by Matt Perse
Photos by Mauro Franceschetti
The night was raw. The court was damp. And there was a nervous energy in the crowd. Tonight, I was going to play bike polo…or so I thought. It was the third time I had met Juan Pablo, so I was more or less used to the scene, and a handful of other players greeted me by name. But weeks of rain and otherwise unsuitable polo weather had rendered the courts of Plaza Medrano (corner of Costa Rica and Acuña Figueroa) unplayable. And the cyclists were anxious.
It wasn’t raining this night, but the humid air made for slippery bike conditions; riders were constantly sliding and skidding in a wild display of primal aggression and delicate mechanical control. They were almost instinctual, knowing exactly when to brake and precisely where to apply a shift in balance that would be the difference between pulling off a wonder goal and dumping, sliding broadside into the concrete “bleachers” that encircled the court. The lines they made on the court, normally reminiscent of those gracefully cut during ice hockey, were even more exaggerated and flailing, in some instances approaching the intensity of a shark feeding-frenzy.
The crowd, mostly other riders, at times seemed to be absorbing and returning the energy to and from the action on the court, which, after the group had swelled to nearly 30 riders (only 6 play at a time, 3 on each team), had to be divided into two courts. Though when they weren’t fixated on the orgy of gears, pedals, sleek frames, and balls, they were partaking in some light festivities: beer, wine, whisky, and weed. Your standard fare on a chilly August evening.
Hence the nervous energy. And my hesitation to play.