By Josh Williams
LOWER EAST SIDE— Manhattan may be short on space, but not on creative sports that utilize the urban environment.
The latest entry is bike polo.
"You have a bike, you have a mallet, you one have one hand to do one thing and one hand to do another," said Chandel Bodner, a SoHo bartender who picked up the sport when she lived in Toronto.
The Lower East Side has emerged as a hotspot for players, with a rapidly growing bike polo league. The game is said to have originated in Ireland in !891.
One of Manhattan's more popular playing fields, known as "the Pit" because it's below street level, is in Sarah Roosevelt Park, between Chrystie and Grand Streets.
Most of the players on a recent day were long-time cycling enthusiasts, and included a variety of occupations, from off-duty bike messengers to graphic artists, designers, and marketing specialists.
With its blackened brick walls, the Pit is more than a bike polo field; it’s a multi-use facility where the day begins with Tai Chi in the morning and other sports like street hockey and in-line skating in the afternoon.
Bike polo urban style is three on three. Each team begins on its goal line with a joust in the middle for the ball. The object of the game is to knock the ball through the opponents' goal, which pften consists of two battered orange cones about three feet apart.
The rules are simple. If you put your foot down on the ground or fall off your bike, it's called a "dab" To get back into the game, a player has to remount and head for the side where he or she then taps a designated area with the mallet.
To score a goal, a player must strike the ball with the end of the mallet; if the long side is used -- known as a "shuffle, the goal is not counted. But if it bounces off your bike and then goes, in the goal is good.
Bike polo is emphatically a contact sport. Hitting the other person with the mallet is illegal. but bike-to-bike contact as well as body-to-body is allowed.
The sport is played worldwide, with tournaments on the internatiional as well as national levels. In Manhattan, pick-up games are usually open to anyone on Thursday 6-9 p.m. or Sunday 2-8 p.m.,
"We as a club want to see our club get better so it doesn’t help to be negative or destroy someone on the court," said Bodner, who wears a protective helmet.
"The better you become, the more fun the game is."