas and we dont change horses obviously. And obviously you cant fit a polo pony into the back of an RV or pickup truck, which most bike club members do every Sunday."

The mallets used in bike polo are 36 inches long, compared to the 49- to 55-inch sizes used in horse polo. The bike polo ball is a bladder-filled air-filled ball unlike the hard molded plastic ball used in horse polo.

Some bike polo players use a perverter, which essentially converts the front-wheel breaks to the left handle grip, which already has control of the back-wheel breaks. That allows the player to keep his right hand free to use his mallet.

Some people also prefer to adjust their chain just in the middle sprocket instead of all three sprockets, leaving them free to hit the ball more easily between the two tires much like a real polo player hits the ball between the horses legs.

Mountain bike polo is played normally three-on-three or four-on-four over an 80- or 100-yard length field.

The San Diego Mountain Bike Club provides its members with all of the equipment, mallets, balls, team vests and goal markers, so all one has to do is show up with his or her bike and play.

The club has a beginners clinic at 10 a.m. with games starting at 10:30 a.m. running to a little afternoon.

"The games for the most part are informal, because we dont keep score," Dellinger said. "The important thing is that Im getting a good workout for my body, but Im not thinking about it. My competitive spirit is going and my adrenalin is pumping. Its like getting two or three-hour workout and not really knowing it. Its something you really look forward to. And keeping in shape at my age (56) is very important."

Bruce Ferguson, 30, and Jim Ferguson, 37, have never played horse polo, but have taken quite well to bike polo.

"I was interested in finding a new competitive sport that I had not tried before," Bruce Ferguson said. I picked it up fairly easily. If youre used to holding some sort of racquet or played tennis or golf before and can handle the bike you should be all right. It was a lot of fun coming out in the morning and playing polo on mountain bikes, then watching the horse polo matches in the afternoon. You gain a real appreciation for both sports.

Ferguson had a hard sell in bringing his older brother Jim into the sport.

"At first I was a little unsure of it, it sounded like kind of a pansy sport," said Jim Ferguson. But once I came onto the field and started playing I realized it was pretty tough and requires a lot of stamina and accuracy. What I like is the team aspect of the sport which you dont get when youre riding you mountain bike by yourself.

"It keeps your mind active and relieves stress, said Mike Ross of nearby Escondido, who was there with his 11-year-old daughter Michelle. I like the different sports it incorporates. I play racquet ball, its got those elements, its got the bike, and its got aerobics.

The last time Ross went real mountain biking he had an accident and broke his arm.

As for his daughter Michelle ...

"I was going to go hiking today," she said, but the chance of trying a new sport like bike polo was too exciting to pass up.

And thats certainly good news for the next generation of mountain bikers and their polo ponies.

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