Interview: Tyler Bowa, Bike Poloist

By Morgan Short, Apr 24th, 2009 | In Activities

We're taking a bit of a divergence from the usual nightlife-related Friday morning interview to feature something you can do during the "daytime" in Shanghai. Apparently there *is* such a thing as "daytime" and stuff to do during it, other than drawing your curtains and delving into the Nicholas Cage Collection; this interview proves it.

We talked to Tyler Bowa, organizer of Shanghai's only hard court Bike Polo league about just what the EFF bike polo is, how do you play, what do you need, when, who, where, and so on.

Now, I haven't been on a bike since the late 50's -- I prefer to travel by taxi -- or, failing that, I get my ayi to cart me around in a wheel-barrow (usually just to the Burger King and back), so forgive me if my questions seem a little stupid. I'm new.

Weather permitting, the Shanghai Bike Polo league meets this Saturday at 1:00pm at the Shanghai Stadium, staircase 2. For more info, check out the Shanghai Bike Polo website here. They've got pictures, FAQs, contact information, and a video of last week's game.


So what the EFF is Bike Polo?

Tyler: The version we're doing is hard court Bike Polo...

Hardcore. Okay.

Tyler: Yeah, hard court. Yeah, basketball courts, hockey rinks sometimes. Basically, it's exactly what it sounds like. It's traditional polo but played on bikes, using typically a hard plastic ball. Two teams play with three people per side. Games are pretty quick, they only go until five goals are scored, so it's usually 20-25 minutes.

As far as I know, Bike Polo started somewhere in the early 1900s in Ireland I think, but it was played on grass. It didn't catch on until the mid-2000s when people started playing on hard courts in the west coast of the USA. And as far as I know again there are no official leagues in China, although there are a ton of leagues in the west...

So what makes it "hardcore"? Is it because it's played on pavement and...

Tyler: No. No. Hard COURT.

Oh! Hard COURT! I thought you said Hard "CORE". Okay, okay... I'm an idiot.

Tyler: [Laughs.] Yeah. Hard. Court.

So there are leagues in the States?

Tyler: Yeah, there's leagues all over the place. Predominantly, most leagues are in the USA, there are a bunch of leagues in Canada -- that's where I played before I came here, in Toronto. There are leagues all over Europe. Australia... New Zealand... I think they even have leagues in Japan, but again for China I don't know of any.

I've been in touch with guys who have played on Hong Kong, but for the city with the most bikes in the world, Shanghai, it's surprising that it hasn't happened yet.

So how similar is it to... I guess old-timey Polo played on horseback

Tyler: The rules are a little more adapted. Naturally, it's a lot easier for you to fall off your bike, and one of the main rules is that if your foot touches the ground -- what they call a "tap out" -- then you have to cycle to a designated area, which is usually in the middle of the court, and you tap your mallet in there and then you can come back into the game.

And depending on what skill level you play, like the intense matches in the US, it can get pretty physical. Like you're allowed to body on body contact, bike on bike contact, and mallet on mallet contact.

Oh really.

Tyler: But for us it's just for fun so people aren't too serious about it.

What kinds of people are coming?

Tyler: Well, we had our first "official" game on Saturday and I'd say we had just over 30 people show up, and it was 60% locals, 40% foreigners. Which was pretty surprising because out of the local guys only a few spoke English, but I was able to relay the message for them to come out. [Laughs.]

What kind of bike do you need? Equipment?

Tyler: You can use any bike, it doesn't really matter. Predominantly people use "fixed gear" bikes, which I am a huge fan of. Secure single seats are good, just because it's easier to balance and you can move a little slower. I think for the game here most people were riding either mountain bikes or those little fold-able bikes, which is totally fine. But we've also had people show up who didn't have bikes, and people are totally willing to give up their own bikes for a bit.

For right now, we're providing all the mallets. We've taken it upon ourselves to make all that stuff.

You're making the mallets?

Tyler: Yeah, we started off making them out of bamboo. Traditionally they're made out of old ski poles or golf clubs with PVC tubing on the bottom, but we thought it would be rad if we used bamboo... but unfortunately some of them broke so we're making stronger ones out of poles that we've found around town.

Where are the games?

Tyler: We're playing just outside of the Shangahi Stadium, at exit number 2, this Saturday at 11am. There's a map on the blogspot page. It's just at the top of that.

So do people fall of their bikes and get hurt and shit?

Tyler: We had a few accidents last time. When you really get going, you can actually move pretty fast because the court is pretty big, and we've had a few guys forget that they don't have breaks and they've ridden their bike right into a wall. But you know -- nothing too severe.

How physically strenuous is it? Is it a really big workout?

Tyler: Well, it depends on how competitive you are, but here people are just about having a good time. So it's 20 minutes on your bike not really riding at full speed. It's not too strenuous.

So what happens if the weather isn't so great?

Tyler: If the weather isn't so great, we don't play. We've tried to schedule around the weather though and we know tomorrow it's a beautiful sunny day. We're just starting so we have one round on the weekend and then we'll try to do it once during the week at night. The space is really well lit at night.

Do you have guys and girls playing?

Tyler: Yeah it's a total mixed league, guys and girls playing against each other. No gender issues.

It's all about biking ability and co-ordination... which isn't a guy or girl thing.


The Shanghai Bike Polo league meets at the Shanghai Stadium, exit 2 this Saturday at 1:00pm. Check out their blogspot page for more information.

Photos with this article are by Chris for the Shanghai Bike Polo website.

jdn, Apr 24th, 2009


christomoya, Jun 18th, 2009

For more info on upcoming polo and riding events, checkout our new website:

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